Monday poll: Should PR firms ghost-write client blog posts?

I asked this question in May last year. At that time the consensus was ‘only if you state clearly that it’s bylined.’ Well, here we are a year later and there are millions more blogs, and innumerable corporate blogs. How do we feel now? Have corporate blogs been taken over by the marketing department? Do we believe the posts are written by the author themselves? Are agencies madly penning posts on behalf of clients? Or are the authors still authentic? Is transparency still part of the blogging vernacular?

Have things changed? Should PR firms ghost-write client blog posts?

[For those reading this via a newsreader, there is an AJAX-based poll pasted below which may not appear in this post via RSS. Please vote on the site – thanks].

  • Shawna Seth

    Maybe it’s just because I’m a “newbie” in PR, but the idea of not citing the real author for an article or blog post makes me extremely uncomfortable (didn’t win the Millard Fillmore Trivia Hunt 3 out of 4 years for nothing!). I know it happens all the time so it does make me wonder when I read a bylined article or a corporate blog – did this person really write this? And does that really serve the purpose we’re going for with those pieces? If the purpose is to frame an exec as an industry leader or show that an exec is approachable and give the company credibility, how do these moments of doubt help? The execs have to be (and most are, I think) thought-leaders and interesting individuals for this to work. I don’t believe the vast majority of people reading the pieces think they are written by those cited. How does that affect the appearance of the execs who actually do pen their own pieces?
    My favorite discussion topic in the blogosphere right now is transparency because I think it is vital. You can’t build trust without this level of honesty and buyers, customers, and consumers seem awful cynical at the moment…

  • Great question Morgan. Look forward to seeing the results.
    I think it’s now inevitable that PR and marketing will author more and more of the blogs written by senior execs.
    It’s a real shame as I suspect the value that I’ve always hoped as being inherent in blogs – eg truth, honestly, transparency, dialogue – risks being increasingly lost.
    Can I explain why I feel blog posts should be different from articles that appear in MSM (articles that in the past I have been very happy to author on behalf of clients)? No. It just feels wrong. Which I know is a lame reason for a PR professional to give. Sorry 😉
    The NTK crew ( have a tagline which I believe dates back to their days as Internet pioneers – “THEY STOLE OUR REVOLUTION. NOW WE’RE STEALING IT BACK.” I feel right now that with blogging, we’re at the end of the first sentence but haven’t quite made it to the start of the second.
    Hopefully the smart PR and marketing professionals will find a way of using blogs as a comms vehicle without destroying everything about them that made them popular and valuable in the first place.

  • That’s another great question you’ve gotten us into.
    But rather than an either/or, what if we accept that corporate blogs are written by PR pros (just like speeches, news releases etc), but require of these professionals that they interrogate senior management and establish rigorous standards. No more ’emperor’s new clothes’. You post when times are good, so you post when times are bad, too. Ghost-written, yes; transparent, yes.
    Ghost-written blogging guidelines anyone?

  • I manage a group of topical bloggers (ie real estate bloggers, financial expert bloggers, etc) who blog for clients who want to offer their visitors helpful and relative content and resonate in the search engines with the keyword rich content.
    However, we are very careful to never pretend to be the site owner and we blog under our own names, and may blog on several different blogs. I see it more as freelance writing on a regular basis. We don’t *do* PR blogging, just topical, useful content.
    I would say that blogging under a client’s name is probably not ‘transparent’.

  • The primary issue is this: If a blog is ghostwritten, it will come out eventually and trust in that blog will inevitably erode.
    FURTHERMORE, if it comes out that Widget Inc.’s blog is ghostwritten by ACME Agency, it will erode trust in all of ACME Agency’s clients.
    “And shit rolls downhill…”

  • “If a blog is ghostwritten, it will come out eventually and trust in that blog will inevitably erode.”
    I disagree Phil. My expectation is that trust won’t erode. And that’s because in the next couple of years people will simply assume many ‘company’ blogs are ghost written by PR agencies and the like. Blogs will start to be viewed with a degree of cynicism.
    I’m not saying it’s a good thing (I don’t). I’m not saying that’s what I want to see happen (I don’t). I simply see it as inevitable.

  • Shawna – the opinion pieces and bylines you are reading are probably written by PR teams, but they will be based on original thought by the individuals. PR execs rarely put words into spokespeople’s mouths when it comes to vision. Wording and a turn of phrase, yes, but the vision is their own, more often than not.
    That said, good PR consultants will help to shape and sharpen that vision so that it is interesting and differentiated. There’s no point having the same vision as everyone else (and sometimes execs need some help in refining what the logical conclusion of their thinking is on a particular topic).
    David – I agree that perhaps it is inevitable that some corporate blogs will be subject to ‘corporate blanding’. But then you simply won’t read that blog.
    I think the sense of disappointment you feel is that the intimacy of a blog, whereby you can contact the author, presupposes that it is in fact the author speaking to you in the first place. If it isn’t, then there’s a breach of trust.
    To me, it’s a little like reading a letter from some important industry figure and finding they’ve just had their secretary ‘pp’ it. Or that it’s an autosignature. Rather belies the point of the missive. Ditto here really.
    Robyn – I like that approach. You are a content provider and there is no presupposition that the content is created by the company. The objective is simply to provide fresh and interesting content for visitors which will have a positive impact for the company (brand appeal/time on the site/education about relevant issues etc).
    The disadvantage of course if it’s too obvious that you are not with the company is that readers may feel the company doesn’t have enough to say itself. There must be a mix of external and internal content. It’s really the latter that I’m thinking of here. If people supposed the info came from the company and then discovered that it didn’t, that would be a bad thing. But a mix of the two sounds good.
    Phil – is it that simple? What if the agency has interviewed the ‘author’ who just doesn’t have time to write it himself? It’s the author’s thoughts but another’s wording. Then the author could approve the content prior to posting to ensure it’s a correct representation of their thoughts. I imagine this to be a fairly practical model. It works for other comms approaches.
    I agree if the entire blog has been dreamed up by a PR firm or ad agency, and is entirely without input from the company, that’s a different matter. And yes, that would ding the agency. But I doubt at present many agencies would be this bold.
    BTW – I thought shit floats 😉
    David – exactly, I guess I’m interested in seeing whether at this current time, we all believe what we read on blogs to have been authored orginally or by another. The results at the moment are looking pretty split across the board.

  • I feel PR should not be penning the blog for the corporate exec. On so many levels.
    Apart from the transparency issue and ethical considerations, the strength of the blog is being lost. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the customers/clients/consumers to hear an authentic voice behind the organization.
    I think it is fine for the piece to be reviewed by the PR team before publishing…….I think it is fine for the PR firm to suggest topics and trends to respond to………It is not OK to take corporate material and just paste it on the blog. That will not be an active blog.
    Several years ago, I penned a monthly newspaper column for a condo developer….a how to of condo shopping…….he gave me the topic and a list of bullet points….I put together as he would have “said it” and he edited it with the an eye to it sounding like him.
    Over time as he grew more comfortable with the process, he wrote a rough draft and I edited it. Towards the end of that 2 year project, he was turning in flawless columns and I proofread before publication.
    Because of the above experience, I can see an instance where an exec could grow into the blog…..and the pr writer could be faithful to an execs voice and have the exec grant final editing and approval.
    But in general, I would say no..the blog should be penned by the exec and be an authentic voice.

  • Andrew Graham

    Should execs write their own speeches or news release quotes? I don’t see why blogging should be separate from any other communication mode. I good communicator should know when written copy is too self-serving or lacks objectivity — blog posts written for execs by good PR practitioners have the potential to be /more/ objective than the alternatives.
    In my view, blogs that are read earn those eyeballs because their content is good, not because of some implied objectivity. So whether it’s the exec or the PR counsel who creates the content is almost irrelevant — if the content is relevant/entertaining/valuable, the readers will be there for it. In that respect, blogs present exactly the same challenges as any other mode of communication.