March 21, 2017
I spend a lot of time performing research for projects, and I’ve discovered that many of the companies that have the best information do the worst job of presenting it. They have the expertise, but it’s clear that the wrong people are responsible for sharing what they know.
Now, it’s not really their fault. Each of us has specific skills and areas of knowledge. But just because someone in your company is an expert on a particular subject doesn’t mean that they’re also an expert at presenting what they know in written form. In fact, subject matter experts who are also effective writers are a rare breed. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve worked with were also some of the poorest writers. Or, their writing skills may have been decent — they just didn’t know how to translate their subject matter into easily understood prose.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to ensure that your company’s expertise is being presented as clearly and effectively as possible: work with a professional ghostwriter. No, I’m not talking about someone who develops novels about supernatural beings. A ghostwriter is someone who takes what your subject matter experts know and transforms it into well-written content for your website, blog, enewsletter, magazine articles, white papers, speeches, or any number of other channels.
Beyond producing higher-quality work, a key benefit of ghostwriting is that it makes the most of your subject matter expert’s time. Whether that expert is a physician, an attorney, a manager, a C-suite executive, a salesperson, or any other role, the time it would take to write and refine is time away from their regular responsibilities or billable hours. You want that person to use his or her limited hours in the most productive and profitable way — and that’s probably not agonizing over sentence structure.
Skilled ghostwriters can also help you bridge the communication gaps that often exist between experts and their audiences. A great example is a program I handled for a CPA firm that served financial institutions. While bankers and CPAs are both financial experts, their professions don’t always communicate well because of differences in terminology and jargon. I would interview the firm’s accountants (as well as attorneys and regulators) to gather information that demonstrated the CPA firm’s expertise, and write it for trade magazine and newsletter articles using language that was more familiar to bankers. Not only did it provide information to help bankers do a better job of running their banks; it gave them the confidence that this CPA firm actually understood and could communicate with them.
How does ghostwriting work? Once you’ve engaged the services of a writer, he or she will probably either sit down with your subject matter expert or conduct a phone interview. There are two reasons for that step. First, it provides the ghostwriter with the basic information for the project. Second, and just as important, it gives the ghostwriter the opportunity to hear how the subject matter expert talks and thinks. That way, the finished work will actually “sound like” it came from the expert, and not from an outsider.
Next, the ghostwriter will draft the article, post, or other content and submit it to your expert for review. That’s also an important step, because the material will be published under the expert’s name, so he or she has to be confident that it’s accurate, as well as comfortable with the manner in which it’s being presented. The ghostwriter then makes any edits or corrections before submitting a revised draft for final approval. When the story or post eventually appears, it carries the expert’s name. Nobody else is aware that an outside writer was involved — that’s why the process is known as ghostwriting.
Some managers worry that ghostwriting isn’t ethical. It isn’t right to put an employee’s name on something he or she didn’t create, they reason. Nonsense. The information in the article, white paper, or other piece is based entirely on the knowledge of your employees. The ghostwriter is simply conveying it in a way that’s clearer and more communicative. In fact, you’d be surprised how many of the articles, books, speeches, and blog posts “authored” by top executives from companies you respect are actually crafted by ghostwriters.
Are your communications materials presenting your company’s expertise as clearly and effectively as possible? Are the experts within your company spending more time than they should trying to fine-tune those messages? Maybe it’s time you found yourself a helpful ghost.