The voice of a blog

Once upon a time (because that’s when all interesting things happen), an unexpectedly retired lady smiled at her laptop with great affection and said, “Gosh, I love having my own blog!”

When she was working for others, she provided about 75% of the raw material for a blog produced by one of her employers, and the experience of working on someone else’s site was REALLY different.

To begin with, the subject of every post had to be decided by a committee of women with vastly different backgrounds and skillsets, whose only common attribute was hubris. Their chief was a humorless millennial bully tasked with overseeing the company’s marketing strategy. She had read somewhere that blogs were an important component of “content marketing,” which showed prospects how much the firm knew about the world of marketing, without mentioning them, their products, their goals, their interests, or the firm’s capability to resolve their problems.

Having worked in the same industry as those prospects for many years, our friend knew they could give a rat’s ass about “content marketing,” but the group’s fearless leader would not be contradicted by something as subjective as experience… not when her world view was backed by literature and data.

Once a month, she would hold a meeting at which members of the committee would propose subjects for the next month’s blog posts. Typically, each one would show up with one or two articles from Ad Age, Forbes, The Harvard Business Review, or an equally worthy magazine or website, and ask, “Should we talk about this?”  They would then hash over the merits of each subject. Is it timely? (That was a good thing.) Is it being discussed widely? (That was a bad thing… one wouldn’t want to bore readers with something ubiquitous.) Was it something people could relate to? (Unlike the word “ubiquitous,” which most people in the room would have had to look up in the dictionary.) Was it something that pertained to 90% of their prospects? (Automatic rejection: this would alienate people in other industries who might someday, maybe, possibly, pretty-please conceivably be coerced into working with the group.)

Once a subject was accepted, the person who proposed it would be given a choice: to write the blog post personally, or assign it to “The Copywriter.” That was our recently retired friend. Most people accepted the latter option, happily dumping someone else’s research and conclusions in her lap. She was expected to flesh it out with additional facts and figures, support and contradict it quoting prominent experts, rescript it so it was interesting, fresh, and vaguely relevant to every possible prospect in every possible industry, and to work with an overburdened creative to make sure it was presented in a graphically pleasing manner. For each story, she had about two and a half days.

Sometimes, of course, a “suggestor” chose to write the story personally. The Vice President of Multi Cultural Affairs always did… and as you can surmise from her title. this cookie could barely speak a word of English. It is amazing how her blog posts always sounded just right, though… and how someone with her byline could usually turn a phrase in our friend’s voice.

Well, not exactly her voice. Uh uh. All blogs had to be written in “The Company Voice.” They could not feature outdated baby boomer figures of speech, like “cool,””hip,” or, God forbid, “groovy.” They  could not cite possibly offensive sources, like “Gone with the Wind” (dated, divisive, and unfamiliar to twenty-somethings)  or  Hamlet (obscure and elitist). They could not incorporate rhyme (too fey and alienating). They could not include easily misunderstood foreign terms like “Voila!” because few people would understand why the blog was speaking about string instruments. They could not be “ghetto” (“zzup?”) or “country” (“gee whiz”), although they could use vulgar terminology like “suck” (“That’s not offensive today, everyone says it.”). They could not be recognizable.

Our friend worked her ass off on that blog. Time and again, she would read articles on topics she knew nothing about, scour through the internet for concurring or dissenting opinions, craft a viewpoint which she felt would be consistent with her firm’s view of the world, agonize over each word and point of grammar, and deliver first drafts of blog posts that she felt would be informative, understandable, and intriguing.

The committee would then be given the opportunity to edit her work, and their fearless leader would retain final say on what was actually published. Entire paragraphs of background and explanation would be scuttled (“people don’t need to know this”). Grammar would be discarded in the name of brevity and colloquialism. Titles would be written and rewritten, until they were finally as unimaginative and uninformative as they could possibly be. They edited the creative, too, with a wrongheaded passion that was downright scary (“Why are we illustrating a story about “Keys to Success” with pictures of a lock? Isn’t that a cliché?”).

And once each blog post had been sliced, diced, scarred, divested of continuity and stripped of all personality, it was returned to The Copywriter, so she could proofread it and give it her blessing.

That woman thought her soul had been sucked out (if you’ll pardon the expression).

And then, she was unexpectedly retired, and she started to write her own blog.

The restrictions were gone.

She could use her own words… regardless of how long and obscure they were, or even which language they came from. She could speak on any topic that pleased her, whether it was esoteric or being discussed by everyone around her. She was able to use rhymes, and curse words, damn it, and make cultural references to any source she liked, be it The Bible, Mark Twain, Noel Coward, or Beaumont and Fletcher. She was free to respect her readers, and address them as members of the highest common denominator.

She found her own voice… and she grew addicted to the joy of expressing her own thoughts, regardless of who would read them.

About two months after she was relieved of her job, a former client sent her a link to her old company’s blog. “Have you seen this?” The client asked. Our friend followed the link, and opened the first of the newer stories. It was filled with typos, grammatical errors, clichés, and more dangling participles than a fifth grade teacher sees in a year.

“I see the company has found its voice,” our friend chuckled to herself.

And then she wrote something better.


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