Ghostwriting for the CEO: Not as Spooky as It Sounds

Mary Clare Novak
Mary Clare Novak  |  May 3, 2019

Do you ever stop and think about how famous athletes, politicians, and musicians have the time to write an entire book about their life while working tirelessly at their full-time job?

Save yourself some time: they don’t.

It is not uncommon for influential people from all professions to hire a skillful writer to compose materials for them. It might sound a little unethical, but as long as the author has good intentions, the writer is compensated, and the readers get what they are expecting, it is fair and legal. The proper term for this action in leadership communication is ghostwriting.

More people use ghostwriting than you think. Barack Obama, William Shakespeare, and Kanye West have all hired ghostwriters to produce materials for them.

Barack Obama Dreams of my FatherImage courtesy of Canongate

The same goes for the CEO of your business. As a person of power, your CEO has a lot of valuable information with little time to share it.

That, or they aren’t the best writer.

A good CEO will recognize this and outsource their communicative tasks to a ghostwriter.

If you have the time and skill, they might pick you. Nervous? Don’t worry. We’ve put together a guide for the process of ghostwriting for your CEO, along with some skills you’ll need to create the expected materials.

Ghostwriting for your CEO

The ghostwriting process is a bit different from other forms of writing. While most writing includes the author becoming an expert in a topic, ghostwriting requires you to create a relationship and become an expert on a person to speak on their behalf.

Here are the four steps to get you there:

ghostwriting process

1. Receive your assignment

Today is a big day. You have officially been designated as the ghostwriter for the CEO of your business. Congratulations!

The first step is to get an idea of what type of content you will be creating for your CEO. Social media posts, newsletters, blogs, and emails might all fall into your hands. They might limit you to one type of content or let you explore them all.

You should also determine the CEO’s desired involvement in the process. Some will want to be regularly updated and given access to the content before it is released to give it a once-over. Others will be hands off and trust that you will do a good job. This, of course, all depends on the time they have available.

Make sure you understand the extent to which you will be ghostwriting for the CEO, as well as the specifics regarding the involvement of the CEO in the process. This will affect the remainder of the steps for the ghostwriting process.

2. Get to know the CEO

After you have a grasp of what you will be writing and your level of freedom, you have to get to know your CEO. I mean really, really, get to know them.

In a way, a ghostwriter is creating an illusion that the person getting credit for the content is also the writer. To create that illusion, you must understand the way that person communicates and be able to replicate it. The demanding schedule of CEOs makes this difficult. They might have time to meet with you, but that is highly unlikely.

Use your research and observation skills. Look at social media posts, blogs, company emails, and other content written by the CEO, or at least on their behalf. Even if the chances they wrote it themselves are slim, you can assume they were pleased with the end result because it was released. Pay special attention to written communication tools like word choice, tone, and format. You will be expected to mirror it in your writing.

Take advantage of any opportunity to observe your CEO communicating in the office. This will give you a better understanding of how they interact and want to be perceived by their internal communication audience, which might apply to most of your work.

3. Gather their key messages

Get your hands on the key takeaways for the content you will be ghostwriting. You might get this information from the CEO or someone who works closely with them. This can be difficult, but it’s important to push for the information you think is necessary. Without it, you don’t have anything to create.

You also need to understand the purpose of the message. Does the CEO want the audience to take action, change a behavior, or just know the information you are sending? Determine this so you can craft the message to cause that desired effect.

4. Write and revise

Once you have your messages in mind and a firm understanding of the type of communicator your CEO is, you can write your speech, draft your newsletter, or complete whichever communicative task they have given you.

When writing the content, make sure to keep the CEO’s intended key messages in mind. More than anything, the purpose of ghostwriting for your CEO is to send messages on their behalf in the most effective way possible. When revising your work again, ensure that it matches the typical tone and word choice of the CEO.

As you can tell, the ghostwriting process is not black and white. The correct method depends on the type of content being delivered, your experience and relationship with the person you are ghostwriting for, and their desired outcome.

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Ghostwriting skills

The ghostwriting process is a grey area. But no matter the steps you take while ghostwriting, you have to first master the following skills to meet (and hopefully exceed) the CEO’s expectations.

Writing experience

This one might seem obvious, but there is no way a respected CEO will choose a rookie to be their ghostwriter. Create a solid portfolio of all your relevant work and show them what you can do.

Part of your writing experience should give you the ability to adapt. You’re a great writer with excellent ideas, but that’s not the point here. The point is to effectively relay the messages from the CEO to their intended audience. This might include leaving your usual tone and word choice behind and picking up those that are typical of the CEO.

Adaptability is key when ghostwriting.

Research

Because you won’t get much facetime with the CEO, your research skills have to be sharp to be a successful ghostwriter. Mastering the CEO’s writing style is necessary. Do this by following them on social media, looking at old blog posts, and any general communication habits. You are being trusted to represent them, and being as accurate as possible will benefit both you and the CEO you are ghostwriting for.

Empathy

A good ghostwriter is able to put themselves in the shoes of the person they are working for. This can be simple for ordinary assignments, but some of your tasks as a ghostwriter for the CEO might include delivering good or bad news. Do your best to empathize with the CEO during those situations and make sure you exude the appropriate emotions in your writing.

Confidence

It is possible that the CEO you are ghostwriting for will give you little to nothing to work with. If this is the case, you must be confident in your writing, research, and creative skills to accurately ghostwrite for them. Don’t waste time second-guessing yourself. You wouldn’t be in this situation if you weren’t already a good writer.

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Don’t be spooked

Ghostwriting for your company’s CEO can be a lot of pressure. Not only do you want to impress them with your writing skills, but you want to create a positive image of your business through the communication of the CEO. Following these steps and prioritizing these skills for the ghostwriting process will prepare you to deliver writing that is so well done, it will spook your CEO.

Curious about how the audiences differ for a CEO? Take a look at our resource on internal and external communication and how the type of audience changes the game.  

Mary Clare Novak
Author

Mary Clare Novak

Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Associate at G2 Crowd in Chicago. A recent graduate from Indiana University, she is happy to be back working in her favorite city. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, making a mess in the kitchen, or socializing.