"This Town" by Mark Leibovich has many lessons for those who want to make it big. At least in Washington D.C. It's the best guide to how that particular culture operates since Hedrick Smith's "The Power Game." That was published at the end of the 1980s.
But, what grabbed me, the speechwriter and ghostwriter, by the throat were two takeaways.
One was that everything one does in D.C. must be strategic. That's mandatory in a system in which one's marketplace value is either going up or going down. If we in executive communications want continuing access to the good jobs or good assignments we too can never approach any situation without a strategy. That extends from how we seek out work to how we handle client objections to the draft.
That wasn't always the case. I recall, after my father's death, I turned in a weak speech draft to the Chief Executive Officer of an oil company. He sent back a gentle note asking if I could try again and if not he would go with what I had given him. My track record for serving him was good. Therefore, I never felt threatened. I never measured if I was up or down.
Now, with our clients themselves being caught in the up-down fluctation, their perception of us also fluctuates. We are responsible for managing that perception through paying attention to our strategy.
The second takeaway is that maybe we should be grateful to be relatively invisible and lacking in our own power. Sure, it must be a heady experience to be caught up in the field of force which D.C. is. Everyone (who matters) knows our name. We are so-and-so's writer. The smartphone is forever on vibrate. We are important.
Outside that field of force, we just do our work. I wonder if it could have the quality it does if we were part of that D.C. celebrity culture. Maybe yes. Maybe not. For me, even the highly-charged atmosphere of Manhattan was too much for doing my best work. I sold my co-op and fled back to the boring routines of central Connecticut.
That's my take on "This Town." Other speechwriters and ghostwriters might be convinced, after reading it, to volunteer in the next campaign for a national office. If the person they write for wins, they get into the power game.