By Claire Walker, CEO and founder, Firefly Communications
You’ll be searching for a needle in a haystack if you want to identify any business executive who can make the time to write their own content (though, more often than not, the ideas are still theirs!).
An ongoing stream of relevant and timely content is critical for a communications programme because it boosts brand exposure and provides readers—whether they are journalists, prospective customers, partners or employees—thought provoking ideas and opinions. Therefore, most communications professionals opt to invest in ghostwriting (creating work like a book or an article for someone else to take the credit) for their clients and colleagues. The growing importance of content marketing has created an increasing demand for businesses to invest in ghostwritten copy for executives who want to support the communications body of their organisation, but simply do not have the time.
If things go wrong, ghostwriting can have significant negative ramifications for intended author and organisation. For example, Melania Trump’s speech writer plagiarised full sections of her speech from one previously given by Michelle Obama, which resulted in significant repercussions in global media.
To make ghostwriting work for you, rather than against you, I have outlined the following five principles to follow.
Establish the author’s intentions
Before you start drafting anything, you must confirm the author’s intention for the content, to ensure that whatever you produce is relevant. What do they want to achieve from the content? What contributes to brand exposure and messaging?
Also confirm who is responsible for the content. Whilst you may be the actual author of the copy, ultimately the public author will need to accept the overall responsibility for the ideas and concepts presented in the content. This needs to be confirmed by whoever is responsible for the whole process.
Don’t put words in your author’s mouth
You will also need to understand what your intended author “can” and “cannot” talk about. This information will set the guidelines as to what is appropriate and is within the author’s remit and what is not. For some people this will be their family or hobbies and others would rather stick to historical analogies. This allows ghostwriters to inject a bit of personality into the content.
Do get at least some indication of what your author would like to cover in the content. Unless you are an undebated industry expert on your author’s subject, you will not know the ins and outs of the complex subject matter the intended author is exposed to on a regular basis. It’s important the content reflects the intended author’s level of expertise and opinions.
Know what makes the author tick
When you are interviewing the intended author on the subject, avoid questions that can result in “yes” or “no” responses – this will limit your writing. Instead, ask open-ended questions that start with “who”, “what”, “when”, “why” or “how.” This encourages the author to talk more about themselves and what they care about.
Also, make sure you stay on topic. It’s easier than you would think to waste a 30-minute brief by going off on a long tangent. Whilst it’s a good way to understand the intended author’s personality, the content discussed will have no relevance to the piece you are meant to construct.
Don’t get into trouble
All the content you draft should be original. Whilst it’s ok to take inspiration from other pieces, never copy and pass off other people’s work as your own. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. Plagiarism is lazy, shows you have little confidence in you work and finally, no confidence in your author’s words. It’s unethical and will negatively impact your brand and your intended author’s credibility.
I recently wrote an article on the six golden rules to catch plagiarism and how to prevent it. If you take these points into consideration, plagiarism won’t be a problem for you.
Both the rewards and negative repercussions of any ghostwritten copy will affect the entire organisation. Therefore, it’s critical that before you undergo any ghostwriting on behalf of any individual or business that you are clear in your objectives and have full cooperation from the intended author. Getting the proper training on all aspects of the process – from preparation to approvals and amplification of the finished content – will ensure qualify content. Ghostwritten content done right will have a positive impact on your brand and provide increased exposure and positive engagement with your intended audience.