Ghost-Writing for Senior Executives
The content created by a company's C-level executives play an important role in building brand equity, but due to the pressing demands on these executives time, ghostwriters need to step in to create content that convey clear messaging objectives. No matter what type of content is being created — bylines, op-ed articles, blog posts, speeches, white papers — it's critical for a ghostwriter to capture the client's voice in order for the content to sound as authentic as possible, and we've provided 8 best practices to accomplish this.
RESEARCH THE CLIENT
- The ghost writer's job is to create content in their client's voice, and this can only be accomplished after thorough research.
- If the ghost writer has access to the client, a direct discovery interview (email the questions beforehand) will help the writer understand what the client's messaging objectives are (see next section), their thought process, and their communication style.
- In addition to the discovery interview (and especially if the client is not made available), other people who know the client well should be interviewed for insights, meetings led by the exec should be attended, and videos of speeches or presentations viewed.
- Review any writing samples produced by client (social media posts, blogs, company emails), note communication habits such as word and sentence lengths, use of unusual terminology, and preferred point of view (first, second, or third person). Even if those writing samples were ghost-written, they have at least been vetted and approved by the client or the client's staff.
ESTABLISH MESSAGING OBJECTIVES
- Every piece of content should have at least three key messages, and these should be established before the ghost-writing begins.
- Ideally, these messages should be provided to the ghostwriter, but failing that, the writer should draft the messages and submit to the client or the client's staff for approval.
- Messaging objectives might include specific call(s)-to-action, responses to a subject at hand, or the desire to "make waves or headlines".
- No matter how challenging it is to get approval of the messaging objectives, this is a crucial step that should never be overlooked.
- Do some research on the target audience.
- For internal communications, what is the mindset of stakeholders? Are they disgruntled employees? Frustrated shareholders?
- For external communications, what are the demographics/psychographics? Are they prospective customers? College students? For articles and op-eds, what are the demographics of the publication's readers?
- Use the proper tone and be sure the writing resonates with the audience in order to achieve the messaging objectives.
- Backup examples and/or statistics help capture the audience's attention.
- In addition to conducting secondary research, ask the client and/or those who know the client well for what they consider to be relevant examples in order to sound as authentic as possible.
- Wherever possible, weave stories about the client into the content (using the first person, of course).
- Incorporate those stories into the theme to create very authentic-sounding content that will resonate with the target audience.
- Use of self-deprecating humor can also provide more authenticity.
- The ghostwriter needs to "put themselves in the shoes of the person they are (writing) for".
- This is especially important when delivering news (good or bad), the proper emotions need to be expressed to lend as much authenticity as possible to the writing.
- A CEO's job is "to establish a vision and motivate others to embrace it, enhance it and bring it to life" (and this is true for most C-level executives, if only to a slightly lesser degree).
- The ghostwriter therefore needs to be as big and bold as the client, and write with conviction, using rhetorical devices to drive home the message(s).
- The client's voice should be captured in the first draft, assuming the client research has been done.
- But the voice can be lost if content is reviewed and changed by editors, who may revise the writing style to reflect their own style.
- To preserve the client's voice, deliver the draft to editors and review it with them in person (if possible, if not, set up a call), and explain to editor, when necessary, the need to capture the authentic voice of the client.
C-level executives need to produce content in the form of op-ed articles, blog posts, speeches, white papers and other types of communiques. We therefore reseached for tips from experts, usually in the PR industry, with lots of experience ghost-writing this type of content (as opposed to books). Much of the research we turned up is geared towards ghost-writing for CEOs, but the tips were applicable to ghost-writing for all C-level execs (unless otherwise noted)