Learn how to work with a freelance or agency ghostwriting partner to build your thought leadership reputation.
No doubt you’ve noticed something odd: A C-level exec in your space doesn’t have time to respond to your emails for weeks at a time—yet you notice her contributing thought leadership content to top publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc. with alarming frequency. How could it be that she has the time to create compelling, thoroughly-researched articles that clearly articulate her company’s value proposition when you can barely manage to set up a few Tweets in the same amount of time?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. The truth is, she’s probably had some help.
Many top executives rely on communications directors, content partners, or PR teams to help them with crafting and placing content for industry and top-tier media publications. That doesn’t mean it’s not their opinions being represented—but in many cases, their contribution might be a half-hour phone interview or a series of bullet-pointed notes, which must be crafted into an article for the target publication. This process can be tricky to wrap your head around if you’re new to it, but, as experienced corporate ghostwriters, we’re here to deconstruct the process for you.
Here’s how to get started working with a ghostwriting partner:
You may have someone on your internal marketing team you can trust with this important task, but if not, make sure that you’re able to find a qualified partner with experience writing on behalf of executives of your caliber. While industry knowledge can be helpful, strong writing experience is more important—you need to know that they’ll be able to approach the subject like a journalist and dig into the heart of the story.
During my own time writing “as told to” stories for CEOs at CBS.com’s BNET, I found that it was often crucial to probe a little deeper than my subjects were prepared to go—make sure that the company or freelancer you work with is ready and able to guide you off-script. Confidentiality is also important; be sure that your team understands what they can and can’t disclose about your partnership, and don’t be afraid to ask for an NDA. (Check out our recent article for more guidance on choosing a content marketing agency in general.)
Once you’ve found a partner you have confidence in, you’ll need to take the time to get to know one another. A good ghostwriter will want to go beyond your go-to corporate messaging to dig into your unique experiences and lessons that you can share with a broader audience. In order to do this effectively, my team would begin with an in-depth phone call to help discover and shape your narrative, touching on the key messages that will deliver value to different audiences (i.e., industry-related publications v. entrepreneurship-related publications). We can dig into each topic in more depth later on, but this is our opportunity to find out your “hero’s journey” and your ultimate goals for developing your thought leadership profile.
When we work with a client, we’re typically able to build out an initial strategic plan for thought leadership content based on our discovery session. Our strategic plans are customized for each client, but might include elements such as:
Overall goals: Are you seeking to build your personal brand, or speak on behalf of a company? Will the content be placed on self-publishing platforms, or shared more broadly? If we’ll be placing the content on your behalf, do you care more about backlinks for SEO, or mentions in reputable publications?
Content topics: We’ll sketch out a series of pitches based on our initial call, which we can work to flesh out with you in follow-up calls if needed.
Target publications: If we’re working with you on content that you’d like to have placed on a third-party platform, we’ll provide recommendations on our target outlets and potential topics that would suit each one.
Promotional plan: How can you effectively promote the content that we’ve created together, and how can we pursue the right outlets for earned media?
Now that you have a plan in place, it’s time to actually get to work. From here, you’ll likely need to conduct several follow-up interviews, fleshing out the details of the messaging you’ve put together. Try to stay focused on your interviewer’s questions, but don’t be afraid of an occasional tangent—it may inspire a new topic idea, or filter into the content in an interesting way. Your interviewer may take notes as she goes, or (our preference) record the interview for transcription, so that she can use your exact account where it makes sense and massage it into a clear, coherent narrative structure. It’s important to work with a partner who can get your “voice”—so make sure that, as you review the copy, you feel like the content still “sounds” like you (while eliminating those “ums” and “ahs”).
If the content isn’t perfect at first glance, don’t panic. A ghostwriting partnership is always a collaboration: Each of you needs to provide constructive feedback on the direction in order to find your way through to the end. If you’ve developed a transparent process of providing and addressing feedback to carry you through each cycle, you’ll soon find your rhythm—and hopefully, build a strong, long-lasting partnership that’ll catapult your industry reputation.
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