Longtime Writing Boots readers may have noticed that I am no longer quite the rabble-rousing gonzo communication commentator that I once was. I'm an association executive now. I need to be a nice guy, a friendly presence. Starting gratuitous fights in order to get attention? These days, I leave that to the President-Elect.
But every once in while a fella needs to know he still knows how to call out some nonsense, fast and hard.
Last week Vital Speeches issued a call for entries for the 2017 Cicero Speechwriting Awards, a program that, now in its 11th year, has been established as the award for speechwriting excellence.
Per usual, fine speeches started coming in the very day of the launch, and they'll keep coming until our early-bird deadline Feb. 3 and our final deadline, Mar. 3.
Unusually, I received an email from a longtime correspondent who told me he'd emailed his boss to ask permission to enter a speech into the contest, and his boss had responded "with a question a lot of other speechwriters' bosses might ask: 'What would we get out of this?' Note the word we. Your call for entries and the Cicero Awards web page appeal to speechwriters' vanity and our hunger for recognition and marketability. Totally legit appeals. But many/most speechwriters are not footing the $150-per-entry bill out of their own pockets. So I'd recommend that the next time you send out a call for entries, you frame it in terms of what winning can do for the organization."
God help me, here was my response, name changed to avoid revictimization of the recipient:
Henry, your boss is a fucking asshole, and you can tell him I said that. Or at least he’s posing as one, for effect.
Seriously, how is it MY responsibility, or yours for that matter, to explain to the head of a corporate communication department why he would want to say he had award-winning staffers doing award-winning work.
I would sound, and I would BE, a ridiculous solicitor if I included language [in our call for entries] about the strategic benefits to the organization that employs a speechwriter who won a Cicero Award.
If your boss can’t figure that out for himself—or if for some reason he’s pretending he can’t—it’s not a marketing problem on my part. It’s an intellectual honesty problem on his.
Don’t you agree?
My correspondent was taken aback, and apologized tongue-in-cheek for not including a "trigger warning" in his original email.
I guess he had a point. I guess here's the trigger: As the head of the Professional Speechwriters Association, I find it more than palatable—I find it rewarding—to help speechwriters write better speeches, find better clients, do more meaningful work, even find a better job. But I draw a bright line—no, a bright line actually draws itself—between helping people do better for themselves, and helping them mollycoddle dickhole bosses who instead of telling their adult employee, "I'm really sorry, but I don't think we have the budget to enter awards this year," ask douchy questions like, "What would we get out of this?"
To answer that, I'm supposed to include in our marketing material language about the strategic branding boon to an organization that employs an award-winning speechwriter?
"Stressed out or something?" Henry asked me.
Nope. I feel goddamned fantastic.