When I was the editorial director at a publishing company, a young writer in my charge was struggling to come up with a grabby headline, and hoping I would bail her out.
“You write such good headlines,” she told me. “Why do you think that is?”
I guessed that it may have had something to do with the fact that my parents were advertising people.
“Uh oh,” she said. “My dad is a lawyer.”
In the intervening years I’ve spoken to hundreds of professional communicators, most of them speechwriters. None of them wanted to be PR people when they grew up, and almost all feel they more or less “fell into” the occupation. But when I probe them—and I do—I almost always discover some connection—sociological, intellectual or pathological—between their formative years, and their communication careers.
For me, the connection is easy. My parents were writers, both in and out of the advertising business. (“My Mom Was a Mad Man,” an excerpt from my book, Raised By Mad Men, appears in Advertising Age this week.) I simply went into the family trade, and the only regrets I’ve ever had are the few times I’ve strayed into executive or consulting roles that involved too little writing.
I know other people, of course, who got here from far less likely places. Pepsi executive communicator Rod Thorn describes his as “The journey of a dirt poor kid who started his life in a trailer, then became a trusted advisor to CEOs, flying all over the world in corporate jets.”
Every storyteller knows that where we came from, how we got here, and where we’re going are interrelated concepts. What’s your origin story? Contribute it in the comments section here … or send it to me, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to compile a number of them into a white paper, to help all of us figure out how we arrived where we are professionally, and where we’re headed. —DM