Sunday, March 14, 2004

Speechwriting on Spec 

This weekend I felt like an agency that develops a campaign and then tries to find someone to sell it to.

I was asked to write a 20-minute speech for a CEO, but there are a couple of unknowns. I have never written for this CEO before. I don't know his speaking style. I don't know the topics he wants to talk about. I don't know much about the audience he is addressing. Other than that, I'm in control.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in PR. We often write on spec. We make something up and hope it is 60% to 75% of what a client might be looking for. We assume there will be changes -- lots of them --, so we qualify everything lest the client accuse us of being dumb.

I've never had a conversation with this CEO. I've heard him speak, but I've never seen him give a formal address. I would have preferred to read four or five of his speeches and review them on tape to determine phrases he uses, what he stresses and avoids, his manner of speech -- blunt or nuanced --, his ability to speak from text or from notes.

I was given one of his speeches from a year ago to a different audience and a pile of facts about a topic. So it goes.

I told the client I would write a detailed outline of a speech and get that approved before writing the speech itself. I wrote the detailed outline then changed my mind. The client has never seen one of my speeches and might not understand from an outline what my style is like. So, I turned the outline into a finished speech and sent both the outline and speech to the client.

This speech will not survive in its present format, but I hope it gives the client a sense of direction so the client can say definitively, "We want this but not that." If that happens, I can have the speech done quickly this week. If not, I am faced with the one thing writers fear most -- a client who can't make up his mind -- the "I'll-know-it-when-I-see-it-client." More time and angst are wasted on indecisive clients than just about anything else in PR.

So far, this client has been relatively easy to work with. I don't expect continuous revisions as happens with annual reports, but one never knows.

Wish me luck.


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