Wow. A gimmick news release was put out today by a company called Pitch Point Public Relations claiming to be the “Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written.” Perhaps I’m getting old, but I just don’t see it.
In the past 10 years we’ve seen a lot of attempts to change the nature of the news release. And along the way there have been some improvements. The fact that they can now be easily distributed online along with hyperlinks, meta data and rich multimedia content is pretty cool and a drastic improvement to what we used to do back in the pre-Internet days.
But as fads come and go, there are a few things that any good news release still needs to accomplish (and, yes, there is a reason I call it a news release and not a press release, which is more valid today than ever). Below are some choice nuggets from some training materials I put together for our junior staff and clients about a decade before the author of “the Most Amazing Release” cut his teeth in the PR racket:
A news release must be newsworthy
It must work as a stand-alone story
It should be written using AP style
It should be written in the “inverted pyramid” style
It should be free of hype and jargon
It should be objective
It should be complete
It should be straightforward
It should contain context and inform the reader (ultimately the journalist’s audience) why the news matters
Even today, as news releases are used to serve multiple audiences, these fundamentals are still important. Perhaps that’s why the traditional — even somewhat formulaic — news release remains the weapon of choice for the world’s most marketing savvy companies. Why? Because they continue to generate more media coverage than anything else.
The fact that this release got coverage in some pretty high profile places including TechCrunch and even the Huffington Post is impressive — and to be honest, a bit of a surprise based on its lack of any real content or news. So kudos to Pitch Point. I don’t think I’m going to start recommending a strategy of sending newsless news releases to clients any time soon, but this release does demonstrate that it’s OK to have a little fun and lighten up with language once in a while. And that’s refreshing indeed.
5,000 naked riders in Portland provide a great vehichle for public relations
This weekend, thousands of naked cyclists treated Portland to one of the most awesome parades the town has ever seen. It was glorious. Riders of all ages, shapes and sizes pedaled enthusiastically through the city wearing little more than ear-to-ear grins. Their joy was infectious. It was a spectacular night to be alive.
It became abundantly clear that nude group cycling is fantastically therapeutic – strong medicine for mind body and soul. Even as a spectator sport, it has a lot of value. Screw the Rose Parade – THIS event captures the true spirit of Portland.
Bikes and riders of all shapes and sizes
Better still, this event was about more than drinking beer, riding bikes and letting the night air sweetly caress everyone’s naughty bits. This event was part of the World Naked Bike Ride. These riders were not just revelers; they were activists spreading an important message. And that message – according to the WNBR’s Wiki – has something to do with dependence on cars and oil, body image and self-awareness, community building, peace-of-mind, self-sufficiency, thinking globally and acting locally, less being more, bike safety, saving the planet, reducing vehicle emissions and fueling a revolution. OK, perhaps it wasn’t so clear what the message was, but I’m sure it was important.
After reading through the bikeportland.org blog post and seeing what the riders themselves had to say about the ride, one of the few criticisms raised (aside from a smattering of rude behavior from onlookers and motorists) was the fact that the purpose of the ride wasn’t as effectively communicated to the general public as it could have been. In other words, one of the best public relations stunts in Portland’s history was a tremendous success except for the publicity aspect. Fortunately, this is easily fixed.
Bicycling activist or drunk naked dude?
The NWBR creators deserve serious kudos for starting a movement that has obviously struck a chord with people around the globe. However, from a pure communications perspective, the Website falls short. It is out of date, incomplete and difficult to navigate. Most of all, it lacks clear, concise and coherent messaging explaining what the WNBR is all about and what the rides are trying to accomplish.
The key messages are found on the organization’s Wiki. Alas, they are far from clear, concise and coherent. They are all over the place. They cover every conceivable angle. They don’t tell a story. This is what I like to call “message anarchy.” In this particular case, the most likely culprit is the nature of the Wiki itself – something that invites anyone and everyone to contribute. Big groups are great for brainstorming, but when it comes to messaging, too many cooks will always spoil the soup. At the end of the day, someone has to prioritize themes and do some serious editing and wordsmithing to come up with something meaningful and usable. This is important.
Miles and miles of ear-to-ear smiles
All successful communications campaigns require tight and compelling messaging. With a big grassroots campaign, it becomes even more critical. Key messages need to be something that participants can easily understand, remember and repeat in a clear and consistent way. Effective messaging empowers every member of the group to become an ambassador and spokesperson. And that is the key to spreading the message far and wide.
If you look at the (minimal) regional news coverage from rides around the globe, you’ll see that some reporters saw the event as an attempt to increase awareness and safety and others saw it as an environmental initiative. Others saw it as little more than a party (or a nuisance). This is message anarchy at work.
Portland Public Relations Efforts Can Help Spread the Word Locally and Globally
This weekend, the Portland cycling community provided yet another example of why this small, rainy town deserves the title of Best Bicycle City in America. New York’s WNBR ride boasted 40 riders who were prevented from getting completely naked by the police. New Orleans reported dozens of riders. Chicago and San Francisco drew slightly larger crowds. Portland, on the other hand, had more than 5,000 participants. The police were there in force – not to arrest people for being naked, but to help with traffic and protect the riders.
Portland riders EARNED the right to take a leadership role in this movement. And Portland has the numbers, the passion and the talent to help take the WNBR to the next level locally, nationally or globally.
So, for those riders who wished that the event could have raised a little more awareness for the cause, I’ve provided a few thoughts on things you might want to focus on next year. Obviously, these same tips can be adapted for virtually any similar type of grassroots effort.
1) End message anarchy – prioritize what it is that YOUR ride wants to accomplish. Be specific and concise with your messages. For example:
WNBR Portland is part of a global initiative to remind motorists, politicians and the community at large that:
There are more bicycles on the road than ever before
Cyclists (clothed or otherwise) are vulnerable to motorists. Drivers need to be constantly aware of their presence and share the road
Cycling is an elegant form of sustainable transportation and a great alternative to automobiles
Cycling is good for mind, body and soul
Bikes bring joy to a community and are a fundamental part of what makes Portland special
2) Communicate the message to participants and ask them to spread the word
3) Proactively contact the media. The first step in getting positive and accurate media coverage is to provide reporters with the information they need to craft a compelling story.
Provide basic who, what, when, where and why information, key messaging and access to articulate spokespeople (a mix of riders and organizers is best)
Invite them to cover the event and let them know how best to do so
4) Engage the community
Ask for volunteers to hand out information to spectators
Enlist local bars to help with crowd control in front of their establishments
Publish the route in advance and encourage people to come out and cheer the riders on
5) Get Social
Proactively reach out to the appropriate blogging community and invite them to cover the event
Create ways to maintain rider contact all year long
Consider creating an event-specific Website and/or blog
Network with other WNBR ride leaders to share information and resources
Establish or identify a presence on appropriate social media outlets in advance and encourage riders to participate and add content
Event-specific Flickr and YouTube groups for posting photos and video
Choose a Twitter hashtag that contributors can use
While it is unlikely you’ll see my bare butt on a bicycle any time soon, I’m happy to support the cause. Organizers or enthusiasts are free to drop me a line any time.
Respect for old-school journalists is just one reason to retire the “Press Release”
Once upon a time PR was all about working with the media. Back then, we didn’t need to qualify the word media with a word like “traditional.” There was no such thing as “new” media or “emerging” media or “social” media. These were simpler times.
Back then — as it is today — the term “press release” was used interchangeably with the term “news release.” But even back then, there was some debate about which was better. For the most part, the PR community was indifferent as was the majority of the editorial community. But there were some editors — mostly old-school journalists — that did express a preference. They preferred the news release. They would argue that a news release was the vehicle a company should use to issue news; and if it wasn’t news, it shouldn’t be released. To these reporters, calling it a “press release” made it seem disingenuous — as if the company was subtly admitting the intent of the communique was to manipulate them rather than to provide them with the facts. Journalists back then cared about facts. Some still do.
In those days, it seemed that we were always fighting with clients NOT to send out meaningless drivel via news release — even if their competition insisted on doing so. It tended to piss editors off to have to wade through a mountain of crap just to get to something meaningful. But things have changed.
Today, there are plenty of practitioners who argue that companies should be a lot more liberal with news releases and they are correct to do so. Releases aren’t just for the media any longer — they are used to directly communicate to a whole array of audiences who read them online. News releases can — and should — also be used to help out with search engine optimization and as part of a social media strategy.
Strangely, many of those practitioners who most actively evangelize non-media uses of releases still insist on referring to them as press releases. I say the time has come to purge the term “press release” completely from our vocabulary. The term is no longer technically correct. What say you?
Ghostwriting is ghostwriting, no matter what the medium
There has been a lot of debate about the topic of ghostwriting as it pertains to various forms of social media. This is an important debate to have since the underlying issue is credibility, which is something we must all strive to maintain. In this context, terms like full-disclosure and transparency come up early and often. And, while both of these terms are extremely valuable to this discussion it would be a mistake to consider them absolute.
Dave Fleet is one of the many industry insiders who has recently taken on the issue of ghostwriting for blogs and social media. His position is that it’s OK to ghostwrite a blog on behalf of a corporate CEO as long as you provide a disclaimer that the blog is actually written by someone else. I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you make that disclaimer, by definition, it ceases to be ghostwriting.
My take is that ghostwriting is ghostwriting and it can be done effectively and ethically no matter what the medium. So long as the attributed author takes full ownership and responsibility for the material, message, language and ideas being presented, there is no foul. The way I see it, it is up to the individual to choose how they wish to represent themselves publicly. If they wish to enlist a professional writer to help them express their ideas as eloquently and coherently as possible, that is their right.
Though still controversial, Ghostwriting for individual executives on company blogs is becoming commonplace. Blogging has come a long way since “the good old days” of a few years ago when blogs served more as online journals written by a singe person expressing their own thoughts. Today, it is hard to distinguish a great blog from an online magazine, which has lead some old timers to declare that blogging has died. This is wrong. Blogs have not died, they have just evolved. Today, they provide an excellent platform for many types of companies to provide information, interact with customers and build its brand. However, expectations regarding the quality of content have risen. Frankly, I prefer reading things that are well-written and have been proofed and edited. And I’m not alone.
As with any type of communication, there are always multiple variables to consider. Blogs and social media have quite a few. We encourage most of our clients interested in blogging to go with a multi-author format. This allows us to write as ourselves as part of the client’s team when it makes sense (which is most of the time). However, there are some posts that are most appropriate coming from a member of the company’s senior management. In those cases we are always willing to edit or ghostwrite these posts.
When ghostwriting a blog post on behalf of a client, we follow some very rigid guidelines. First and foremost, we make sure that the attributed author reads, edits and approves everything before it is published. This is critical. It is equally important to make sure that the attributed author is involved with responses to all comments made to that particular post.
As you delve into various forms of social media, the waters get a little more murky. While I believe that you still could ethically ghostwrite for someone on Twitter or Facebook, I can’t think of many instances where you should. Practically speaking, if an individual client is involved with social media in a professional capacity, it is something they should do themselves.
We do maintain Twitter accounts for a number of clients. In these cases, we normally Tweet on behalf of the company as a whole. We field questions, weigh in on relevant issues, share interesting articles or promote new items on the blog. Followers rarely are concerned with the actual identity of the person of people manning the Twitter account. If asked, we gladly reveal our identity.
Typically, when agencies or companies run in to trouble is when they intentionally misrepresent their identity and motives online. And when they get caught, they deserve every bit of grief they get. It is great that the marketing community, for the most part, is vigilant about maintaining ethical standards as we plunge into this ever-changing world, but going after ghostwriting seems to me to be a mistake.
The Internet has forever changed the face of PR and marketing. Today the importance of Websites, blogs, bulletin boards (forums) and e-newsletters are well understood. However, when it comes to social media, things get a little sticky. Plenty of savvy marketers have found ways to effectively leverage virtual communities such as Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed and Twitter for the purposes of building brands or influencing opinions. But for many, social media marketing is still confusing and its value questionable.
For me, Twitter was the most difficult to grasp. I knew several members of the media used it, as did most of the PR 2.0 thought leaders. But the first few times I visited the site, I could see very little value. All I saw were messages about what people are having for lunch, what they did at the gym or reports about their personal bathroom habits. The only conclusion I could draw from my initial experiences with it was that Twitter was absurd.
Just to be safe, I discussed my experience with several colleagues to see if they had any additional thoughts or insight. Ultimately, we concluded that twitter was something worth monitoring, but it wasn’t very valuable as a public relations tool. We were dead wrong.
A few months later I read about some of the various third-party Twitter tools designed to help users manage the flow of information and filter out the garbage. A few hours after that, once I installed a few of those tools, I fully understood the value and kicked myself for not figuring it out sooner. Today I use Twitter on behalf of clients, to promote my business, to promote my blog, to follow competitors, to keep up on trends and to monitor breaking news. I’m still not a Twitter junkie, but I now understand why some people are.
At the end of the day, the only way to truly understand a social media site is to become an ACTIVE member of the community rather than just a tourist or guest. Taking the time to truly get to know why a particular social networking community finds the site valuable is a worthwhile exercise. From a marketing standpoint, it is also absolutely necessity. The reason communities like these are so effective at influencing opinion is that people tend to trust information from people they know (even if they don’t know them in person). If you are seen as a legitimate member of the community – even if you are there openly representing a particular company – you will still be seen as trustworthy to some extent. If you are an obvious outsider there only to promote a single agenda, you will have no credibility and you are likely to be run out of town on a virtual rail (along with your client’s reputation).
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to establish yourself, but in the end, it is worth it.
Public relations has the power to mold and shape public opinion – often more than many people realize. Discussion about the ethical use of this power is as old as the profession itself. In the 1920s, Edward Bernays, who is often referred to as the “father of PR”, developed a very successful campaign for the American Tobacco Company designed to help convince women that smoking was healthy, fashionable and even patriotic.
Unfortunately, his campaign succeeded. Later in his life – once cigarettes were found to be anything but healthy – Bernays was plagued with remorse saying that if he had known the dangers of tobacco, he never would have taken the account. But plenty of today’s largest and most well-respected PR firms have gladly picked up where Bernays left off, knowing full well the danger of the products they promote.
And it isn’t just big tobacco. It seems like pretty much any company, no matter how despicable, is capable of hiring world-class PR representation if the price is right. Like any good defense attorney, who justifies representing criminals because the “deserve their day in court,” these agencies justify their actions by saying their clients deserve representation (or their day in the court of malleable public opinion).
Public relations has undergone a tremendous amount of change in the last decade. Traditionally, the role of the PR practitioner has been very much behind the scenes. We used to help clients talk at customers through print and broadcast media. Today we help clients engage in discussion with customers through a variety of methods. In some cases, we may even lead the discussion and serve as spokespeople.
Weber Shandwick has given this paradigm shift a name – advocacy. In fact, advocacy, has become the backbone of the agency’s branding strategy. In many ways, they are right. In order to effectively promote a company in today’s PR and marketing environment, where words like “authentic” and “transparent” carry a lot of weight, it makes sense that true believers be employed to help spread the word.
By definition, a real advocate must take on a greater level of personal ownership for the message he is spreading. But what happens when a PR person is asked to represent a company that isn’t really worthy of advocacy? What happens when the actions of that company run counter to the individual practitioner’s belief system? This is where the concept of advocacy begins to fall down. Bottled water – besides being a major pet peeve of mine – provides an excellent example of what I’m talking about.
Bottled water is an unsightly pig upon which PR and marketing types are currently applying copious amounts of lipstick. It is said that people in the United States go through TWO MILLION plastic bottles every FIVE MINUTES. This bona fide environmental disaster is illustrated beautifully by artist Chris Jordan. Frankly, it makes me sick. Not surprisingly, the industry has increasingly come under attack by environmentalists.
The industry’s response? More marketing! Fiji went with a new “Fiji Green” initiative and is striving to become “carbon neutral.” Arrowhead came up with a new “eco-shape” bottle that uses less plastic and a smaller label. Ethos Water went with an oh-so-chic cause-related marketing angle.
While some consumers and even a handful of media actually seem to be buying in to this nonsense, those who genuinely care about the environment are having none of it. Many of them call it “greenwashing.” The rest call it “bullshit.” And that’s exactly what it is.
Greenwashing at its finest
Bottled water is big business. Fiji, Arrowhead and Ethos Water all have big PR and marketing machines (how else could they have convinced consumers to pay for something they get for free in the first place?). Presumably, very few of the people on these teams actually think they are helping their clients save the planet.
The way I see it, anyone who participates in this type of marketing is doing something that lacks integrity. However, those that call themselves advocates actually bear a personal moral responsibility for the harm these companies are doing to the environment.
KoiFish Communications is selective about the type of clients we represent. This allows us to accept ownership of our clients’ messages, to get behind their causes and to genuinely serve as advocates. It also allows us to take a great deal of pride in what we do. While relatively few employees of larger PR firms have much of a say in terms of what clients the agency takes on, everyone has the ability to choose not to work on a particular account. And if you really consider yourself and advocate, it isn’t a choice – it’s an obligation.
The Truth About Bottled Water — Penn and Teller (mature language, NSFW)
To get the right answers you need to ask the right questions — a great RFP can make all the difference
The use of outside public relations counsel can help build your brand and raise your company’s profile quickly and cost-effectively. Bringing a new agency on board can be a significant investment and deserves a fair amount of investigation. Since PR is a practice more difficult to define and quantify than many other types of services, this can become a daunting process. Sometimes, the best solution is to create a formal request for proposal (RFP) that is answered in writing, presented in person or both.
The trick is developing an RFP that will help you find an agency to enable you to meet your marketing objectives and provide maximum return on investment. In addition, it should help you identify a team that is able to work within your corporate culture and one you will enjoy spending time with. Below are some suggestions for putting together an RFP that will allow you find a firm to best fit your needs while making the process easier on you and your team and setting a positive tone for your new working relationship.
Define your needs
Developing an RPP for a PR agency can be a challenge. Before you begin your search, have a clear understanding of the business objectives you are trying to achieve and how a PR program might be used to help reach them. Communicate this clearly to the prospective agency. This will ensure that the recommendations they make will map to your needs and will help the agency focus its strategic and creative thinking. If your company has not yet clearly defined its business objectives, this may be a sign that it is too early to engage an agency.
A good agency will insist on learning all about your company before providing recommendations. Understanding the good, the bad and the ugly is critical from the beginning. Before you share your dirty laundry with an outside company, make sure they sign a nondisclosure agreement. Once this is signed, share everything.
Define the scope
Be realistic about the scope of the PR program you want to develop and be up front about your budget. If you have specific ideas about the PR program you want to implement, a quick conversation with a prospective agency should be able to provide a ballpark idea of what it might cost.
Even if you are unsure about the specifics of the program, providing a budget range will help the agency prioritize recommendations and develop programs and campaigns that you can realistically implement. It is also helpful because it allows the agency to build the right team for your needs from the outset.
Discovering at the end of the review process that you and a prospective agency do not agree on a budget can waste tremendous amounts of your time, your executives’ time and the agency’s time.
Insist on meeting the account team
Meet the team that will be staffing your account – particularly your day-to-day contacts and account managers. If you are asking an agency to do anything more than a basic capabilities overview, you should expect the account team be involved from the start.
Assess the right skills
Do you want to be entertained or do you want to find the best agency?
There are a number of skills the people on your account team should possess. These include interpersonal communications, attention to detail, follow up, writing, creative thinking, strategic thinking and thinking on the fly.
Think about how to assess these skills before, during and after the presentation. The ability to develop and deliver a creative, polished and snazzy presentation is great, but a much wider skill set is required to deliver reasonable results. Consider the complete process, not just the presentation.
What are your first impressions of the people? Would you enjoy working with them? How did they prepare for the pitch? Did they ask insightful questions? Did they uncover good information? Did they do their homework before the first meeting? How about follow-up?
If you would like to see what it will be like to partner with the agency, bring them in for a working meeting to discuss an issue, campaign, new product launch or a specific idea. See how they react to an interactive discussion and what kind of ideas they have on the spot. Then what they come up with after a day or two to think about it and conduct additional research.
Prepare your decision-makers
Let the decision-makers know ahead of time the scope of the RFP and what you have asked the agency to discuss so that they can understand the full context and scope of what is being recommended or presented.
Also, if it is a presentation, make sure the people in the room are committed to being there. Consider limiting presentations to one a day. This makes it easier for your executives to give each presentation their full attention. Also, consider asking that all cell phones, lap tops, PDAs, and other devices be turned off.
A PR program requires a strong commitment from the client in order to be successful. Keep in mind that a the best agencies are selective about the type of clients they work with. They need to make sure that a strong partnership can be forged and are using the RFP process as a way to evaluate whether or not they want to work with you and your team.
Even the most modest RFP response or new business proposal can be extremely time consuming and expensive for an agency to put together. In addition to various hard costs, thousands of dollars worth of staff time goes into every one. The costs for a large and competitive pitch can be staggering.
While this cost is admittedly a cost of doing business, it is only fair that an agency asked to come up with ideas and recommendations for your company should be able to expect the possibility of seeing a return on that investment.
Conducting an RFP for the sole purpose of gathering research, insights and creative ideas, or intentionally misleading a prospective agency in regards to potential budget, is dishonest and can reflect poorly on your company.
Finding the right agency can have a positive impact on your business. Getting the RFP right is an excellent step toward that goal.
Everything I really needed to know about PR I learned when I was a kid
One of our favorite PR blogs recently did a piece on flack vs. public relations. The author’s definition of flack was “to provide publicity or engage in press-agentry.” While this definition is technically correct, flack, like another popular F-word, can also be used as a noun. My definition of a flack is a PR person who is willing to represent any company, no matter how despicable or someone for whom the truth is an irrelevant inconvenience.
Unfortunately, flacks are the reason that public relations professionals are often considered to be bottom-feeding lowlifes. What’s worse is that it has somehow become accepted that people like PR professionals, lawyers, politicians and others of their ilk can, do and SHOULD lie in order to be successful.
You need look no further than the recent DNC and RNC fibfests to know what I mean. A quick stroll through www.factcheck.org will provide example after example after example.
Perhaps the fact that people are now looking to each other as one of the most trusted sources of ideas, information and opinions is a sign that the general public has had enough of being constantly barraged with lies and half-truths. This gives high-integrity companies willing to do the right thing, be transparent and engage in a direct and honest dialog with its customers a huge competitive advantage. That same advantage extends to PR and marketing people who work within this framework. It can mean a harder road to travel, but the long-term payoff makes it worthwhile.
KoiFish Communications was founded to help companies that choose to put the needs of their customers, industries and communities first gain the recognition they deserve. By working exclusively with companies we can believe in wholeheartedly, we become authentic champions and evangelists for our clients. We feel good about helping them engage in a two-way dialog with key audiences because we know that the discussion has meaning and value to everyone involved. In addition, we’ll never be asked to compromise our own integrity and we will never have to be flacks. This is important us.
Greenwashing is more than a deception, it is bad for the environmental movement
In public relations, it is always important to make a client’s news timely and interesting. The fact that the environment is an issue that is currently front and center with the news media is a good thing for one KoiFish Communications client in particular – StalkMarket. StalkMarket makes Earth-friendly disposable tableware, utensils and food packaging out of sustainable, biodegradable and compostable plant materials. Not surprisingly, the company and its products are steadily gaining in popularity.
One of the first posts on StalkMarket’s new blog talks about the topic of greenwashing. The Greenwashing Index defines greenwashing as something that occurs when a company or an organization spends more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. The problem with greenwashing is that it quickly leads to green fatigue – a situation where the meaning of the word green becomes so eroded by marketing hype that it ceases to be meaningful.
While this is of little concern for marketeers who can just move on to the next topic de jour, it is an issue for those companies that are actually trying to provide meaningful solutions to serious problems. For the people who are really trying to help save the planet, concern for the environment is a lifestyle, not a fad.
If this isn’t enough of an incentive to seek out new angles, consider this – the backlash against companies that are misrepresenting themselves as green has already begun. This is happening with organizations such as the Greenwashing Index. It is even starting to get mainstream media attention.
The bottom line is that for companies only genuinely interested in the color green as it pertains to money, the time has come to rethink messaging strategies. If you need some assistance in developing a fresh new story, Koifish Communications is always here to help. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen Republicans and Democrats give some beautifully written and expertly delivered speeches. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and John McCain all provided solid performances at their parties’ national conventions. And few can argue that Sarah Palin’s speech on Thursday night was anything short of spectacular. She had to knock it out of the park, and she came through with aplomb.
But today, many of her opponents are screaming in a full-throated howl that she didn’t write her own speech. Indeed, the author was Matthew Scully, who happens to be one of George Bush’s speech writers. And because Scully was the author, many people are coming to the conclusion that this makes Palin a Washington insider who is in lockstep with W. This is both naive and ridiculous.
The reality is that pretty much all politicians (and most anyone who makes a speech of any importance) uses speechwriters. In a situation like an election, where every word a politician utters is scrutinized, manipulated and taken out of context, not using a speech writer actually seems like a bad idea – the equivalent of representing yourself in a jury trial.
Writing a powerful speech is extremely challenging. It is an art form that requires a mastery of language and deep understanding of the subject matter. It also requires the ability to use words to create an image, call up emotions or drive home a point. Like learning to paint or play a musical instrument, speech writing requires dedication to master. It isn’t for everyone. This includes people who are extremely intelligent or gifted in other areas. Moreover, writing a truly great speech takes a lot of time, which is something that the kind of people who are normally called upon to deliver really important speeches don’t often have.
A speechwriter is to a great speech what a songwriter is to a great song. A stellar performer is still required to bring it to life and make it a hit. But while the the singer can get away with singing about anything, a speaker must truly own the content of a speech to be effective. Whether or not they came up with the words themselves is irrelevant. When a speaker does not own the content, it is exceptionally difficult for them to come off as genuine and believable as Palin did. Of course, many argue that Bill Clinton proved it is possible last week when he endorsed Obama.
A speech is only as strong as the person delivering it
The stark contrast between Bush’s inability to speak with skill or credibility and Palin’s exceptional ability to deliver her speech should clearly demonstrate that the speaker – not the speechwriter – is the person who makes the real difference.
Scully is one hell of a speechwriter – presumably, that is how he got the job of writing for the President of the United States. His talent as a writer is also how he got the gig writing Palin’s speech. It might be fun to fantasize that Scully is some sort of Republican puppet master able to possess politicians to do his evil bidding, but it just isn’t so. There should be no reason why Scully couldn’t or shouldn’t be asked by anyone to serve as a speechwriter regardless of whom he has written for in the past.
Speechwriting is a lot like PR in that there is only so much an agency can do if its clients or their products don’t cut the mustard. Conversely, when a client and its products have something great – even if they can’t yet fully articulate what – the sky is the limit on what PR can achieve.
In fact, KoiFish Communications believes that speechwriting and PR are so closely aligned that speechwriting is one of our core services.