Home

Your company’s leadership has a lot of expertise and passion that could be turned into quality content, but it takes time you probably don’t have.

Using a ghostwriter can be a great solution for a marketing director trying to add genuinely valuable thought leadership to their editorial calendar, but the process inherently has a lot of mystery to it. (That kind of goes with the term ghost, right?) This list is intended to uncover the mystery a little.

1. Find your internal experts

Usually, ghostwriters are working with the CEO (i.e. the author), but don’t stop there. Your company probably has a lot of people with valuable insight who can express your company’s unique point of view.

For example, if your product is good, that’s probably because of innovative thinking by your engineering or design leads, among others. Each of them could be getting your message out in niche publications.

2. Clarify your goal and audience

Is the goal of a ghostwritten piece to build the company’s brand or the personal brand of the author? If it’s the latter, how does that support the company’s larger marketing strategy?

You also want to clarify whether the goal is to establish the brand as an innovator, to attract institutional partners or to attract qualified leads.

3. Find and hire a ghostwriter

My colleague Maria Wood has an in-depth piece on bylines, credit and everything else you need to know about working with a ghostwriter. When it comes hiring, your challenge is that they may have to keep their past work confidential.

One way to get a sense of their skills is to look at their original reporting work. My advice is to worry less about content expertise than interviewing experience. 

4. Give the writer a head start

Your ghostwriter will be capturing the point of view and the voice of the author — so provide the writer as much background material as you can.

You can provide previous writing samples by the author if they exist, examples by peers who the author admires and video or audio you have from conferences, podcasts or media appearances by the author.

5. Plan the topic but not too much

If you stick too closely to an outline, you can end up with something obvious. I’m a big believer in using the interview process to unearth the “big idea.” (I’ve written elsewhere about how helpful a journalistic approach is in content marketing.) But that process is messy, and your CEO might not have much patience for it.

A good middle ground is to translate your topic, which may be very generic, into an argument. What flag do you want to plant? What does your company know better than anyone?

Call that Plan A, but also be open to the interview leading in new directions.

6. Make time for the interview

You’re using a ghostwriter because your leadership doesn’t have time to write the article, so if you add back in a lot of time for interviewing, you have diminishing returns, right? But the more time you can allow for the interview process, the better the result will be.

Experienced ghostwriters knows there is a big opportunity cost in the interview and will use that time effectively. In our experience, an opinion piece with an original idea from a CEO developed for a business blog is going to require an interview of about 45 minutes.

7. Edit, which really means managing

Your ghostwriter should be available for as many revisions as you need, but someone needs to be responsible for coordinating feedback and approving drafts. As I discussed previously article on this blog, the biggest bottleneck to content development isn’t the quality of writing but making sure it is aligned with the big picture. You need to manage for the editorial process.

8. Consider where to publish

Editors are inundated with submissions, so you need to have a plan and some patience. An existing relationship with an editor is ideal, and if you are working with a PR agency, they can help place the article.

If you are placing it yourself, you’ll want a list of multiple publications where you can try submitting it. If you get a rejection or no response, you are ready to try the next publication on your list.

9. Keep the pipeline flowing

Some editors will never answer, but some will reply something like, “Interesting, but not for us right now.”

Those are valuable responses, because now you know someone there will recognize your name. You want to have an even better article ready to send to that person. As soon as the first article is done, have your ghostwriter schedule interview time to craft the next expression of the big idea you want to get out there.

Robert McGuire operates McGuire Editorial, a content development agency specializing in B2B SaaS companies. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.