I was a baby-speechwriter, just two or three years into the profession, when I got the chance to interview for a plum role: speechwriter for the CEO of an even bigger, older, and fancier organization than the one for which I was already working. I gussied myself up, even bought new shoes. And the interviewer’s first words to me?
“I hate speechwriters.”
Not the most auspicious of opening lines. I can’t remember what I said in response, but what I wish I’d said is:
“Then I’m glad I’m not interviewing to be your speechwriter.”
No, what I really wish I’d said would have involved a few expletives. But at the time I was still hoping to land the job.
I’ve thought about that interview a few times over the years. It’s possible he was mimicking his CEO’s demeanor to see how well I would stand up to him. Or it’s possible he was just an ass. At any rate, I got to eat lunch in the organization’s storied dining room. And new shoes.
I’ve often said that my favorite clients are smart enough to know good writing when they see it, but too busy to do it themselves. Seems simple enough. But that requires clients to recognize two things: That I’m as good as or better than they are at writing speeches. And that, no matter how much they enjoy writing, they have better uses for their time.
If you’ve been a fan of Pod Save America, the podcast fronted by several veterans of President Obama’s White House speechwriting shop, you may be surprised that President – well , then-Senator – Obama did not leap at the opportunity to hire Jon Favreau.
“I don’t think I need a speechwriter, but you seem nice enough.”
Really? Obama was one of those clients? It doesn’t completely tarnish his image in my mind; given what replaced him in the White House, I’m not sure if anything could. And he did come around later, apparently becoming very appreciative of his speechwriting team’s efforts. But, still, one wishes he’d have understood the benefits of a hired pen from the beginning.
Then again, if everybody understood the benefits of ghostwriters, there wouldn’t be so much awful writing out in the world. And so many great assignments just waiting for the right ghost to find them.