Speechwriting can be a satisfying and lucrative career. But our jobs hang by a thread, and we can never afford to forget that.
There are two ways of dealing with this insecurity. One is by using speechwriting as a stepping-stone to an editorial or managerial position. The other is by cultivating speechwriter survival skills.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the course of my own career:
First: Always remember that you have two clients: the person you write for – and yourself. And you are just as important as the client.
There’s no conflict of interest here. If you’re working to make your client look good, you’re also making yourself look good. For example: You’re hired to write speeches? Offer to ghost an article or op/ed for your client. If it gets published, the client looks good and you’ve got another choice writing sample to add to your portfolio; something to show potential employers that you’re good at different kinds of writing.
Second, Be visible. One reason why speechwriters are so vulnerable is that we’re often faceless, anonymous beings. Some of us think that being invisible makes us secure. Wrong. Don’t assume that if you keep your head down and do a good job, you’re safe, because you’re not.
Be visible. Be visible within the organization. Volunteer for projects that will help you grow professionally, win you friends and allies, and add to your portfolio. Offer to write an article for the company magazine, for instance.
Be visible outside the organisation as well. Look for opportunities to speak and write outside of your job. Build a network, because some day it may be your lifeline.
Third: Always have a contingency plan; always be prepared for the possibility that you may find yourself suddenly unemployed.
That means belonging to professional societies that have job banks; that means cultivating recruiters before you need them; that means scouting potential employers.
It also means learning how to market yourself. Here again, I recommend seeking opportunities to speak and to publish outside of your regular job. I know that freelance speechwriting on the side can be a dicey proposition, but you can still write an article, review a book, and add otherwise add writings samples to your portfolio.
I’ve always liked General George Patton’s definition of success. Patton said that success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom. And he was right.
Everybody falls at one time or other, sometimes through no fault of our own. But how high you bounce depends on you.
Hal Gordon is a former White House speechwriter. Click here to visit his website.