Maybe you need a ghost

Looking for a new way to promote your organization and establish credibility among your audiences? Perhaps you need to find a ghost.

No, I’m not suggesting you tag along with Scooby-Doo and Shaggy to a creepy tropical island (besides, we already know that the caretaker is the guilty party). Nor do I think your global headquarters would benefit from an exorcism.

What I’m talking about is the marketing value in ghostwritten articles. If you’re not familiar with the term, a ghostwriter is a professional writer who develops articles that carry somebody else’s byline – such as yours. For example, many of the articles you’ll see in publications that are “authored” by top corporate executives are actually written on their behalf by ghostwriters.

Why would anyone consider such an approach? First, you should be aware that trade magazines, association journals and print and online business publications have a hunger for well-written articles on subjects your organization’s experts know better than everyone else.

Perhaps your engineer has developed a process that eliminates one of the most common nightmares in your customers’ industry. Maybe your sales manager has a unique understanding of one of your key markets. Or it could be that your CEO thinks your entire industry doesn’t recognize the threats in a proposed piece of legislation. All of those are great opportunities for developing and submitting articles.

Publishing such articles can be a very powerful marketing tool. In addition to the visibility they provide, the fact that an independent editor believed that the article is worthy of publication lends third-party credibility to your message and evidence of your expertise. Prospects who won’t sit still for a quick sales call will read through an entire article and absorb more information than your best salesperson could deliver. The article may even make those prospects more receptive to that salesperson’s next call.

“Articles have value that extends beyond publication, too.”

Articles have value that extends beyond publication, too. Savvy organizations obtain reprints of the articles and distribute them to their own lists of customers, prospects, and industry thought leaders. It’s not unusual for published authors to be invited to speak to trade groups or at industry conferences, because most people view being published as a sign of being an authority.

However, most companies face obstacles to getting articles written and published. For example, your engineer may be a brilliant woman, but you have trouble reading her memos without a dictionary. Every minute that your sales manager spends at the keyboard takes his eyes away from the sales force. And it’s easier to land a space on President Bush’s appointment calendar than to get ten minutes of quality time with your CEO.

All of those are excellent reasons for working with a ghostwriter. Even if the executive or employee in question writes well, writing probably isn’t the most effective use of his or her time. A story that a professional writer can produce in a couple of days might take your engineer more than a week to develop, putting other, more important efforts behind schedule.

An outside writer also brings a different viewpoint. Too many organizations talk to themselves or think they know how the outside world sees them. But an outsider will view you in the context of your marketplace, and can question and challenge internal attitudes and assumptions.

While this might surprise you, many editors would rather work through a seasoned ghostwriter than deal with someone who does something else for a living. After all, their goal is to publish content that will be interesting and useful to their readers. A good ghostwriter will present the information in a more meaningful and engaging way. And a busy editor knows that a ghostwritten story will require less editing and polishing than one submitted by a non-writer.

I’ve encountered some people who think that there’s something inherently unethical or dishonest about ghostwriting – that it’s wrong for an executive to put his or her name on an article that he or she didn’t actually write.

But an effective ghostwriter doesn’t create content from thin air. A ghostwriter captures what you know and presents it in a way that reflects your attitude and personality. The process is very similar to speechwriting. For example, I’ll typically interview the “author” in person or by phone to better understand the gist of the article, gather the facts, and listen for subtleties in the way he or she explains the points. Those subtleties frequently find their way into the article as phrases or tones that make it sound as though the “author” had written them.

The next time you pick up a trade magazine or scroll through an online publication like this one, glance at the articles that have been written by the folks in your industry. Could those articles – or articles similar to them – have been written by your executives or employees? Could your organization be basking in the good impressions and expert status those articles are creating?

Maybe it’s time you teamed up with a ghost of your own.