Remember that man in overalls sweeping the floor of the Space Center at Cape Canaveral, who, when asked by JF Kennedy ‘What do you do here?’ replied: ‘Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon’?
The point was he didn’t say, ‘I just come in and sweep the floor’.
Then there’s the story of the man cutting stone for the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral, who when asked the same question by Sir Christopher Wren, told him: ‘‘I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral.”
It goes to illustrate a) plagiarism has been rife since the seventeenth century, and b) the importance of being able to sum up your career in a couple of memorable lines.
Often there isn’t time to convey the highs and lows. There isn’t usually the space either, not in most publications. Faced with a fast approaching deadline and only 50-words to identify a contributor, I’ve been that editor who’s had to pick and choose what best summarises a lifetime’s achievements.
Before I got into publishing and content creation I worked in marketing. Securing an opportunity to comment or provide an article was always the main aim. Hiring a photographer to have print quality photos of key individuals came as second nature. Requests from conference organisers and journalists for a CV, biography, even a short paragraph to be used as a byline – yup, handled those too.
Now I’m on the other side I’ve discovered that I was in the minority. Contributors may want to review and often expect to approve a piece, but few supply a biography to appear alongside it. All that effort goes to waste and you risk damaging your reputation when you leave the sub-editor with no option but to trawl the internet looking at out-of-date profiles.
Have a couple of versions of your bio ready. You’ll need to tailor it for each audience. You get to decide how you want to be immortalised in print, so make your bio short (no more than 40 words) and memorable.
The man who ‘helped build a great cathedral’ was just a stonemason who understood the importance of a simple bio. Faced with an unexpected introduction, it made him memorable. Many more newsworthy people are consigned to the footnotes of history, by hard-pressed editors up against a deadline.
But what do you think?