... to a guy who's taking his sweet time pouring a pad for my garage:
"My temperature's rising, Richard."
I said it with a straight face. But the second I hung up, I burst out laughing.
In the course of my correspondence with Mark Ragan yesterday, he mentioned a blog post titled "25 Women Who Rock Social Media."
"Her experience as a writer and editor for The New Yorker and New York Magazine have helped prepare Lauren Salazar for her current role as the Social Media Manager for Weight Watchers. Lauren uses the same personal touch with the community management at Weight Watchers that she does with her own Twitter account. She does a great job of creating a true engagement by finding a way to really connect and relate to her audience. ..."
It used to be that writers and editors came to corporate communications when they wanted to get married and have kids after 10 fun years at the Virginian-Pilot.
E.B. White, on the other hand, edited an employee newsletter at a silk mill—for a few weeks, before quitting out of fear that the job was too easy and would make him soft.
And once a young David Murray, then editor of The Ragan Report, interviewed for a job in employee communication at Aon Insurance. The corporate communication director tossed a copy of The Ragan Report across his desk and said: "You write this. Why would you want to write our shit?"
I've always seen corporate communication work as being exactly as honorable and worthy as its practitioners. I've known more than my share of whip-smart communicators, and I've seen some profoundly good communication.
But now here come the best and the brightest, fresh and enthusiastic, from the most respected publications in the world, to "connect and relate" to the the customers of Weight Watchers. Well, they damned well better rock social media. I hope they use their brains and energies and hearts to rock their employers, too.
Update: And thanks to Writing Bootista Liam Scott, who was so distressed by this item that he dug into Salazar's background. It appears that "25 Women Who Rock Social Media" blogger Lee Odden may have pumped her up a bit when he said she was a "writer and editor" at The New Yorker and New York Magazine. According to her résumé, she spent "Fall '06" as a "creative services intern," where she "developed integrated campaign pitches, executed special event marketing ... and provided copywriting support for advertising sales staff."
She did more editorial work at New York Magazine; among other responsibilities, she did "beat reporting for citywide retail, fitness, restaurant, and nightlife venues."
So I guess we can't expect Ian Frazier to be rocking social media at Zappos anytime soon. But we do expect Lauren Salazar to punch above her weight at Weight Watchers.
I always laughed at IABC and PRSA's accreditation programs, with their secret tests purporting to prove passers proficient to practice ... public relations. It was amusing, listening to "Accredited Business Communicators" gas on about how much they learned about themselves from the process of studying for the test, and so forth.
But now that PRSA's APR program seems on the wane and IABC has suspended its ABC accreditation program altogether, I suddenly see the value in having some common standard of excellence—even if the "common" part of that phrase is more important than the "excellence."
In an industry as nebulous as communication, it's crucial to have, if not common tests, at least common texts. Communicators used to subscribe to trade publications, and have some regular reading in common. I worked for some of those publications, at Ragan Communications.
When I started at Ragan—a few years before anyone heard of the Internet—we published two kinds of newsletters:
1. Trade publications for PR people—The Ragan Report, Speechwriters Newsletter, Editor's Workshop Newsletter, Corporate Annual Report Newsletter and even a desperately dreary one called Techniques for the Benefits Communicator.
These weekly or monthly eight- and 12-pagers were filled with interviews with leaders in the business, case studies about successful communication campaigns, essays by top practitioners and survey stories that asked various communicators to weigh in on important issues and problems in the business. The editors of these publications were serious about their work, and performed to the accepted standards of journalistic integrity. And if people canceled their subscriptions or complained to our publisher about our critical coverage, it was tough shit for them, because this was serious business. It had to be, to command hundreds of dollars for a subscription, as these newsletters did.
2. "Tips newsletters" full of cleverly written commonsense ideas for middle manager types. With names like Manager's Intelligence Report and The Working Communicator, these publications offered bulleted lists of tips, like: "At a cocktail party, hold your drink in your left hand so that when you meet someone your shaking-hand is warm and dry." To a one, the publisher, the marketer and the editor of every one of these publications were cynical about the purpose and contemptuous of the audience, which they saw as faceless masses of fools who believed that wisdom and competence could be achieved by merely compiling tips from sharpers like us.
Within a decade, the Internet had all but eliminated those cheap, silly tips newsletters.
And within 15 years, it eliminated the expensive, serious trade newsletters, too.
And what's left? A limp combination of both. A website that purports to offer "news and ideas for communicators," but really only offers generic tips that sound much like The Working Communicator (and worse). One day this month, here were the headlines at Ragan.com:
"The Winnie-the-Pooh guide to social media"
"6 secrets to create a powerful LinkedIn summary"
"8 foods that PR people should avoid"
"What communicators can learn from farmers"
"5 ways to make your brand sound human online"
"12 quotes about readers to inspire writers"
"The craziest excuses employees use to call in sick"
And so on. The only article approaching a case study was a thing on how a pizza chain "deftly" responded when a nude photo of a woman was uploaded to its Facebook contest for children. And what was this "deft" response? They immediately pulled the photo down and issued a corporate apology: "We were disappointed last night to see a shocking photo in our Mini Monsters contest ...."
We don't need a trade publisher to tell us to do that any more than companies need to hire a professional communicator to do that.
I'm not criticizing Ragan; I'm assuming Ragan.com editors are watching traffic patterns and serving their readers what their readers like to eat.
But here's the question that tortures my afternoon naps: When everything is bullshit, who will pay the bullshitters?
All of us at Writing Boots are pleased to be praised by Polish employee communication consultant Roman Rostek, who translated our big employee communication discussion a couple weeks ago into Polish, for his audience.
Or, as Roman says:
"Jaka jest dziś rola komunikacji wewnętrznej? Na czym powinni się skupiać specjaliści odpowiadający za ten obszar, a na czym nie powinni się skupiać? Jaka jest misja profesjonalistów zajmujących się komunikacją z pracownikami? Większość artykułów i blogowych postów w ostatnim czasie skupia się na zastosowaniu narzędzi, ale na blogu Davida Murraya znamienite grono najlepszych światowych ekspertów z naszej dziedziny rozpoczęło dyskusję na temat tych podstawowych kwestii."
Once one of our married buddies had an affair so sordid that when it all came out another married pal thanked him: "for setting the bar so low that none of us can get beneath it."
I figured that utility companies had long ago set a similarly un-duckable standard for telephonic customer service, until a woman from Peoples Gas asked me for the last four digits of my wife's social security number "for security purposes."
I need not tell you that getting through the automated screening system to the woman was itself an achievement of great patience and a testament to the power of soothing self-talk.
But when I asked the woman to wait a moment while I rummaged around for a document containing those last four digits, she said, "I'm sorry, Sir. I can only hold for 30 seconds. You'll have to call us back when you have the information."
Once a writer faxed a publisher I worked for to tell us our copyediting work was "subfecal." I couldn't imagine what could be "subfecal." I can now.
I'm-a be facilitating Leadership Communication Days in Washington Thursday and Friday, and I'm rushing around to get out of town.
But rushing around in America isn't easy.
Dear Shambling, Too Cool for School, Passive-Aggressive American:
Here's why you ought to hustle across the pedestrian walkway to get out of my way (as I would do, to get out of yours): because human beings ought to assume that the other humans at intersections are headed in the right direction—on their way to apply for college, to visit a sick uncle, to pick up their child early for an ice cream, to find a piece of paper to write down an idea that might lead to a cure for breast cancer—and we ought to get the fuck out of their way.
It's true that the person who's waiting for you to move your languid ass across the intersection might be going nowhere in particular (she might in fact be completely lost)—or nowhere good—(maybe he's hustling, hot-faced, to meet a 13-year-old he met online).
Most likely, though, the person is doing something morally neutral, like getting ready to go on a business trip—you know, to make a living?
We can't assume purposelessness or malicious intent of the rushing stranger into whom we bump. We must assume—as ants do, I imagine, inside their bustling hill cities—that the other fellow is out to do some good for himself, and thus for his family, and thus for his nation, and thus for the world community and all of humanity.
Intentionally shambling across the crosswalk is a declaration of war on your fellow citizen and on all peoples of the world. And a pretty cowardly declaration at that.
So if you've ever asked yourself, "Why should I hurry across the intersection to let you get through?"—have answered your question?
Have no idea what this means, and Facebook offers no guidance on what "harrassing messages" I have sent, or how I have been reported.
Pretty chilling stuff, eh?