Don Draper had it easy. The brilliant advertising executive of the 1960s-era series “Mad Men” would simply think about a client’s issue, scribble an idea on a table napkin, and his job was done.

Today’s professional services marketing, by contrast, seems like hard labor

. It’s about generating complete thoughts and new insights. Thought leadership content marketing requires a whole new kind of commitment, well beyond that which Don Draper gave to any of his marriages.

This means that this style of marketing can be difficult for anyone for whom creating content doesn’t come easily. That has implications for anyone involved in marketing, whose responsibility it is to see that the content gets generated.

In this post, I’ll give you three tests you can use to see if content creation is likely to be a problem, and three kinds of help you can get to smooth the process.

3 tests to see if content creation is strong or weak

Some business professionals have taken to the idea of content generation easily, as we say in my part of the world, “Like a duck to water.” For others, it’s a painful burden.

But increasingly, it’s vital to be able to express one’s ideas in thought leadership form, to demonstrate credibility. If it’s done right, this will help attract potential clients with the kinds of problems that your firm wants to solve. And, it will help demonstrate credibility to existing clients, so they’re more likely to stay clients.

If you’re involved in the marketing of professional services, you need to know if it will be easy to develop a content marketing program for the professionals in your firm – or if you’ll need some help. Later in this post, you’ll find out what that “help” can look like.

So here are three questions you can ask your business professional to see how you can help them build their professional profile.

1. Is writing fun?

Anyone who enjoys doing something, is likely to do it. But if not, that task keeps getting delayed. This applies to writing. Anyone who dislikes writing, is going to keep putting it off and maybe miss a deadline.

2. Is this person’s writing fun for others?

Many business professionals are wonderfully skilled socially, well able to get their ideas across in a spoken presentation or a meeting. But they may have been trained to write in a straightforward, practical manner for the preparation of reports.

While that kind of writing gets the job done in that it conveys ideas, it’s not always attractive to read. Good writing must include using analogies to bridge the gap between the reader’s world and your world, and explanations of concepts and terminology that would not be familiar to the reader.

So, unless your potential author gets many positive comments on their writing, consider finding alternatives like the three kinds of writing professionals described later in this post.

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3. Are they an efficient writer?

Good writing takes time. As one of my journalism professors would say, “Good writing isn’t written. It’s rewritten.” Even if someone can write well, if it takes a long time to get to the final version, maybe this isn’t the best use of their time.

Three services to help your firm win at the content game

If your answer’s “no” to those three questions… you may need professional help, and I mean that in a good way.

A ghostwriter: starting ideas from a blank screen

The first type of writing professional is a ghostwriter – someone who writes under someone else’s name. This option may be best if your intended author simply won’t, for whatever reason, get it done without help.

It could be that the author doesn’t like writing, they can’t convey ideas in an attractive way, their writing is to dense and technical for the audience you want to reach, their time is too valuable to spend writing, or you don’t think that they’ll put a high enough priority on getting it done in time.

This is my most frequent way of working with my clients. Usually, someone on a marketing team gets in touch to say that they want me to work with one of their business professionals to write an article, blog post, brochure, landing page or other content. I’ll make an appointment -- in person, by phone, or video link – and do an interview, usually about 40 minutes. Sometimes there’s more than one author. Sometimes I’ll work with a draft text or a speech, or a slide deck.

I think that the best ghosts are trained journalists, (which I am, which maybe makes me a bit biased on this point) who are experienced at interviewing a source or sources and preparing a first draft of the text.

Ghostwriting is the most extreme of the three ways to generate content if it’s not something that comes naturally to the named author, because it generally involves starting something from a blank screen.

A copy editor: smoothing out the bumps, making it flow

The second type of intervention can come from a “copy editor,” in which the term “copy” for some obscure reason is a noun referring to what might now be called “text” or “content.”

A copy editor can take a rough draft and work with it to make it flow better. In the work I’ve done as a copy editor, I find that I can add my best value in adding:

  • Analogies that act as a bridge to help explain concepts in ways understandable by the reader, who will probably be unfamiliar with the concepts the author has used
  • Organization – helping to arrange the ideas in a coherent flow, with headlines and sub-heads
  • Explaining terminology that the author has used, which may be unfamiliar to the readers
A proofreader: keeping you looking good

One of the advantages Don Draper had, in continuing to look cool and collected, sat outside his office door. That was a secretary armed with an IBM Selectric typewriter, who would take his scribbled notes and put them in coherent English. In some ways, that secretary was performing the function of the third type of writing professional: a proofreader.

A proofreader takes nearly-completed text and checks it for grammar, spelling, missing words, and common errors: its/it’s, they’re/their, and you’re/your. While grammar-check and spell-check software are improving, they still can’t catch it all. Human intervention is needed.

I walk the talk on that. Every post in this blog gets proofread, by a friend and colleague in Kenya (hi, Patricia), and she’s caught a number of potentially embarrassing glitches over the years.

Don Draper excelled in his world because he relied on the skilled help available from people like Peggy and Joan. You can do the same, by using current information technology to help you work with people anywhere, with the skills you need.

As a result, your firm is more easily able to create content that help show its expertise.