Let’s state the obvious: CEOs are super busy and in demand. This leaves them little time to write their own stuff — speeches, letters, opinion pieces, manifestos, memos or memoirs.
Meanwhile, the demands on the chief executive to communicate are endless. That’s when the phone starts ringing in the marketing communications office.
The case for ghostwriting
If your CEO hasn’t asked for help, you may want to call on the C-suite yourself. The words of senior executives have a huge impact on all stakeholders — employees, patients, board members, community leaders and the media.
In essence, the CEO is the brand, the face of your hospital, organization or company. Whatever you as a communicator can do to support the CEO with clear, compelling writing will go a long way to achieve your overall strategic communications and marketing goals.
I’ve had the opportunity to develop executive communications for several healthcare leaders. I want to share some insights to help you succeed when it’s time to put write for the big cheese.
1. Aim for authenticity
Senior executives come in all flavors. Some are quiet and analytical. Some are outgoing and confident. Regardless, the boss gained that position through a unique blend of strengths and skills. When ghostwriting for the CEO, you want what you write on their behalf to reflect them personally. You need to sound genuine while effectively communicating the message and reaching the intended audience with best writing practices.
2. Listen and observe any way you can
Ideally, a ghostwriter would have unfettered, one-on-one access to the CEO. But that’s not often the case.
A ghostwriter may have to do some detective work to get to know their subject. Take advantage of any opportunity to be face-to-face, listen in on conference calls, attend their meetings.
If you can’t be on-site or you’re just not invited, ask someone who’s in the room or on the call to record the CEO for your reference (with permission). Search YouTube to find any video of their presentations or interviews.
As you listen, try to find repeated phrases, unique cadences and any other ways your subject uses language. Incorporating those in written content can capture their voice — almost literally. If the reader can hear your subject’s voice in their head as they read, that’s when you know you’re a great ghost!
3. Play nice with others
My favorite line from “Breaking Bad” comes from Mike Ehrmantraut after Walter White has wiped out his nemesis, Gustavo Fring: “Just because you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James.”
Good point, Mike. Just because you write for the CEO doesn’t make you CEO. You want to build respectful, trusting relationships with key people throughout the organization. That will help you get your job done — and keep your job.
You typically depend on someone other than the CEO to supply the background and details to write any communication coming from the top. And they depend on you to help them get their message across by leveraging the CEO’s support.
Executive assistants are critical gatekeepers for the time and attention of the leader. Don’t forget their names or how hard their jobs can be.
Be sensitive to how others may perceive your role. Real or not, it can look like you have more influence and access than those high up in the organizational chart. Handle with care.
Safeguard the CEO’s sound and your time
Once a CEO relies on you to represent their voice in writing, the requests for writing and reviewing may pour in. Put some practices into place so you can manage the workflow and still ensure consistency in all their communications.
So many efforts need the blessing of the CEO in a large organization — frequently in the form of a letter. That alone can be a full-time job. Distribute that workload by asking the individual requesting a letter to create a rough draft that includes what they’d like the CEO to say. Then you can edit for voice without the burden of gathering all the information. It also gives you an opportunity to refine the communications strategy and suggest tactics to improve effectiveness.
Define the review process
Maybe you draft the CEO’s memo to employees announcing a new organizational initiative. Then all the senior executives give their input. What comes back may no longer convey the CEO’s key message and tone.
Sound familiar? Defining the review process upfront can help achieve the communication goal more effectively. Try gathering input using a survey or providing a communication plan for comments. Then base the draft on that and limit the reviewers to the essential approvers. Finally, make sure you as the ghostwriter get another chance to polish the piece before it’s final.
Try some templates
Donors need to be thanked. Employees need to be recognized. Recruits need to be wooed. For routine correspondence, develop a variety of paragraphs that the CEO has pre-approved that others can cut, paste and adapt to accomplish these purposes. Yes, it’s a little cookie-cutter, but the cookies come in a delicious variety.
Ghostwriting for the CEO is a strategic role that can influence leadership communications for the better. We’re interested to learn other tips you’ve used to write for top executives, so please share them in the comments section below.
If you need a ghostwriter or support for executive communications, WriterGirl is ready to help. Give us a call.