Corporate writing: You want to use my name?

A colleague asked a question the other day. Like a lot of journalists he does the odd white paper and writes the odd blog post for other people; these normally go out under someone else’s name. It’s standard ghost writing, nothing extraordinary going on.

Only…he found later that the client, or the client’s client, was putting his name onto it without telling him. Given that it was commercial rather than independent, and he has a reputation as being a bit investigative, he was slightly perturbed. The end client didn’t see the problem.

We have our brands, too

The curious thing is that you can be certain that, if he’d used the end client’s name without permission, they would have understood the implications perfectly. I happen to use an Apple computer to type this blog, and as many technically-informed readers will have spotted, it’s hosted on WordPress.com. I pay for these services but at no stage does any part of the deal say “This is a WordPress blog” or “This is an Apple-approved opinion” would be permissible if I were marketing it externally (I don’t imagine they’d do much good anyway but that’s another issue).

And yet so many clients assume that if they’ve bought words in they can use the originator without checking. So here are a couple of ground rules:

  • If you want to acknowledge the writer of a guest blog or corporate piece, the first step is: ask. Many writers are perfectly happy with this. Others, because it impacts their personal branding as independent, might say “no”, and still others will want more money – if you want to boost your brand with our name, why wouldn’t we ask a premium? (You might ask why, if their main business doesn’t pay the bills, they’re still doing it – but that’s a slightly different debate).
  • Related point that I’ve made before: Just because you commissioned something, that doesn’t mean it’s yours. We expect to be edited to house style but substantial changes need to be run past us, particularly if you’re going to use our names. The relevant Act – referenced in the linked blog entry – assures us that we remain the owners of the stuff we’ve written.

Every business expects to have to maintain its reputation, whether it’s a giant brand like Apple or a tiny micro-brand like a freelance journalist’s name. If you’re hiring us, remember you’re engaging with a mini-business rather than just a nice person – so the basic business rules around using the name will apply.

One thought on “Corporate writing: You want to use my name?”

  1. Good points, well made, Guy.

    I write for clients on a freelance basis and, like you note, I don’t mind small tweaks for house style (although if I’m doing my job properly, I should be writing to style, anyway) but I certainly don’t want to see vast tracts of copy changed. That is not only rude, it can also change meaning or nuance, which leaves the copy open to challenge for accuracy.

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