Most companies adopt a sophisticated, business-savvy, slick tone in their various utterances. At times, it can come across as bland, clichéd, pompous, or vain. Could it be that they are confusing image with actually saying something?
It is better to be real. A knowledgeable techie, engineer, or exec with a distinct take on the market generally adds more value than a corporately scrubbed “sound-byter” trotting off features and benefits. Yet individual voices are often filtered out.
I’m reminded of the movie “Ford versus Ferrari.” A senior Ford exec sought to sideline a brilliant driver with a loud mouth and an abrasive personality who knew cars inside out. The exec was more concerned about the company looking good than winning races. He didn’t want this driver saying embarrassing things to the media about the failings of Ford cars. All he needed to do was coach the driver to only speak about fast cars, engine specs, racing. Anything he mentioned on those subjects would be golden. Gaining his agreement never to comment on consumer vehicles would have given Ford a wonderful spokesperson who generated coverage by the ton.
Another example: I attended a presentation at an engineering conference with a speaker from a huge corporation. Everything about him communicated that he still lived with his parents and had probably never had a girlfriend. Yet this squeaky voiced nerd had the audience riveted. Tough-as-nails technicians and crusty engineers could sense his obvious love for machinery. He knew his business and didn’t pull any punches. He enthralled them. Unfortunately, the suits descended for part two of the session. They replaced him with a manicured nonentity who stuck rigidly to an empty script – the audience dozed off.
A final case in point: the original “Top Gear” TV cast. The BBC fired Jeremy Clarkston for off-color comments. The inoffensive remake suffered from lackluster ratings. Amazon seized an opportunity: they let the old Top Gear crew say whatever they wanted. It became the top show. The difference: someone with personality and a clear viewpoint versus a safe, uninspired substitute. Some will point to the occasional crass comment made by Clarkston as reason to avoid such people. But he attracted far more attention than his successors.
Therefore: I encourage those in charge to loosen the leash a little. Find people within the company with a distinct voice that really know their stuff. Allow them to say something that might be worth hearing or reading.
Ghosting for Someone with a Distinct Voice
Anyone ghostwriting a blog for such a person will only succeed if they stay true to that voice. My general advice is to avoid such assignments (When to ghost blog and when not).
But there is a way to make them work. Study the person in detail. Watch their videos. Read their books and articles. Attend their talks. Note favorite phrases and anecdotes. Pay attention to their sentence structure and tone.
Prepare a list of proposed blog topics with a sentence or two on the key points to make for each one. Send it to them and arrange a call to finalize topics. Discover their thoughts on those subjects. What anecdotes come to mind? Gain a sense of their key messages for each one.
A word of caution: Be efficient. Don’t tie up their time with endless conferences. Do your homework from books, articles, and YouTube videos. If you already know their opinions from your own research, the call serves to add sparkle, tie topics to current events, or augment a message with an amusing experience.
It’s also a good idea to stick to existing material. I was able to compose countless blogs taken largely from a consultant’s book. Interviews provided color or punch. It got to the point where we only needed to speak once a quarter to maintain a regular flow of blogs. He reviewed them rapidly, tweaked a few phrases, and published them.
The point of ghosting is to save time. If it requires hours on the phone for each blog, it is probably easier for the person to write it themselves. Thorough homework is the only way to avoid that eventuality.
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