Tuesday, August 19

Flattening Writers: Dave Fleet

Dave Fleet is a communications professional based in Toronto with a self described passion for social media. I was recently reintroduced to his blog via The Buzz Bin after Mike Nelson included it among the posts selected for “Great Blogs of Fire!”

Dave Fleet has a good blog, no question. But the highlighted post? It’s only close.

How Might Friedman’s Flat World Affect The Public Relations Industry?

Fleet takes journalist Thomas Friedman’s sixth chapter and applies it to public relations and other communication fields, establishing that public relations can stay ahead an increasingly competitive global market by anchoring and becoming really adaptable.

The second point, adaptability, has always been part of the communication equation and has very little to do with flattening. Public relations, along with communication, is one giant exercise in staying ahead of the curve.

But the first point, anchoring, can easily be misinterpreted. It deserves some check and balance. While there is some truth that anchoring (knowing your market) provides some advantages, it can also diminish your competitive value on the global stage and tie you, sometimes fatally, to one market.

For example, although I would not classify my company as a public relations firm, our out-of-market and international assignments are expanding, not retracting. In other words, it’s working in reverse. And it suggests to me that communication remains wide open, requiring companies to expand in both directions — local presence and international market penetration.

Knowing this also leads me to the other portion of his post that caught my attention. Despite the prevalence of English overseas, writing is not so at risk.

Sure, it’s possible. As the editor of an international trade publication several years ago, I worked with more than 40 writers located all over the world. We still tap the best of them on select assignments from time to time.

However, after contracting overseas writers during that five years, I learned to appreciate that the prevalence of English and the quality of English writers does not necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, often times, some of the best assignments came from English and Canadian writers living abroad in places like India and Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, we worked with Indian and Chinese freelancers too. Nationality wasn’t an indicator of a great writer, which is why I think Fleet might be upside down in placing writers at risk.

Still, there are distinctions. For example, there is a significant difference between a correspondent who can write a decent article and a copywriter who understands how to fuse strategic communication, key contrast points, demographics, and psychographics into advertising copy well enough that it doesn’t read like one-way communication.

More to the point, I think what Fleet touches on is that there are many businesses out there, especially public relations firms, that entrust too much communication — releases and correspondence — to unseasoned professionals and interns without enough oversight by senior writers.

When you consider the impact that communication can have on a brand over the long term, I think it would be a mistake to hire writers based on nothing more than the number of dictionaries they happen to own and a price point. So no, writers are not at risk as long as companies continue to understand that the ability to write and the ability to generate results with words are not the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Good writing is bound up in culture. Hence, knowledge dependent on such writing is also culturally contingent. That is the point at which Friedman's flat earth reveals itself as hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rich,

Thanks for giving your take on this. You make some great points.

I thought this topic would generate some discussion - this was my hope, so I could learn from the perspectives of people like you.

(Side-note: The chapter I referred to was Chapter 6).



Rich on 8/20/08, 4:01 PM said...


Noted on Chapter 6. I appreciate the heads up and corrected it.

I thought your post did exactly what it set out to do, which was make people think. I know I had not thought much about the potentials as applied to writers until reading your post; other than the Internet providing an extremely excellent opportunity to secure more out of market accounts and associations over the last few years.

Also, in the public relations classes I teach, I've noticed ESL students struggle with applying the additional Associate Press style guidelines on top of the rules.


How very true. Friedman bring up many good points in his material and speaking engagements as to where flattening can make a different.

My favorite story that he shares is a Bill Gates idea.
That a genius in one country was still not afforded the same opportunities as even a ave. student in the United States years ago. In the future, they may.

Along with that, I find it interesting how many of the Olympic athletes are attending school and being coached by United States schools.

More importantly, to your point, some disciplines do not translate well without considerable effort.

I know when we've had foreign language projects, for instance, that it pays to discuss the project beyond a straight translation, and then have it translated back by a second independent translator.

It's the only way to ensure the message is properly conveyed in the writing with any sense of certainty and, even then, it might not be 100 percent.


Greg Cooper on 8/22/08, 7:17 AM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Cooper on 8/22/08, 8:35 AM said...


Thanks Rich and Dave for your thoughts. Friedman and my other favorite Tom (Peters) can frequently keep me up nights. Both of your perspectives have gotten me to move 'back from the ledge' a bit.

As an OT to Friedman's flat world you may check out this:


Two of the students Brittany and Neil are from my hometown where part of it was filmed. A fascinating but uncomfortable study relating to Friedman's documentation of education.

Rich on 8/25/08, 9:54 AM said...

Thanks Greg,

That's a very relevant and interesting resource. Even the trailer sums it up nicely. I do think that we might benefit by placing greater emphasis on the pursuit of education, knowledge, and innovation.

There is where Friedman is right. But then again, I live in a community where they frequently hire math and science teachers from the Philippines.

How does this translate into writing English and communication? Not so easily. However, I do think writers can retain an edge by learning to become quickly knowledgeable in whatever area they intend to write about. The best writers are not just good at turning a phrase, but rather experts in learning multiple fields of study.

That is a skill set not so easily outsourced anywhere.



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