Following the publication of Spare, a book about an ex-royal’s self-professed irrelevance, JR Moehringer is, for now at least, probably the most well-known and talked-about ghostwriter on the planet. Only this month he’s in the headlines again following an interview in the New Yorker magazine. The already acclaimed author’s fame is however, unusual for ghostwriters who are, as the name suggests, usually invisible. Theirs is to illuminate and elevate their subjects, not themselves, seeking the limelight vicariously not personally.
As a prince, Moehringer’s subject was born ghost-worthy, yet some achieve ghost worthiness, while others have ghosts thrust upon them. In business, if you hold a senior position or are considered a subject matter expert and your comms manager sends an email – something about thought leadership and meeting the PR agency – chances are you’re about to meet a ghost. In my experience in insurance, ghostwriters are sometimes greeted with suspicion as their subjects try to calculate the risk they pose in broadcasting their thoughts, opinions and observations in a blog or an article that’s likely to be read by their bosses, colleagues and customers. A previous client was good enough to tell me that, for these reasons, she thought I was the devil incarnate!
Yet ghostwriting is often the cornerstone of the work undertaken by public relations agencies retained by businesses to promote them. As such, any half-decent ghostwriter will be alive to the potential pitfalls of mass communication and will work hard to earn their subject’s trust in order to showcase their expertise. The result should be content that informs relevant audiences, adding something to the sum of their working experience – often useful insights that enable them to do their job more effectively.
‘But who wants to read this stuff?’ some protest, well, who on their own time doesn’t occasionally like to hear experts at the top of their game evaluating the big issues of the day? Another objection that subjects sometimes throw at their ghost is the fact that, while their knowledge is deep, they don’t really have any opinions. Again, any good ghost will come ready to quiz, prompt and stimulate thought, enabling their subject to apply their knowledge and the ghost to produce informative and topical commentary.
Many subjects who are spooked initially are pleasantly surprised to discover that such ghosts are the friendly type, able to quiz them considerately about their insight, observations and expert views on their area of specialism. What ghostwriters in public relations agencies produce is essentially a platform to demonstrate the hard-won knowledge of their clients, often gained over many years. Imparting the benefit of a subject’s wisdom in a carefully crafted blog or article can resonate with their intended audiences, gaining them respect and sometimes instigating beneficial business relationships.
Ghostwriting is to profile raising what a horse is to a carriage; it helps propel businesses’ interests forward. While some in the industry will always consider this work a dark art, many others will come to realise the benefits of moving out of their comfort zone under the guidance of an experienced ghost. And unlike Moehringer, the ghostwriters of insurance have a weighty subject matter to interrogate that is relevant and far-reaching.