What's in a name?

David Murray of the Professional Speechwriters Association recently posed an interesting question for how speechwriters prefer to identify themselves.

 A veteran corporate communications headhunter is on her first search for a pure exec comms role,and asks:

“Is there a preferred title for executive communications professionals? Do they prefer to be called speech writers or exec comms something? My new client keeps calling this role speech writer, but it is definitely more than just writing speeches. It’s about creating the appropriate themes and platforms for the CEO, writing articles, board and customer correspondence, helping with media interviews, managing the CEO’s social media, and being a trusted advisor.”

But nobody reports to the person, so the recruiter wonders if “director” is appropriate?

“Maybe Executive Communications Leader? Senior Exec Comms XXX? I want to position the role appropriately.”

I've personally found at many of the organizations where I have worked, the term "speechwriter" tends to hold a cachet internally that "executive communications" does not. Many folks have never met a speechwriter before, as evidenced by the usual "West Wing"/Trump line of conversation they pursue next. It is a unique role and they tend often seem to give it a bit of deference as a clearly defined skillset, as opposed to the more generic-sounding "executive communications."

As for interacting with external folks, I often tend to more vaguely refer to myself as part of the communications team or as an executive communications professional. This can vary on the organization and context, but I tend to be discreet about the idea that the boss may, horror of horrors, have someone putting words in their mouth.... or that they actually draws on support from advisers in preparing strategically for events. I appreciate that discretion is the name of the game in speechwriting. (I never blinked when a client delivering a college commencement speech added an additional aside that it was challenging to “write this speech all on her own”; after all, the scribe is here to be heard, not acknowledged.)

I'm also aware that certain types of organizational partners or customers can look dimly on the idea of paying someone to write speeches; just look at the never-ending headlines we'll all seen bemoaning the temerity of a speechwriter drawing a paycheck above poverty wages. (From this week: Seema Verma employs a team of private consultants who write her speeches, polish her brand and travel with her across the country.)

Bottom-line for me personally; identification as a speechwriter internally brings a lot of benefits in helping one to carve out a distinct niche and lane of influence. As for what to represent myself as to the outside world, it's more of a mixed bag.

That said, I always prefer the title "speechwriter." It's cool. And it's to the point.