Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Writing by Committee 

It is the fate of every PR practitioner to engage in writing by committee. This unseemly and inefficient method of developing communications comes from a known fact that every CEO, general counsel, executive vice president, CFO, CMO and dogcatcher writes better than you do and perhaps, better than Shakespeare.

Writing by committee is a deep annoyance that one endures from the first day in business until the last. I was lucky by comparison to other practitioners. I started by writing annual reports, and there is no more of a committee-scripted product in the world. Early on, I got used to bashings that CEOs, EVPs and VPs gave to copy, sometimes for the sole reason that they could. I, wretched scribe, collected revisions and ground out change 32 in route to a 50-draft report. This is exaggerated in that I never reached that high a number in my recollection, but I did have a heck of a lot of drafts piled in the file drawer.

Perhaps the worst feature of committee writers is that many never weigh in until the document is considered complete. Suddenly, there are grave gaps that should have been caught earlier or extensive rewrites that just have to be done. Excuse me, but where the hell were these writers earlier in the process?

One learns to bite deeply into one's tongue when writing by committee. There is always a rising desire to say something to somebody that will be taken ill -- and was meant. As I get older, I have learned to turn off my hearing for much of the discussion. On teleconferences, I play with the computer. In meetings, I try to doodle as well as my boss. This process of disengagement is solely intended to preserve sanity until conversation gutters out, and one can get a sentence.

Writing by committee is an incredible waste of time, and the only compensation for it is that we bill by the hour.


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