Here’s a tale highlighting why the C-suite requires speechwriters. Lucy Kellaway at the FT was accused of moving too far from reality when she covertly inserted the words of a true-life financial services chief into the mouth of her satirical character Martin Lukes.
Kellaway’s cheeky cut and paste of a supposedly considered piece of internal corporate communication provoked a flurry of emails, saying things like:
“I’ve just read the latest Martin Lukes column and it wasn’t funny. I think you’ve just taken him too far from the real world. The stuff about Twilight was just silly. Can you please make him closer to real life in future?”
For those not in the know, Martin Lukes is the former chief executive of a-b glöbâl, released from prison in Florida, reunited with his BlackBerry. Here’s some of the less controversial codswallop Martin Lukes usually conveys:
“Hi Nitin – A quick heads-up on this incredibly exciting project: the roll-out of a Hippocratic oath for every co-worker.”
“Disastrous meeting. Bloody CFO obsessed about ?IF! delivering value. Can you send him Oliver’s report – it doesn’t add to the sum of human knowledge, but he seems to want proof of output …”
“Hi Adrian, A couple of pointers following our useful meeting just now. I know you are concerned about the P&L implications of the Employee Hippocratic Oath, but it seems you have neglected to consider that it will pay for itself by encouraging staff to steal fewer pens and paperclips.”
You get the point, I hope. Anyway, the words of billionaire hedge fund chief Tom Barrack to his staff at Colony Capital described his “personal breakthrough”. He told them in an email how, after a tough couple of weeks, he took some “yacht time” and chanced upon his daughter’s copy of Twilight. He wrote:
“I don’t get it … but I feel it. Taking the agenda-less time to absorb a point of view that I had ignored while loved ones around me relished it was an oasis for my soul.
“I feel renewed and refreshed, having gotten out of my comfort zone and experiencing something so totally out of my normal realm.”
After rambling on about love, anticipation and vampires, he resorts to what one guesses he rates as a rabble-rousing conclusion:
“Move your cheese!!!! … The earth is turning on its axis. Planets and moons and suns are in orbit. Gravity is pulling and tugging, and molecules and quarks are warring inside of us. We need movement to live …”
“It is hard for us to dream … it is time for all of us … to spend more time outside the strict arithmetic cadence of our business … we must really find the ‘moment’ …”
There’s a simple lesson here. Running a company is best left to the likes of Mr. Barrack, who is clearly a world leader at directing hedge funds. PR, however, is best filtered or produced and managed by professionals. Every C-suite needs access to an experienced wordsmith who leads their executive communications. She, or me if it’s a he (please forgive the shameless plug), needs to have a sound knowledge of business issues, sharpened by years in the front-line.
But before I disappear into the Twilight Zone, I’d like to remind readers of my debate with Neville Hobson, where he put the case for allowing (encouraging) corporate blogging online to be personal and unmediated by PRs, and I replied that it must be kept corporate, but made human: Corporate blogging: now it’s personal? I now feel vindicated by this example of how the personal in the corporate sphere can become pathetic when it gets divorced from professional oversight.