Tactics for speechwriting survival

As the economy was in free fall last year around this time, three executive communication colleagues discussed survival techniques, from tactical to psychological. Contemplate these and send us an e-mail ([email protected]) letting us know how you’ve gotten through the economic winter.

1. Prepare for the worst.

Freelance speechwriter Erick Dittus reacted to the downturn by doing more of what he normally does: calling communication executives and trying to get them to give him work.

“Over the past 10 days I’ve spoken with approximately 50 clients and potential clients from industries ranging from retail food and automotive to technology and agriculture,” Dittus wrote me in October. “At least 80 percent of these communications professionals (a.k.a. hiring managers) said their part of the company was either adjusting or planning to adjust to the meltdown by cutting back on staff, freezing hires or tightening budgets (reducing the use of outside vendors: me).”

2. Look at the bright side. On the eve of the U.S. presidential election, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Reagan White House speechwriter Hal Gordon actually predicted a bull market for speechwriters. His reasoning, expressed on his blog ( http://web.mac.com/gordon.h/Site/Blog/Blog.html):

Barack Obama is likely to be our next president. Not only that, the Democrats are likely to make significant gains in Congress. They may even get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. If they do, the unions, environmentalists, consumer activists and other liberal-left interest groups will pull the strings of the Democratic supermajority, and the nation’s business executives can expect to be the target of legislative proceedings roughly equivalent to Nuremberg trials.

The business community will not even be able to rely on the Supreme Court to save itself from from lynch law. Given the fact that five of the nine justices are aged 70 or over (John Paul Stevens is 88), the odds are good that a President Obama could make as many as three appointments to the Supreme Court during his first term.

Confronted with the prospect of tumbrils and guillotinings, America’s business leaders would have only one hope of salvation left: appeal to the fairness, decency and common sense of the American people. Political opinion in this country is still center-right, and the public can still be swayed by well-crafted and persuasive pro-business arguments.

But who will make these arguments? Who else but professional communicators?

In the face of a Democratic sweep, more money for corporate communications departments will not be a luxury. It could well prove to be a fundamental cost of doing business. For proof, look at the $40 million that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is currently pouring into tight Senate races—double its 2006 effort.
I may be wrong, but I think it’s entirely possible that the worst of times could be the best of times for business communicators.

3. Get yourself a baby. Government of British Columbia speechwriter Rueben Bronee said he has the perfect antidote to big-picture panic:

My 10-month-old son props himself up on an ottoman and starts bouncing his butt to the beat the second you put music on. He says “dada” incessantly, and sometimes even associates it with me. Some nights he still falls asleep with his head on my shoulder. When I leave for work some mornings, my wife props him up in his bedroom window and he stands there in nothing but his diaper smiling and waving. And no matter what troubles follow me home, the smile on his face stops them dead at the door.

Of course, when he’s 14 and the world is going to hell yet again I’m pretty sure I won’t have such a relaxed perspective. But that’s not now.

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