Thursday, January 18, 2007

This is why I made this blog private

So, let me tell you about my job.

I am a speechwriter. When people ask me how to become a speechwriter, I tell them very honestly that I have no idea. I sort of fell into it myself, after about ten years of working as a writer with occasional bouts of freelance book editing (not my favorite, but I can do it and it paid the bills in grad school). In general you could categorize the field I've been working in as nonprofit and corporate communications; I write speeches and other material for CEOs, politicians, folks like that. Very, very rarely is my own name publicly associated in any way with the things I write.

It suits me. I am congenitally averse to being in the spotlight; I am congenitally averse to any kind of conflict. I like to just be left alone to just write--all I ask is to stay behind the scenes, wear what I want, and be as invisible as possible. Ghostwriting is great for that. The flip side of it, of course, is that in a way my job is extremely high-profile; every so often I'll see something quoted in the Times or wherever and it'll be something I wrote, with someone else's name cited as the source. When I meet with one of my current clients, he is wont to grumble about this. "Look at that," he'll say, gesturing irritably at a pile of clippings. "They all cite Plony ben Plony. They don't know that it's all pure Uberimma." If he really minds, I don't think he minds much; I think it's just his way of paying me a compliment. He's a nice guy.

Anyway, so, that's background for what happened yesterday.

The division I work in at my place of employment is, naturally enough, Communications. There is also a PR division, which deals with stage managing major meetings, training sessions, press conferences, publicity events, etc. Those folks, they are High Stress. We in Communications try to make their lives as easy as possible and stay away as much as possible, mostly because we like to keep our heads attached to our necks. With me so far? Good.

I have one client who is not a born speaker. In a few days, he's going to give a public presentation that will probably determine the rest of his career. He's nervous. I wrote his speeches for this event a few months ago, and we've talked about them since a few times. He asked me if we could get together and practice before the event. He'd be rehearsing on site, but didn't think that would be enough. I said sure, and reserved a room, a teleprompter, and an AV guy to come run the prompter and film it.

Oh, I don't feel like going through the whole saga. Let's fast forward a little, noting in passing that someone from PR, when I called to let her know about the practice session and ask for the teleprompter text, wanted to come along. I said I didn't think it was necessary or a good idea; he was already tense, and I thought he needed some time to get used to the pacing of the speech without an audience. She insisted. How about coming in halfway through? I suggested. No, she wanted to be there for the whole thing. And her assistant too. Well, I wasn't going to fight over it. "I'm not going to tell you you can't come, but I really don't think you need to," I said. It's not like those guys don't have enough going on already, and remember, they were going to have all their regular rehearsal time onsite in addition.

So, yesterday morning. I went to meet the client and we headed down to the practice room, where, as you may recall, there should have been a teleprompter, a video setup, and a camera guy. Oh, and the basics: there should have been an unlocked door. There were none of the above, and there I was with Important Client, Important Client's Assistant, my notebook, and nothing else. And there were the folks from PR, looking baffled. "The door's locked." Indeed it was.

I ran for a custodian--ran, literally, once I was out of sight--and within five minutes had everyone inside. Inside the dark room, where there was NO AV EQUIPMENT. No prompter. No camera guy. Nothing. Now, the AV person is reliable, and I've confirmed the date and equipment with him. What gives?

Fortunately I had the speech on paper--PAPER!!--and passed out copies. He did a run through off the paper version, and I did some coaching. Now I might note in passing that I was getting some extremely negative vibes off the Events people. They were ignoring me, and running the rehearsal as though they'd called it. Very dismissive body language--backs to me, etc. Oh, well, whatever--I don't get into that stuff. I gave him my feedback, which was, as often as not, disagreed with by the PR people, who then started arguing with me over my feedback. Folks, you DO NOT DO THAT in a situation like this. It's pass nisht. You don't. If you disagree, you state your opinion, explain your reasoning, and let the speaker do what he/she will. I tried my best, saying, "Okay, I think Plony's heard both sides of that, so moving down three paragraphs to the line beginning..." Ugh. Ten minutes into his second run-through, in rolled the AV cart, pushed by the camera guy. PR person #2 went up to him and apparently told him to leave, which he did. You can't go setting up AV at that point anyway.

After an hour and a half, he seemed more confident, though said something like "another 22 tries and I'll have it down!" at the end. I went back up to my office, and stopped by my supervisors to say, "Man, those PR people are over the edge."

"I hear you ruffled some feathers," she said.


Turned out she'd just had some irate phone calls from PR.

Do you know what happened? The PR people didn't like that I was having my own rehearsal. Despite the fact that, you know, THE CLIENT REQUESTED IT AND WE DO THIS ALL THE TIME BECAUSE HELLO, I WRITE THE SPEECHES! [To be fair, it has been a while since we have had such a request, because we have had a run of confident speakers. But it's definitely done.] Did anyone from PR say this? No. What did they do? They chose not send the text to the AV people until twenty minutes before the first-thing-Monday-morning rehearsal, because they did not want me to have a prompter. Without telling me. This effectively also cancelled the video setup, because the AV guy was frantically loading the speech onto the prompter instead of a) setting up the camera or b) calling me to say he'd be late. They did not realize that the AV guy was the one who was supposed to unlock the auditorium, and the AV guy, thinking (now why would he think this?) that someone had been communicating with me, just came in late with all the stuff. I thought, sitting there, that he'd gotten the dates wrong, and after the rehearsal went down to talk to him. Nope. He knew exactly when it was. But he had gotten the text at 8:40 am.

So yeah, the PR people were so ticked with my chutzpah at having a rehearsal that did not involve them, they actually sabotaged the rehearsal with the person who, at this point, is probably our single biggest client.

The kids are fine, B"H. Today's best Barak line, referring to a new pair of 3T pants that are slightly too big: "My pants are falling down!" Iyyar has spent the day chewing on a small stuffed stingray. It's Shabbos tomorrow, and I'm really looking forward to that.

But I just needed to get this little tale off my chest.


Shanna said...


organizer2003 said...

I can feel for you. As a worker bee in a LARGE corporation, I tend to get that kind of attitude from sales more than PR, but it sucks no matter where it comes from...



Miriam said...

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! Stupid stupid people. (My kids would yell at me for that one, I don't let them use the word "Stupid") Sorry you have to work with them. Hope your boss (or someone!) can smooth things over for you.

k. said...

...and this is why I got out of my first job in a public relations office. For people who work with the public for a living, they sure have some crap people skills. Yeesh.

At least your current boss is sympathetic. And Shabbos is soon. And Barak and Iyyar are well. Puts things in perspective.

Penny said...

Ack! I can't really comprehend working mostly for little orgs and solo. you have my support ...

[though i do recall that phase in college when i started playing those video games with big scary guns? it really helped when i did tech support and was a TA for undergrads... ]

LeahChaya said...

My sympathies for the whole thing - but I have to ask:

occasional bouts of freelance book editing
you mean, like human spellcheck/grammar checking? And making sure sentences read right? Oooo! How would one go about getting such a job? (I'd prefer fiction) Getting paid to READ sounds like a dream come true :)

uberimma said...

Oh, LC, can I tell you how much that is not true? It was academic editing. I formatted footnotes, I numbered headers and subheaders, and I made sure that the the expert on Elizabethan theater cited on p. 63 as Halpern was Halpern and not Halperin on pages 143, 199, and 412. Pages and pages of style sheets and notes and queries and author's alterations and...

It is not even a little bit like reading, and it is not even a little bit fun.

Deborah said...

Bleck. May they reap what they sow.