Survey: Speechwriters Seek to Turn Serendipity to Security

Having “stumbled into” influential roles and a relatively lucrative career, members of the new Professional Speechwriters Association seek a safer, more strategic path, says the results of a membership survey.

And what do the speechwriters say? Contrary to many other communications professions, they love their pay. But like many others in the creative class, they like the idea of their work better than the reality. And they’re unsettled about the future—a big reason they’re banding together to increase their job security and satisfaction.

“I’ve been around speechwriters for more than two decades,” said PSA executive director David Murray. “These are consistently the most erudite, intense, joyful—and frustrated—people in the communication profession. Now that they have a platform to organize, I think they’ll realize their potential as powerful actors in their organizations and in society.”

PSA logoMurray, the editor of the 81-year-old magazine Vital Speeches of the Day, formally launched the PSA a year ago with the organization’s first annual World Conference last May at New York University. That conference—like the new association that convened it—was the first created solely for people who do leadership communication for a living, and it drew practitioners from around the world.

As a follow-up to the ground-breaking conference, the PSA joined with founding partner Gotham Ghostwriters to sponsor the first national survey of speechwriting pros, to get a better understanding of who they are and what they think about their work.

Here’s a summary of the key findings from this timely survey:

  • Speechwriters are older than their colleagues in public relations, more likely to be male, better educated—and better paid. The typical speechwriter is a 51-year-old man with a Masters degree. More than half of speechwriters surveyed make more than $100K, with $23% pulling in more than $150K (half of those making over $200K).
  • Speechwriters found their way into their work through serendipity. Some speechwriters claimed a method to their professional madness, one saying he joined the business “to fuse my love of writing with my love of policy/politics.” But in a more typical answer to the question, “Why did you become a speechwriter in the first place?” one PSA member wrote that he “stumbled into the job—CEO needed a speech.”
  • Speechwriters love their work. Asked what they like most about speechwriting, speechwriters said, “shaping public debates,” “finding and telling stories,” intellectual and creative challenge and reward,” “the variety of topics and amazing people that I get to work with,” and “the silent hours when I through writing try to understand and share something important.”
  • And speechwriters hate their work. What do speechwriters like least about the job? Solitude, short deadlines, slow workflow, lawyers, leaders’ indifference. Speechwriters resent clients who “don’t care about content,” and bureaucrats who care too much. “I have to contend with constant micro-managing by people who see risk lurking in every corner and are afraid of letting the CEO take any kind of position,” one speechwriter said. “They also have no feel for what constitutes good writing yet exert a huge influence over the process.”
  • Speechwriters fear for the future. Speechwriters face new challenges, like the increasing use of Q&As and other informal presentation techniques to replace formal speeches. And they face timeless ones, like quantifying the strategic value of their work, and “the everlasting suspicion of rhetoric.”
  • And speechwriters envision a brighter future. Now that they’re getting organized for the first time in a global association, they face these challenges together, with a chance to exchange best practices and lend one another a helping hand. And that’s what they want from the Professional Speechwriters Association: Not another rigid structure in their lives, nor an elaborate guild or union, but straight-up professional development, and an expanded network through online networking platforms and “structured networking” at the PSA World Conference.

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