A Complete Guide To Ghostwriting For A CEO

Behind every great CEO is a great ghostwriter—or several. These are the behind-the-scenes individuals who have both the knowledge of the CEO’s style and personality and the ability to adopt their voice and tone for a variety of projects.

That’s because executive ghostwriting isn’t confined to a business memoir or blog post. Executive ghostwriters also contribute thought leadership pieces, speeches, scripts, e-books, Wikipedia entries, op-eds, courses, white papers, editorial content, even song lyrics and comedy routines.

What does a CEO ghostwriter do, why do CEOs need one, and what should you look for in a ghostwriter? Learn everything you need to know about ghostwriting for CEOs in this post.

Why hire a ghostwriter?

The importance of building a personal brand and becoming a thought leader is increasingly clear. In short, businesses benefit hugely from executives who are able to achieve a strong public. CEOs like Tim Cook and eBay’s Meg Whitman may be household names, but countless leaders have carved out important niches in their respective industries.

But to build a CEO’s brand and position them as a thought leader, content is needed— lots of it. The most effective CEO brands belong to those who are part of the conversation and are able to attract earned media through staying in the public eye via blog posts and op-eds and social media updates. A constant stream of content that is both creative and strategic is necessary to build the kind of brand like those of CEOs like Richard Branson or Phil Knight.

This means that hiring a ghostwriter can save an enormous amount of the executive’s time. In addition, there are ghostwriters who specialize in different industries so already come with a knowledge base. Ghostwriters are also able to adopt the voice and tone of the CEO, generate story and content ideas, and know how and where to sell those ideas.

What ghostwriting for a CEO means

A good ghostwriter needs effective communication skills—not just in writing for the public but in dealing with the boss. Executive ghostwriters might interview the executive that they’re ghosting for several times to get to know how they think and what their message is, and to convey the personality and style of the boss.

What are the values of the CEO and their company? How can these most effectively be communicated? A ghostwriter will work with other brand strategists to decide how and where to get those messages across, whether in a LinkedIn update or a blog post on the company website or an in-house communication with employees. Experienced ghostwriters develop an intuition for what kind of material works best in different situations.

Examples of well-known executives who have used ghostwriters include:

  • Jack Welch. The former CEO of General Electric (GE) collaborated with journalist John A. Byrne on his 2001 autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut.
  • Richard Branson. The founder of the Virgin Group has acknowledged using ghostwriters on several of his books, including Losing My Virginity and Screw It, Let’s Do It.
  • Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook COO collaborated with Nell Scovell on her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
  • Tim Ferriss. The entrepreneur, author, and podcast host has acknowledged using a team of researchers and writers to assist with his books, including The 4-Hour Work Week. (How else would you make it a 4-hour work week?)

Examples of what a ghostwriter does

One of the first things a ghostwriter does is figure out the goal of the piece. Is it to drive people to the company website? Is it to communicate something internally to employees?

A ghostwriter might be given a simple brief and asked to turn it into a compelling article. The brief might be “Share insights on the CEO’s vision for the industry.” The ghostwriter will research the topic, interview the CEO, and then write the piece in the language best suited for whatever outlet the piece is aimed at.

Or the brief might be: “Explore the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility in tech for evergreen content.” Again, the writer might need some time with the executive to get their thoughts on the subject before going off to research on his or her own. And the writer will be well-versed in the company website and evergreen content and so able to write the piece within those parameters.

A professional executive ghostwriter also knows how to write for different audiences. There is a huge difference between crafting an Instagram update for younger consumers versus composing an article for wealthy investors reading Forbes.

Many ghostwriters have journalism backgrounds. J.R. Moehringer, who helped Prince Harry and Andre Agassi write their memoirs, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.

Throughout the assignment, the ghostwriter reinforces its theme—i.e., the company’s commitment to innovation or corporate responsibility—and ensures that it aligns with the company’s values and goals.

The benefits of hiring an executive ghostwriter

The benefits of executive ghostwriting services aren’t limited to saving valuable CEO time and building a brand. Other benefits include:

  • Clear and concise language: A ghostwriter knows how to use good grammar and sentence construction to simply convey a message, as well as when to drop in a $10 word.
  • Avoidance of clichés: It’s easy to slip into cliché when writing, but a ghostwriter will avoid cliches wherever possible.
  • Storytelling and storytelling techniques for brand-building: Knowing how to structure an article for maximum impact and draw in the reader is a skill in itself.
  • Industry expertise: A ghostwriter with knowledge of your industry can leverage industry news and trends into content, thereby helping establish your brand as a thought-leader.
  • Consistency: Establishing and maintaining a brand-specific voice ensures that your audience is not confused about who you are or what your company stands for.
  • Research: Well-written pieces, especially well-researched ones with statistics, drive traffic to the company website.

How do you hire a ghostwriter?

There are two approaches to hiring a ghostwriter. One is to find one through a full-service executive thought leader branding agency like CSuite Content. Another is to research writers who have published in your industry.

If your business is high tech, you want an executive ghostwriter with experience writing about technology. If your industry is finance, you might look for a ghostwriter who has written about investing. Executive ghostwriters don’t necessarily need to be experts in your field or industry, but they should have enough foundation to communicate with other executives.

While you may save money finding your own executive ghostwriter, working with an agency has many advantages, including:

  • The Avengers effect: Just like the Marvel superhero team, a branding agency has a diverse group of experts. They’ve got the Tony Starks of design, the Captain Americas of strategy, and, you guessed it, the Black Widows of wordsmithery. It’s a powerhouse collaboration that ensures your executive brand gets the attention it deserves.
  • Seamless coordination: The right agency will manage the entire process, ensuring consistency across all platforms, from the website to social media to that white paper on corporate governance.
  • Infinite adaptability: Agency ghostwriters aren’t just wordsmiths; they’re chameleons. They can adapt to your brand’s tone, style, and personality seamlessly. Need a touch of humor? They’ve got the snappy one-liners. Going for a more serious vibe? No problem.
  • Strategic prowess: Beyond crafting compelling content, a branding agency thinks strategically. It’s not just about writing; it’s about coordinated, strategic storytelling that propels your executive brand forward.

What ghostwriters look for in a client

Of course, hiring a ghostwriter is a two-way street. Ghostwriters have their own expectations from clients.

For one thing, ghostwriters earn better money than writers who publish under their own byline because they can’t claim the work as their own. The only benefit they derive is what they are paid.

Most ghostwriters are paid on a per-word basis. Contracts specify the number of articles they are responsible for per month, deadlines, and confidentiality. Once the piece is bought and paid for, the company owns it.

Experienced ghostwriters come with their own sets of expectations. A professional executive ghostwriter:

  • Will want to know whether you intend to publish the piece;
  • Will rarely write articles “on spec”—that is, to be paid only if used—unless they have an established relationship with the organization and/or anticipate a long-term relationship;
  • Will expect payment for a submitted piece, if that piece is well-written and fulfills the brief given, whether or not you use it.

If you haven’t thought about hiring a ghostwriter or brand agency with ghostwriting services than you probably haven’t thought seriously about building your brand. But executives and CEOs who do work with professional writers will have a better chance at positioning themselves as thought leaders, with all the benefits that come with that status for both them and their company.

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