What the Heck Is a Ghost Writer?

November 14, 2014


I got my marketing start in copywriting. Despite what Mad Men would have you believe, it’s a role that requires a great deal of humility in addition to creative talent. (Think Peggy Olson in the early years.) There is very little room for recognition as a copywriter. Even in an agency, the majority of what you do remains cloaked in anonymity, with credit going to your client. As someone once pointed out, Nike’s “Just Do It” is one of the most famous slogans in the world, and the only person that knows who came up with it is that guy’s mother.” (Actually, there is a story behind the slogan, but you get the point.)

What is a ghost writer?
While most people are aware that agencies and freelancers are often the masterminds behind marketing strategies and advertising campaigns, what many people don’t realize is that there are thousands of ghost writers flying under the radar as the public voices of CEOs, thought leaders and industry influencers. In its most simplified form, a ghostwriter is someone who writes books, articles, stories, reports or other texts that are officially credited to someone else. (Surprise! That social media guru you follow? That CEO whose witty post you saw in Fast Co.? Entirely possible someone else wrote their posts.)

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What!? Yep. It’s true. But it’s not as icky as you might think — and I guarantee it’s a heck of a lot more common than you could possibly imagine.

How does ghost writing work?
Demian Farnworth compares ghost writing to being a hired assassin in The Brutally Honest Truth about Ghost Writing. I prefer to compare it to the lifecycle of a really good meal. The farmer puts in the time and energy to sow, grow and harvest food. It is then trucked off to a restaurant where the chef uses her special blend of culinary creativity, vision and artistry to turn raw ingredients into a menu-worthy symphony of deliciousness.

Ghost writing works in pretty much the same way. Business leaders are busy people. They’ve spent years of their lives sowing the seeds to grow their companies, and their minds are packed with knowledge, advice and insights. In some instances, they are self-professed “crappy writers” and simply want someone to make them sound as intelligent on paper are they are in person. (And who can blame them?) In almost every instance, taking a few hours out of their day to write an article is not a good use of their time, especially when they could simply hop on a call, answer a handful of questions and let someone else do the heavy lifting (or at least the lifting of the pen). And that’s where a ghost writer comes in.

Is ghost writing ethical?
One of the biggest questions surrounding ghost writing is whether it is “entirely ethical.” Is it wrong for a CEO to outsource thinking and writing to a ghost writer, then get on stage at TEDx to present those thoughts and words as her own? Is it ethical for a social media guru to give advice on how to blog when his posts are created by a team of ghost writers? Does the simple exchange of money for services make this all okay?

I view my clients as people, not a means to a paycheck, and I don’t work with anyone I wouldn’t want to be friends with in my personal life. I’m of the opinion that there are different types of ghost writing — and all are not created equal. For me, the true deciding factor is a matter of partnership. Should writers be selling their independent thoughts to the highest bidder? That feels a little weird to me. Using their skills to polish the thoughts and experiences of others, however, makes perfect sense. The crux of my role as a ghost writer is taking the raw knowledge and expertise a client has amassed in order to turn it into something smart, inspiring and shareable. By working together, I get to help send their ideas out into the world to educate and inspire the masses. And you can rest assured, I sleep well at night knowing I’ve saved my clients valuable time, energy and money.

Need a pen-for-hire? Let’s talk.

Storytelling for Non-Sexy Brands

November 13, 2014


I do a lot of thinking and talking about brand storytelling, because a big part of what I do entails helping brands tell the stories of their who and their why — not just their what. For some brands (like nonprofits) the story is a bit clearer from the start. For other brands, however, it takes a little digging. But once the story reveals itself, you get a whole new perspective on an old thing.

Case and point: the humble pay phone.

Make Sense, Not Noise


Among the handful of golden rules for brands on social media, you’ll find this tidbit of wisdom: Don’t force your way into a conversation; join a conversation when the opportunity arises, it makes sense and feels natural. 

Those of us in marketing have had time to hone our skills. We’re very familiar with the sound of those obvious and less-obvious doors opening amongst the daily flurry of tweets. But what about brands with a little less social experience under their belts. We’ve all seen the occasionally awkward tweet. ExampleTweeter tweets “What a beautiful day!” BrandTweeter chimes in out of nowhere with “Check our our lawnmowers. On sale now!”


And while I think the majority of brands are still struggling with how to be conversational rather than promotional on social media, last week I received an out-of-the-blue tweet that really impressed me. The brand nailed it.

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Halloween 2014 | Nevermore Party

November 1, 2014

Halloween has come and gone, but the photos and memories live on. This year I hosted a small gathering of friends.

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The Handelier was created using $1 plastic hands found at the Dollar Tree. I gently screwed an eye bolt into each “wrist,” then strung to an existing light fixture using craft wire (varying lengths) to create the illusion of a chandelier made of floating hands.

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$5 worth of muslin from the fabric store + a couple $1 packs of assorted-size styrofoam balls + twigs from the backyard = spooky centerpiece. (Or corner piece, rather…)

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Layers of dry white and black beans + $5 bunches of red roses and white African roses + an assortment of skulls, crows and white candles from the Dollar Tree + free twigs from the backyard. The wooden half-crate was a $7 score from Michaels, and gets used for various table displays throughout the year.

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These cardboard witch hats were discounted to under $1 each the week before Halloween. Using a seam ripper, I was able to poke holes through the tips of the hat and string them up from the existing light fixture using craft wire. The red bulb was a $6 score from Home Depot.

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No Halloween party would be complete with a subtle nod to the magic of Hogwarts. Bottles were all purchased at Michaels on sale for under $1 each. I will have a future post coming soon in which I plan to share my Harry-inspired imagination station. (So check back!)

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