Remember when we in communications used to spot a typo in someone else's content and alert them, even though the copy had already been published. We assumed we were doing the right thing. After all a typo was serious. It was irrelevant that there was nothing that could be done about that at the time. That was then.
Now, the ethos of fast digital time has made the typo a venial, not a mortal sin. Many media outlets laugh off the Spelling Police who find it their duty to call attention to that kind of transgression. After all, it affects our brand.
Or does it. Last night, after an 18-hour day, I dashed off an email to a team of two prospects for my services. No, I shouldn't have dashed off an email to a team of two prospects for my sevices. What I should have done is take the time to proofread it before pressing "send." I didn't. Instead I jumped into bed. I had to be fresh for today to conduct a short interview for an article I am writing in the financial services industry.
This morning, horrors, I noted the typo. I sent a "retraction" to the team of two. Lesson learned: Even in fast wired time, we have to take the time. My penance is 15 minutes of self doubt. If I make it a habit to proofread even email I will be able to sin no more, at least in transgressions against conventional spelling standards.
Gossip, not prostitution, is the world's oldest profession. The serpent gave Eve an earful about what God allegedly was up to. And the misery from that leak for the human race continues today. As an industry gossip still thrives. But not among the old-line players.
If you notice waiting in line in the supermarket, no one is flipping through American Media's flagship National Enquirer. Instead they are probably on their smartphones finding out about celebrities' latest antics and then sharing that with friends and family. So no surprise, the New York Post reports that American Media " ... has $469 million in long-term debt, [and] could default sometime next year without a major restructuring." That's according to Standard & Poor. Here is that Post coverage.
When I started covering legal developments, I read everything Vanity Fair courtroom columnist Dominick Dunne had to say about writing and did what he did to search for insight about whatever. Every Thursday Dunne went to the supermarket to buy the Enquirer. Back in 2005, I did that. When I blogged on its content traffic increased. Now, like everyone else I just pass it by. The tone and content are no longer aligned with how we want our dirt positioned and packaged.
The hard cold world of business had effectively humanized itself by leveraging symbolism related to the ordinary lives of people. In America, a universal symbol was the dream of home ownership. Added on were the right to a college education for one's children, safe communities and a happy retirement.
That was then. With the ongoing fragmentation of social values, financial objectives and institutional trust, no symbol remains universal. For example, alluding to home ownership in a speech might trigger puzzled looks or even pained expressions. Having been through so many rounds of special assessments, even the notion of owning a condo doesn't sit well with me.
The speechwriter or ghostwriter has to research what evokes positive emotion in that particular audience or target markets. That takes more than simply interviewing those in the loop. If the talk is being delivered in a subsidized senior citizen development in an urban area which is nearby, walk around those streets, talk to the people and stop for coffee. Soon enough what we uncover is fear. Lots of it. The categories range from inflation eating into fixed income to the onset of dementia. Yes, introduce the topic of fear itself and propose solutions for reducing it.
But the fear meme will only be effective if it's a perfect fit for the speaker. She may be the Chief Financial Officer, uncomfortable with topics embedded with emotion. Therefore, the talk would have to be focused on the math senior citizens have to deal with daily and in the longer term.
The role of business speechwriter and ghostwriter is more difficult in 2014. There is such diversity in symbols and in kinds of executives. We can't assume anything.
The media are full of coverage about research which can't be replicated and scientists who had to retract their papers from journals. One decade antidepressants are hailed as miracles. Then they're shown not to be effective over the long term. That expert and this one have been tracked to be affliated with the commercial ventures they praise at conferences.
Listen to conversations on elevators. In those people share their experience - or their neighbors' - with others. They don't cite studies. They don't care about that.
My syndicated blog Over-50, focused on how to keep working, took off when I veered away from research. Instead I spoke from the heart about my own experience with both age bias in the work world and successful strategies. Over this weekend, the post on not settling in went viral. In it I talk about returning to my counterculture roots and being mobile again. The objective is to open up more professional opportunities and migrate to where kindred spirits are. Here is that post.
Of course, this has big-time implications for public speakers and those who influence through publishing opinion-editorials. Limit the citation of research, focus on experience, both communal and one's own. Invite the audience to share.
In my last bit of estate planning at the end of the 1990s, I made elaborate provisions for my animal companions. At the time there were several of them, both canines and felines. Predictably, given the short shelf life of four-footers, they died and I'm still here. Six months ago I adopted Lee K. Since he is no spring chicken, he too will likely die before I do. But I will still ensure he will taken care of, just in case ...
The new wrinkle in estate planning in this digital era is the continuity of our blog posts. No, when I pass on to that great Microsoft Office Suite in the sky, I won't be adding any more posts to my three syndicated sites. The other two are here and here. However, in terms of evidence that I did do something significant on planet earth, I want to continue to have those posts retrievable. They go back to 2005.
In Blogville, those were heady times. Social media visionaries Paul Chaney and Toby Bloomberg coached me and gave me exposure. Public affairs leader Bob Dilenschneider encouraged me to continue investing my time learning about this new medium. Around the globe, professionals contacted me to do writing assignments, including fiction, for them. I don't want to ever let that go. It was like the counterculture. Both were my personal Camelots. I broke open to fresh ways of seeing the world.
The bean counters and lawyers will have to calculate how much it will take to keep the three sites preserved. Of course, there is no assurance that will happen. Money gets lost. Technology changes. Crooks dip into funds.
However, this remains one of my end-of-life issues. It's funny. On my legal blog, a post about Baby Boomers' blocking the pipelines of talent in law firms has been going viral. Here it is. Abovethelaw.com is among the high-traffic Millennial sites which linked to it. What youth doesn't realize or, perhaps more to the point, care about is this: We Baby Boomers also live our own nightmare. Youth isn't the only suffering species.
A headline in Tech Crunch reads, "Snapshot Hires Googler, 'Pisses Off' His Googler Friends." Here is that article by Alexia Tsotsis. Use of that phrase "pisses off" is very very tame, of course, for digital media. Gawker regularly uses the "F" word.
At one time there was a clear line between the kinds of language used in private conversations and those used in public or published ones. Private was considered "off the record." We knew public discourse was "on the record" so we Baby Boomers and even members of Generation X filtered our word choice for what would appear in the media through what were the accepted guidelines for good taste.
Currently, the line has blurred. Not everyone is comfortable with that. We liked the separation of private and public. It was fun playing parts in both worlds. And we earned lucrative fees advising our executive communications clients on best rhetorical practices.
The interesting thing is that those of us who maintain clear boundaries in discourse are able to gain access to the plum assignments. Those include ghostwriting and speechwriting for financially sound established organizations. By our rhetoric they know that we know what's appropriate in most circles.
What will happen to those in the media who ignore boundaries? There will always be a place for rhetorical disruptors. But how much space depends on what society decides should be the norm in conversations. Should society return to more formality, as in "Downton Abbey," many of the writers playing fast and loose with language could find themselves unmarketable. Old-fashioned could become the new fashion.
After all, what we do is primarily for executives, thought leaders and entrepreneurs who have been successful. No, we are not one of the cool kids at Gawker, Business Insider or Above The Law whose concepts, organization principles and language align with youth culture.
In reality, there is much of the same age bias as permeates just about every line of work. It took bumping into that a few times before I got it: I had to figure out how to continue to make a good living, despite the assumption that young is (much) better. Following is what I came up with.
Listen. The most disarming move in the world is to pay full attention to what the prospect is saying. No one listens any more. If it is hard to listen, a device that will mute your talk button is making copious notes of what is being said. The prospect who is heard is more apt to give us the assignment.
Defer. Famous sociologist Erving Goffman had it down cold. In his classic "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" he explained how the person with the power is the one who sets the rules in any social encounter. The prospect has the power. We mirror that person's pace, volume and word choice.
Create value. Thanks to our experience, we can come up with ways to increase the attention the prospect will get. For example, we have the contacts in the establishment media who will link to the article, opinion-editorial or keynote address. We offer to do that with no expectation of extra compensation.
Be and stay low-profile. Yes, as ghostwriters and speechwriters, we should remain in the background. But sometimes we have to be reminded of that.
Get in and get out. Most prospects are too busy to develop a relationship with us. Years ago they might have seen that as useful to them to have us get to know they better. That was then.
Be confident. It goes with the territory that clients may not like the product we produce. So? We move on, preserving our confidence. The lesson here is the necessity to push to find the right fit with clients. It's a lot like dating.
Of the above, take what works for you and leave the rest. When I leverage all of them, though, I not only get quality business. I receive bonuses. Success, not only in ghostwriting and speechwriting, primarily comes from performance art.
We already know how thought leaders, marketers and even Everyman go to online comments, ranging from those following articles in The New York Times to what's posted on Facebook, to get a finger on the pulse of public opinion.
In Tech Crunch, Ingrid Lunden reports, "Thomson Reuters is now incorporating sentiment analysis gained from Twitter for its Eikon market analysis and trading platform." The company will capture and present, using state-of-the art graphics, the sentiment which could provide insight into the value of what is traded on financial markets. Here is that coverage in Tech Crunch.
In December 2012, Nielsen announced a partnership with Twitter to build the Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. That would be an add-to its iconic way of monitoring and measuring TV viewing. This new metric would focus more on engagement. Here is the coverage.
Obviously, those seeking to influence have these new low-cost tools. Should they become adept in using them they could carve out a fresh competitive advantage. Investor relations at Company X could create a contest for MBA students to tweet analysis of their positioning in the global toy market. The most insightful tweeter will receive a scholarship and job interview. Sure, there is risk. But that's the fundamental of capitalism.
However, as with every human creation, this one can be gamed. A hedge fund, planning to short a stock, can plant glowing perspectives on Twitter. Other investors go long. For this reason, it's imperative to know one's source. If it's anonymous, beware.
Also, for potential influencers in social media there's the danger of relying excessively on what is attracting followers and likes. That prevents their own experimentation. Consequently, they don't craft their own unique voice. Influence takes time to build.
Multiple times the determined little fellow broke loose from the adoption shelter to be reunited with his buddy at a horse farm. There they rub noses. The New York Times captured that shift in tone from the myriad versions of cool to warm and fuzzy. Here you can read that analysis.
SuperBowl watchers also bore witness to GoDaddy's embrace of the courage and strength of a wage slave who quit her job during that commercial, for a puppet startup. This paradigm change from exclusive, intimidating, brittle, cynical, sarcastic and downright bullying to wraparound accepting has been in play for a while.
It's funny. We ghostwriters and speechwriters picked up on the heart-to-heart ethos through how prospects, clients and colleagues were dealing with us. The hard-edged capitalism of the recession was softening. Yes, it was still business, but with a side dish of humanity.
Tone, as always, is everything. The tone of communications in all formats and in all mediums should include some puppy love. We launch each encounter, ranging from the few words muttered on the elevator to an opinion-editorial in establishment media, with warmth, grace and compassion. Pope Francis is on the front lines of reframing communications as an uplift to the spirit of mankind. One wonders if hotbeds of negativity like Gawker will decline in traffic and influence.