Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal Consulting.de with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly
This is how great ghostwriters can support your positioning
November 24, 2021
I saw the YouTube video of Herbert Diess with Elon Musk test driving the ID3 in an airplane hangar at night.
I thought “How cool!” is Herbert Diess. Whereby the word “cool” for a seasoned DAX CEO already hints at a possible dissonance.
Even when Elon Musk joined the VW managers’ meeting in fall via video link, I said to myself:
“Wow, quite provocative!“.
If Herbert Diess loses his CEO post in the next few weeks in a tussle with the union and the supervisory board, some will wonder:
Did Herbert Diess perhaps “annoy” one or the other in the conservative environment?
His own term, not mine….
Has he overstayed his position as the top number one DAX-voice on LinkedIn?
Did stunts like his casual farewell to the summer vacations on the eFoil do him more harm than good when the “Heute Show” took aim at him like that last Friday?
The key questions of decision-makers at strategy consultancies or the Big 4 in view of their busy schedules:
- How do I find suitable communication channels for my positioning?
- Which visibility measures can I delegate to third parties and remain “safe”?
- What do I absolutely have to record myself?
In short: “To ghost or not to ghost?”
Four key positioning instruments in the outsourcing check
1. Books “write to stay”: Hot or not?
It feels as though every third person has written a book in the pandemic year 2020. In this respect, I was not surprised when clients increasingly asked:
Should I write a book too?
Honestly, I advised everyone against it. Why?
Even if you go to a professional ghostwriter who will take you from the initial briefing to the final galley proof, it usually takes at least four months, but often eight months or more. As well as: 12,000€ to 15,000€ upwards for the ghostwriter alone plus your own precious time.
After that, you do own a book á la “he who writes, stays“. But:
- … you are usually obliged to purchase several hundred copies at the – only slightly reduced – author discount.
- … You need to do professional book marketing yourself. Because: publishers haven’t really been doing that with nonfiction for a long time.
- … You have no guarantee that your clients/clients will actually read your book, and not just put it on the shelf.
If you try it without a ghostwriter and write alone parallel to your everyday consulting work, in the worst case the same thing will happen to you as Annalena Baerbock did with her book “Now. How we renew our country“.
As there was no time for the necessary revisions of the sources, the eBook will be withdrawn from the market with immediate effect and no further copies will be printed.
My clear advise: You should spare yourself all that.
Also, because in my consulting career, I’ve only seen two books – both on “China” – convert into measurable sales and strong leads out of a total of two dozen.
2. PR: “Don’t be a may be!” also applies here
Of course, professional PR are part of the toolbox of every professional services brand. And yes of course, no country leader or board member of a Big 4 player writes press releases themselves. This is done by the in-house PR team, the PR consultant or an agency with experience in complex partner organizations.
But one thing can never be externalized: Real attitude and honest opinion – especially in times of crisis like now, when no business leader can avoid CEO activism.
Without knowing the PR team or the background, I would wager: The Manager Magazin interview of the new Eon CEO Leonhard Birnbaum “As far as possible, all Eon employees should be vaccinated” reflects his personal attitude. Here he talks about vaccination as a “service to society,” the flood trauma of the Ahr Valley, and policy failures in climate protection.
Even if someone had written this on his interview note: The interviewer Dietmar Student, whom I have known for two decades as an absolutely incorruptible journalist, would never have let the Eon CEO get away with pure PR-speak.
In short: Strong messages are elementary for your positioning success – just: “Don’t be a may be”. You can (and should) be supported in this. But authenticity and attitude in communication can only come from yourself.
3. Studies: A super positioning channel, but clearly not a no-brainer
Rarely have I received so many inquiries after an op-ed as after this one: “Thought Leadership for Consultants: You have 60 seconds!“. Here I had described the goldfish dilemma. 55% of CEOs discard studies after one minute if they find them uninteresting. The tip “More people, less brand”, the Paris Hilton metaphor and the petit fours strategy were particularly well received.
But they all led to the same question:
Who writes my studies so that decision makers actually read them and it boosts my New Business?
- As a partner/board member/country manager, I don’t have time myself.
- My consultants are on projects land under.
- My study team has never seen the inside of a DAX company or had discussions with supervisory board members. How is it supposed to understand what really matters?
Two things are clear:
- The basic data analysis as well as the initial formulation do not belong on the partner’s desk.
- But the central messages, the desired header for FAZ or FT and the storyline do. Because: Only relevance creates resonance.
Framing – that is, the classifying interpretation of the data as well as the “so what” for the companies to derive something from thought leadership – cannot be delegated either. This is all the more important as 67% of CEOs want the opinion of an identifiable author. In order to avoid “lost in translation”, a differentiating brand tonality 64% of CEOs now prefer a human tone of voice. This can only be specified by you. Despite all the overuse on Pinterest, Oscar Wilde’s advice “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken” is still valid.
4. Personal branding on LinkedIn: Your visibility as a strong opinion leader
Anyone who has been following my op-eds for almost two years now knows my conviction:
It needs the Social CEO and active consultants as “musketeers” on LinkedIn.
As a consequence, I am often asked:
Who’s going to write all my posts to feed the hungry LinkedIn algorithm?
Again, my honest answer: I like clients who write themselves. Or at least scribble the first draft including the core message. Of course, this can also be outsourced. But: If you study such feeds a bit, you can recognize with an 85% hit rate what comes from a personal and what from a foreign pen.
In the medium to long term, your own feed – not the outsourced feed – is more successful. Professional Services is all about trust. How credible is it when clients see three posts a week with the full 3,000 characters? Everyone knows that no senior strategy consultant, lawyer or auditor has time for this. Someone is letting himself be ghosted completely.
So if you’re writing yourself and you’re getting support from digital natives or working students in-house: Give it a try! Play with different formats. Dare to take selfies. Define your core themes. But please refrain from using emojis. Because you don’t integrate those into your pitch presentation either. And they are irrelevant for the LinkedIn algorithm anyway.
Do you need a spin doctor? Yes, or no?
If you position your corporate as well as personal brand in these communication channels, you may be pondering:
- Do I need a spin doctor?
- Should I hire my personal ‘plus one’ who pulls the strings behind the scenes?
- Should I also have someone like the “Whisperer of the Deutschland AG“?
Honestly, this is a question of how you define that confidant(s) at your side. I already find the term “spin doctor” difficult. When my parents asked me the other day (once again) what was part of my everyday consulting work, I played them an excerpt from the NDR documentary “Kevin Kühnert and the SPD“. Here he briefed Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, among others, for the upcoming election of the new party co-leadership. He asks them to “radiate passion” for the office and says, “You have desire.”
What massively irritated the media did not irritate me.
Without wanting to compare communications professionals from the professional services industry or myself with Kevin Kühnert:
Yes sure communication consultants give briefings like these. Yes, it is certainly our job to repeat the core messages in condensed form before important interviews or appearances. This is a support system that every senior leader deserves to have on their side. Why? Two brains always think better than just one. And two professionals always position a brand more successfully than one alone.
The bottom line: Stronger together!
The one silver bullet for positioning in the most diverse communication channels does not exist – neither in professional services nor in other industries.
My final three pieces of advice regarding outsourcing to ghostwriters
- Future derivations, concrete – perhaps even visionary – recommendations for action cannot be “outsourced”. Also no opinion. You’ll have to get there yourself. Only you know the real needs of your clients and your own view of the world.
- If authenticity is important to you – if you don’t want to simply surf along on trends – then you will provide your own core theses. Otherwise, you’ll change colors like a chameleon every time you move from PR agency to working student. Credible corporate or personal brands are only created through consistency.
and last but not least:
- Having a confidant on your side – whether your in-house marketing and communications person or an outside expert – is right and important. Just as no country can do without a foreign and/or defense minister or no celebrity without personal protection: rely on your reputation bodyguard with Brain and his sensitive sense for the expected echo of media and clients.
If you are looking for a seasoned Marketer who can help you chosing your perfect ghosts for your perfect positioning, let’s have a call!
Author: Susanne Mathony
The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.