Wood for the trees

treesOnce we were asked to prepare 200-word personal profiles for an international summit. The event was to be attended by various world leaders, captains of industry and a sprinkle of celebrities to add to colour.

Most of the attendees had clued-in PAs who supplied various information, often already summarised down to no more than 500 words or so. There is quite an art to conference publications and most of the participants were well aware about what to say.

It is always a challenge to get 500 words down to 40 percent of the original text without upsetting the client, but by the time you get rid of the padding it is often just a matter of leaving out the least important facts.

However, at this particular summit the PA of a very senior international music star sent us 45 pages of hastily written prose praising their boss. A polite inquiry ascertained that these pages had already been summarised and it was “impossible to say less about such a great artiste.”

We suggested to the eager employee that as even her president was only getting 200 words in the guide book perhaps we could shorten it. We were told to just take the “most important parts.”

We were astounded that she had just surrendered her employer’s image control over to a small team of contract editors, but not surprised. It happens more often than not with internal publications.

No doubt the PA was thinking that as no more than 500 people would ever have read it. However, when you consider the identities of those 500 in this instance, it is still strange that more care was not taken to tailor the profile to better suit that particular celebrity’s agenda.

In this case we focussed on the many awards and relevant recognition the star had achieved, taking care to lift key phrases from the original introduction so as to as far as possible keep the feel of the thing. However, it could so easily have gone wrong both us and them.

Ultimately it is hard to sustain the idea that 10,000 words being culled to a mere 200 was in anyway a summary. What we did was a thorough rewrite. If everyone had taken the same approach we would have to have edited around a million words in a week.

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