Know your executive and their audience when ghost writing

In an era when transparency and authenticity are paramount in PR, there's something "Old World" about ghost writing.

In an era when transparency and authenticity are paramount in PR, there's something "Old World" about ghost writing. Nevertheless, whether it's an op-ed in The Times of India, an essay for a Wiley business book, or a corporate blog post, there's an abundance of opportunities for PR professionals to deliver highly controlled messages to key stakeholders via credible media channels.

But be warned: the socialization of media is real. Inauthentic, tone deaf, or out-of-touch prose will be challenged more quickly and more vigorously than ever. As a PR ghost writer, remember, you are not your executive. Your job is not to make your executive sound smarter or more worldly than they are; it is to make the executive sound exactly as smart as they are.

If your CEO doesn't read Greek philosophy, don't quote Plato in their blog posts. If the head of sales drives a Prius to work don't have them use anecdotes about heavy-duty trucks. Don't write to please yourself; be as authentic to your executive's personal style as possible.

Don't just think about your audience, think about their audience.

You know exactly who reads the Huffington Post and the New York Post, but when you're ghost writing, you're writing as much for your executive's most valued customer or retailer as for the unseen audience detailed in a publisher's media kit. So when you've finished that painstaking ninth draft and you're ready to submit it to the executive, try presenting it to someone who reports to them first.

Better still, test your words on a customer, reseller, or partner who can answer that crucial question: "Does this sound like some-thing she would say?" Are you a ghost "replier" as well as a ghost writer? Even if you successfully get inside your executive's head and the heads of their customers, the chances are you will still struggle to predict the feedback your ghost-written article will receive once published.

If no one is on the hook to follow up on comments or letters to the editor inspired by your executive's well-written thoughts, the ensuing deafening silence may undermine the authenticity of the original prose or of the executive themselves. At a minimum, have a plan to work with an administrative assistant to flag key feedback. Better still, take crafting replies to feedback every bit as seriously as writing your original prose. 

David McCulloch is director of corporate communications at Cisco.

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