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It’s time to ditch our prejudices about ghostwriting

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 26th August , 2020 in The Write Fit
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This is an excerpt from the 26th edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.

Ghostwriting and thought leadership: really?

Last week my good friend Michele Linn asked a simple question on LinkedIn: Can a ghostwriter help you be more authentic?

She was referring to findings from the 2020 Thought Leadership Survey, a joint study between Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media and Michele’s company, Mantis Research. One point jumped out: 51 per cent of marketers think ghostwritten thought leadership content is inferior.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I struggle with the concept of thought leadership, since it’s so ubiquitous. When everyone is a thought leader, then no one is a thought leader, right? Regardless, good writing skills are not a requirement for thought leadership or for being a subject matter expert.

We all have a crack at being a subject matter expert but only if you’re able to communicate your experience, advice and big ideas to your audience. If writing isn’t your strong suit, getting help can be the best thing you can do, for two reasons:

  1. A ghostwriter is an expert at getting to the heart of the matter, putting complex concepts into easily understood language.
  2. A ghostwriter will be far more efficient putting your ideas into a structure suitable for publishing, giving you more time to ponder instead of wrestling with prose, grammar and word counts.

What I find interesting about the ghostwriting/thought leadership conundrum is no-one bats an eye about speechwriters. Politicians and captains of industry rely on them to help convey their ideology. They know a good speechwriter can harness the hearts and minds of their constituencies and help them deliver a more powerful address.

A partnership that can write history

Pair a good orator with a good writer and history is made. Fans of The West Wing know how important Toby and Sam were to President Bartlet. His job was to deliver the message but he didn’t have to be the one constructing the best way to do it. That’s the job of a speechwriter, a fancy name for ghostwriter.

It doesn’t happen by magic though. You can hire a ghostwriter but you can’t outsource thought leadership or your own expertise. A good ghostwriter is almost always a good interviewer. They’ll probe and prod and help you refine anything that isn’t a fully formed idea. They’ll write with your voice in their head so the style of writing matches the way you communicate.

It’s not unusual to hear the end result of a piece was better than the thought leader could have imagined or written on their own. That’s not because I’ve become a thought leader; it’s because there’s been an extraordinary briefing cycle. The longer a ghostwriter works with a thought leader, the more efficient the writer becomes at advancing the authority of the expert. Dan and I prefer to work with fewer customers for this precise reason, so we can get to know them, their business strategies, their personal opinions and motivations.

Barack Obama called Jon Favreau, former White House director of speechwriting, his “mind reader”. Favreau worked with Obama during his 2008 campaign, so it’s not surprising he knew exactly how President Obama wanted to frame things and how to write in his voice.

While you can’t outsource thought leadership, you can definitely work with writers who know how to produce truly authentic writing for your ideas. If you’re lost for words or not getting the results you expect, get in touch with Dan or me. We’ll help you.

Sarah Mitchell
26 August 2020

 

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