How to write for thought leaders’ egos

Have you noticed how some “important” thought leader types get haughtily miffed if someone suggests they need an editor or ghostwriter to help them get blog posts or articles right?

Writing for thought leaders on HTWB

No-one could possibly improve on my writing…

These days, it’s not just professional writers who are (or should be) called in to help. It also can be people like PR consultants, social media consultants, marketing or communications interns, personal/virtual assistants, and quite a few more.

So how do you cope when the ego says “no,” but the reality says “arrrgghhh!!!?”

In this day when physically it’s so easy to write and publish your own words, the mere hint to people with delicate egos that their fine examples of written thought leadership may be second only to Zopiclone as fast way to send people to sleep, is even more damning than in the days of typewriters, handwriting, quill pens, etc.

The other day I was in a networking meeting where the subject of writing blog posts and articles came up.

One self-appointed thought leader told us how he had been through several writers who never understood or fully appreciated his expertise so he preferred to write his material himself.

Up jumped, straight down his throat, an enthusiastic freelance copywriter who assured him that copywriters such as herself were trained to take a brief from clients and having done so, would write the material far better than he could hope to.

Although she was right in a way, she would have caused less offence if she had kicked him in the crotch. While listening to his searing retort, I chuckled to myself about how the young copywriter may be good at her job, but how she was cr*p at reading people. Naughty me. See below.**

I think, therefore I write

This is what many of these self-appointed (and actual) thought leaders believe, despite it being a corruption of cogito, ergo sum  as used by seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes, and you can understand their feelings.

Maybe it should be “I know, therefore I write,” but the sad truth is that their readers don’t care what they know: they care only about what they know that will help solve their own problems and make their lives better.

It all gets back to the old we-wee concept about which you can read more here. Getting this point across to such fragile egos, however, is often very difficult.

A person who has been (genuinely) a thought leader for many years and a high-level executive in large organisations, and yes, the boss of hundreds if not thousands of potentially sycophantic employees … is not exactly equipped in emotional terms to deal with the “m’en foutisme” of your average online reader.

I write, therefore I am diplomatic

Some of my fondest clients have started out as b*lls-out thought leaders who wouldn’t believe a mere writer could improve on their stuff.

I did not get their trust – or their business – by braying at them about my umpty-dump years’ experience as a copywriter, journalist, speechwriter, best-selling author of business writing books, blah, blah, blah. Waste of time.

I did not get their trust – or their business – by kissing the dust off their shoes and flattering their egos. These people may not be brilliant writers, but they can see through bullsh*t at 50 paces and when they do, can’t kick you out of their plush boardrooms fast enough.

And before you think this is a commercial all about StMoo, it’s not. It’s true of every other experienced professional business writer out there. Rather than thrust the wonders of copywriting up the person’s nostrils as that younger copywriter did above ^^^ – you need to acknowledge the ego issues and, frankly, respect them.

So whether you’re a pro writer or someone else who needs to help thought leaders write better stuff, here are a few tips…

How to write better for thought leaders

Don’t raise their hackles by saying you can write it better than they can. Yes, you probably can, but maybe not, so hold your fire. Suggest that your skills might be helpful when they are in a hurry, saving them time. Time genuinely is at a premium for many of these types so the thought that you can cut back on the time they spend writing may well appeal, leaving you free to improve on what they have done.

If they are being precious about their knowledge, don’t talk about writing. Talk about editing instead. The thought leader I described in the story about calmed down a lot when I pointed out that we professional (copy)writers aren’t saying we can become as qualified as he is just by doing some research – what we can  do is to improve not on his expertise, but on the way his expertise is conveyed. Which is true, anyway, and is a lot easier on his ego.

Editing – even the drastic variety – is a far less threatening skill than writing, for the egocentric thought leader. You and I both know that “editing” can mean, essentially, re-writing from top to bottom. But the thought leader doesn’t need to hear that. To them editing can just mean a tidy-up of small issues they haven’t got time to worry about. OK, let’s let them think that, sort it out, and produce a higher-quality end result.

Gain the thought leader’s trust. That bright-eyed and bushy-tailed copywriter as described above didn’t have a clue as to how she should approach someone like that and as a result ensured he would rather walk barefoot 50 metres across broken glass than employ her to help him. Whether you are a freelancer or an intern/staffer, learn why  the person concerned has become a thought leader and although you don’t need to be sycophantic, you do need to show you respect and understand their knowledge. That will go some way towards securing their trust that will lead to a better working relationship.

Don’t just take their word for it. Learn about your thought leader boss’s/client’s business, their reasons why they are thought to be worth reading. Mostly, they are: it’s not the thoughts that are boring or unoriginal; it’s the way those thoughts are expressed that sends readers to sleep.

Gently get rid of the “we-wee” element in any type of marketing communication. In your “editing” process of blog posts and PR articles, not only can you tidy up the grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax, but more to the point you can focus the text more on the audience and show how the thought leader’s ideas and opinions can help them. If you’re subtle your client/boss won’t notice, but even if they do they will see how those changes improve the value to readers.

When meeting face-to-face with the thought leader, try to be alone with them. When I was writing speeches for “captains of industry” a few years ago I was usually accompanied by several corporate sheep dogs who absolutely had  to be present at every briefing, script meeting and editing session. These meetings took forever because each sheep dog had to say enough to get noticed by the boss, and the boss either would play up to the “fearless leader” image and bully them, or alternatively would get annoyed at the irrelevant delays this caused. Neither was good. On the few occasions when I managed to be alone with the boss I found – without exception – they turned out to be a nice, reasonable, intelligent person and we got the job done quickly and peacefully.

What’s your experience of writing/editing for thought leaders with delicate egos?

Please share your stories!

**This faux pas  reminded of an old joke about a young bull and an old bull, standing together at the top of a hill looking down at a herd of beautiful heifers.
The young bull says, “oh look at them – why don’t we run down there and have ourselves a few?”
The old bull replies, “why don’t we walk down, and have them all?”

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