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Media training issues: Is a ghost-written blog OK?

I was media training a great group of people in the Midlands yesterday and one of them asked about the importance of blogging. He blogged quite a lot, he said, and always made sure he wrote it. His question was about whether journalists would pick up corporate blogs in their research (answer: in theory yes, in practice if it’s for a short news story there may not be time) but for me this raised a more important issue.

I’ve been asked from time to time to ghost write blogs for corporate clients, which then come out under their name. This is, subject to a good briefing, of course. But is it OK?

From my point of view of course it’s OK. I’m not doing anything wrong and as a freelance writer I’ll take most jobs on offer for which I have the right competence, which are straightforward and honest and for which the fee is right. I’d question whether it’s right for the client companies, however. Other people’s words can get you into trouble.

Authenticity and consistency

Before I even heard the word “blog” I received press releases regularly, as you’d expect. One was from a laptop manufacturer whose MD said, very stridently, “the age of the desktop computer is dead”. It was a good quote and a strong view so the release worked well – until something very particular happened.

The MD in question got a job at a desktop computer manufacturer. As you might guess, I found this highly amusing and threw his quote straight back at him. He denied having said it in the first place, he suggested he’d spoken about market growth for laptops rather than the decline of the desktop. He said it was a good journalistic dig but I’d got it slightly wrong. When I checked the original release back in the office, of course he’d said no such thing – the desktop, he’d declared, was dead. So what went wrong?

The answer was almost certainly that a PR person worked up the quote for a quick sell into the news pages (and it worked), the executive signed it off and thought no more about it. In the 1990s there was every reason to think a quote would be dead within a couple of weeks – he was just unlucky I’d remembered (and I was even unluckier I hadn’t brought the press release). It’s very different now.

Blog your own thoughts

Now, if you put something down on a blog, it’s semi-permanent. After I’ve published this piece of writing, anyone can read it and many can copy it onto their site (they shouldn’t without permission but I’ve had this happen to me – and as long as there’s a link back here I don’t mind). I can delete my copy and take it off this site but it might hang around for a while.

This is why it’s important to me that I write my own blog, and it’s why my client yesterday was determined he should write his own stuff. He was right. Contrary to my interests though it may be to advise people not to use ghost writers, having someone else put words and even views into your mouth can be counterproductive. If a journalist asks you what you meant when you wrote something that you didn’t actually draft, and they can produce the article on their phone or tablet and it has your name on it, it’s difficult to envisage a good ending to the interview.

If you don’t have the time to blog and absolutely have to use someone else, here are some thoughts:

  • Everything is in the briefing. Telling them you want “something about added value” is not going to produce a very precise article. I’ve had those clients!
  • The article should sound as though it comes from you. If there are certain words and phrases you never use and the writer slots them in, take them out.
  • Familiarise yourself with the message. By all means change your mind about something later and tell us so, but don’t be like my desktop computer man and deny you ever said something.

Need help with your media interactions? I can help – here’s my media training page.

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