In the little bit of time I worked at Cossette, one of the senior copywriters took me under her wing. Perhaps because she picked up on my insecurities about having gone from rinky-dink agency to big-time ad firm in one leap. Or maybe because we had the whole “writes English but was brought up French” thing in common. In any case, we were assigned to work together on a project, and when I made changes that involved turning an imperative into a passive, she immediately vetoed it. I wondered why, so she explained that our project was instructional. You have to use the imperative because it provokes a response, and that’s what you need when the the people you’re talking to are learning something. “Know your audience,” she said.
I loved two things about that sentence.
First, in the ad world, you’re constantly referring to targets, markets and demographics. Rather scientific categorizations, necessary though they are. On the flip side, the word “audience” doesn’t connote the idea of people; it very plainly spells it out. There’s no separation between yourself, people and the thing you use to measure them. It’s just you and the people looking at you.
And second, it’s not enough to acknowledge your audience. You also have to say, “Hey! You, over there, in the white t-shirt. I know who you are!”
Since then, I left the ad world, returned to journalism, and then found myself kind of doing both. The two professions aren’t as different as people think they are. In both cases, you have to be extremely mindful of the people watching you, because what you say weaves itself into who they think they are, and what they think they know. The method is different, but the outcome is pretty much the same.
Yet, like anyone who work in words, you end up doing some stuff just for yourself. You can’t help it. They’re your words, your expressions, your choices, and your stream of consciousness. If you can’t take ownership of these things, you’ll be as compelling as a dictionary.
Here’s the real kicker, though. Without your audience, your words don’t exist. Sure, they’re still in that dictionary, but they don’t come from you or from anywhere, therefore you don’t exist. Not as a writer, anyway.
And I tell you what: I was more or less comfortable with that arrangement until Roger Ebert started following me on Twitter, and took it upon himself to link to my blog. The whole thing boosted my readership and followers by a hefty 500%. And just like that, I had to wave goodbye to self-indulgence.
Of course I’m flattered that Roger Ebert, who I’ve been reading for about 12 years, would even give my blog a second glance. It’s just that now I’m faced with an audience I didn’t have before, and I don’t know anything about you. Naturally, I’m grateful. I write this blog because I want to reach out to people to begin with. But if my blog stats are any indication, there’s a good chance that the majority of you who were reading me pre-Ebert were my friends. (By the way, thanks buds!)
So here’s a challenge. Why’n’t you tell me a little about yourself? If I’m not just writing for my friends anymore, I’d like to know why you stopped by.
On that note, Roger Ebert, an avid Twitter user, has made it a point to link to many blogs (after paying them a visit). Today, he led us to Miss Banshee’s blog, which, on top of being hilarious, balances confession and control. She really puts it all out there, but she doesn’t name names. Know what I mean?
I wish I could do that, but, if I’m honest, I don’t think I could even out the tensions as delicately as she does. Not until I get a better look at you, anyhow.