I: Finding My Voice, Finding Yours
Molly, where is your voice?
It is a puzzling question, which doesn’t immediately provoke an easy answer, and yet that question quickly became a defining feature of my time at Oxford University where I read English Literature first as an undergraduate and then as a master’s student of Renaissance literature.
The question is particularly hard to answer when the interrogator is a world expert in Old English verse or Shakespeare’s plays or the ecclesiastical court in sixteenth century London. To be fair, at eighteen, having just left my south east London state school, with Oxford seeming like a distant Hogwartsian myth, my tutors could have asked me what I had for breakfast and the answer would not have been forthcoming. Tackling the dreaded voice question is plain awkward when it is preceded by said world expert reading out your own writing to you, writing that you probably laboured over for several days that week. Carefully chosen words, combed for misplaced commas, cut and rewritten and reorganised within an inch of its life. But Molly, where is your voice?
The question is not as abstract as perhaps I have made out. Finding your own critical voice is an essential part of an English degree, and a career in academia, for which, in some sense after all, a degree is preliminary training. Those four years saw me shape and reshape a voice which was readable but not patronising, scholarly but unsnobbish, niche but interesting. A voice which relies on a body of criticism just enough to show learnedness but not so much that the writing becomes stale, an unoriginal rehashing of somebody else’s ideas. To be sure, this was a fine rope to walk, and I stumbled often – although my balance improved as the years went on.
Then, the tide turned. The bar was moved. The rules of the game had changed. I graduated from English student to Account Executive at TFD, and the question shifted to ‘Molly, where is the client’s voice?’ Suddenly, the carefully contrived flourishes, the flashes of personality, my own idiosyncratic expressions and punctuation and sentence structures, were inappropriate. The sum of those parts represent me, or perhaps it is that they represent my answer to the question I was asked so frequently.
I came to TFD and I was given new ground to explore, new territory to excavate, and new voices to find. To be sure, this was daunting; it is scary to detach and decentre yourself from your voice when your voice has been a labour of love for several years and has in a sense come to define what one might call a literary personality. But I quickly learnt that it is also liberating. True, no one, understandably, cares about my love of the em dash or my (over)use of the semicolon, but there is an art in finding the language that best serves your message and your purpose. And when you get that right, when you see your words building a relationship with your reader, there’s no other feeling like it.
At TFD, we pride ourselves on being an extension of our clients’ teams. I don’t think you can talk about a client’s business without also meaning personality, sense of humour, style, individuality and voice. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is listening to and talking to our clients to find those qualities that make one’s voice one’s own. I have not lost a voice, I have merely gained several.
So with all this in mind, over the next few months I am going to take you through my own journey to creating my voice, fit for the world of PR and marketing. And more importantly, how we as an agency steer our clients towards a voice which is subtle, clear and nuanced, while it is also personalised, dynamic and relatable.