Thursday, October 07, 2004

[I]n response to your note [on Ghost Writing]

Dean Velvel:

Thanks for your kind words. I have some further thoughts in response to your note. In many ways, I don't think we're all that far apart in our thinking.

As to the subject of credit, perhaps I've just been lucky, as I've never run into an instance where an executive I've worked with hasn't taken the time to say thank you during and after the completion of a project.

Executives know what I do, and so do my colleagues and my boss. I've never felt unappreciated. However, I seem to gather from what I read that many in academia don't seem to feel the same way.

As I've spent my entire career as a corporate employee, I can only speculate as to why this is. Perhaps it might be time for some professors to review how they utilize, and treat, their graduate assistants?

Some other thoughts:
When Judge Posner puts his name to a law review article, that byline indicates that he's taken the time and effort to produce that piece himself, and that it reflects his thinking and effort. It also indicates something to the members of his peer group and the legal community as a whole. Compare this to a corporate CFO, or the head of an accounting firm when they append their signatures to an annual report. Both the CFO signature and the judge's byline convey thruthfulness and authenticity -- but in subtley different ways.

With Judge Posner, the byline conveys original academic thought. With the CFO, the signature conveys the veracity of the attached statement. Obviously, he wasn't involved directly in producing every last piece of data -- but that doesn't detract from the particular message his signature conveys -- that of the credibility of the data presented.

Finally, I hope that I didn't leave you with the impression that corporate executives simply pick up a speech draft and perform it with little or no interaction. The executives I've worked with are intimately involved in the crafting of the speeches they deliver. Normally, when I sit down with the person I'm writing for, the meeting can last anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on the subject.

Add in an extensive editing process (outlines and the like), and I think it would be difficult to characterize corporate CEOs as uninvolved when it comes to their speaking engagements.
I think it's also important to point out exactly what happens during this process. In essence, during these conferences and the extensive discussion, the speech, in an ideal world, begins to belong to the speaker. It reflects his ideas and beliefs, not the writer's.

Trust me, when a corporate CEO rises to a podium at a venue like the World Economic Forum or a Wall Street Boardroom, many, many hours of preparation and careful consideration have taken place before the final sound check.

The stakes are too high for it to be any other way.


Eric McErlain

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