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Are Thought Leaders Expected to be Singer/Songwriters?

Is the quality of thought leadership content impacted if it’s ghostwritten? I stumbled on this question in a LinkedIn discussion started by Michele Linn from Mantis Research. She teamed up with Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media and SurveyMonkey Audience to see how marketers define thought leadership in 2020. I was surprised to learn 51% of marketers believed thought leadership content developed by a ghostwriter is inferior in quality. One of the better arguments on the online discussion for having a ghostwriter work with thought leaders came from Mark Schettenhelm, a work friend from my days in technology. I’ll let him explain; over to Mark.

In college I had a friend who believed in the power of singer/songwriters – so much so that’s about all he listened to. He believed only the person who wrote the song would convey the appropriate feeling.  I can see merit in this. This view, however, ignores some things that I would point out to him in one of those endless college arguments. 

To start, a singer may, in fact, understand those words – they may have a similar experience and be able to convey it in the song. Their skill in singing could potentially deliver the song’s meaning even better than the songwriter.  

It could also be that the songwriter just can’t sing. Are we not to hear their music because they lack one skill? There are many examples, but I think of Cole Porter, a legendary songwriter who sang many of his own songs. These recordings are not the ones we remember; if they were all we had, Cole Porter would not be as well-known as he is.

In the end, we all want great music. That requires the song, and a singer. The process to get there may interest some, but with music, we know what we like. To the listener it’s the final song that matters. 

So what does my side of the late-night student debate have to do with thought leadership?

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Not all thought leaders are good communicators

This illustrates points I feel apply to subject matter experts and thought leaders and their efforts to get their ideas across. They have the ideas and some of them are great at getting their ideas out. Those who can put their ideas on paper are the equivalent of a multi-talented singer/songwriter. Most of these experts, though, are very focused on their area of expertise and don’t have the time, or the desire or, in some cases, the core skills to devote to another area of expertise – communication. They are the songwriters, and they need someone to sing their song – and that requires good writing. 

The role of copywriters in thought leadership content

Enter the ghostwriter; they are the singer. They are great at communicating but need the content – the song – to get the performance out. 

In the absence of the expert who is also a singer/songwriter, a great team is needed. It is a symbiotic relationship – each needs the other, with the shared goal of getting a message out to the broader public. The writer needs to be able to get deeply into the concepts, to understand and experience them to be able to help the thought leader produce great content. 

The writer assists the expert in forming these thoughts and making them easier for others to understand. For example, things that the expert wouldn’t mention because “everyone knows that” are covered by the writer because not everyone does, in fact, know it. It is this collaboration between the thought leader and a skilled ghostwriter that can produce the content needed. It is playing off the strengths of both – expertise in a subject area and expertise in clarifying and communicating to others.

We can’t all be great singer/songwriters. This goes with thought leaders as well; they won’t all be great writers. What we are looking for is the tight collaboration which can produce the magic we need. 

Is it worth taking time away from important work to write? 

For thought leaders and subject matter experts, I ask that you consider whether you want to allocate the time away from your studies to devote to writing? Is this a skill you possess to such an extent that it would be easier and faster for you to do it yourself rather than working with a skilled communicator? Would you benefit from having assistance to help you gather your thoughts and put them out there, while still retaining your “voice”? 

Here’s a quick “yes” or “no” quiz to help determine the value of working with a ghostwriter.   

  • Time I spend writing is taken from the finite time I have available for my work
  • Whenever I have written in the past, I end up having to take time to answer questions and re-explain what I’ve written
  • I often hit “writer’s block” and just can’t put to words things I do need to write
  • I pass on opportunities to publish because I don’t have the time to put into writing
  • I don’t feel my work is getting properly understood and therefore it doesn’t have the effect it could have

If you find yourself agreeing with these statements, then you should consider looking for writing assistance. Find someone who is an experienced communicator, but who will also take the time to understand your work. A good ghostwriter is someone who can put across your ideas in your “voice”. The good news is there are many excellent writers who know how to do this. Find someone you can partner with and let them do the part you don’t find productive. They’ll know how to convey your ideas on your behalf. 

What to do if you need a ghostwriter

Get in touch with Sarah at Global Copywriting if you’d rather spend more time working in your core area of expertise and less time fiddling with words. You can also head over to Typeset where Sarah and her business partner, Dan Hatch, spend a lot of time working on thought leadership articles for some of the smartest people around

About the author

Mark Schettenhelm is a Senior Product Manager at Compuware, a BMC Company. He’s one of those unusual characters who is good with technology and is also comfortable behind a keyboard.