In Defense Of Defensibility

Defensibility – a word we may very well have just coined here – is the art of doing things on purpose. It’s what separates the pros from the cons and by that, I don’t mean what separates the positives from the negatives.

Here’s the audio version of this article for your dining and dancing pleasure.

By one of its more strict definitions, the moment you get paid for something, you’re a professional. The word “professional” also conveys, at least to some people, a certain standard. of performance. A professional athlete is likely better at their sport than an amateur, for example. Same for a professional versus an amateur guitarist. Or chef. There’s the implication that the professional is just plain better at what they do. But regardless of your field of endeavor, the moment somebody writes you a check, you’re expected to bring your A-game. And that’s where “doing things on purpose” comes into play.

Ideally, professionals are always bringing their A-game. To me, that’s the responsibility you assume when you accept the check. But that assumption is not, as it turns out, universal.

Since my mission in this new season of The Voice In My HED is to be blunt when the situation calls for it, I’ll say it this way: If you’re being paid to provide a service, doing things on purpose means that every choice that was made on a specific project was made deliberately, and with consideration. And that if it came down to it, you’d be able to defend every one of those choices and explain the rationale behind them. If that’s not true, then you’ve abdicated your responsibility as a professional, and your client has wasted their money.

I was listening to the radio last week which, even though I’m not in the radio industry anymore, is something I do quite often so I can monitor various coaching clients. And in the middle of a big-market morning show, I heard a commercial with three voices in it, playing characters in a made-up scenario. And guess what? Every single one of them had a name. And the more I thought of it, the more I realized it’s been ages since I heard a commercial with characters in it, where they weren’t assigned arbitrary names. Were the writers and producers doing things on purpose when they gave time-consuming names to these characters in this 30-second play? What specific purpose did the names serve? And why were the names they chose as white as the snow in the Rockies?

When we pay money to our doctors, our lawyers and our mechanics, we assume that it’s because they’re going to bring their A-game, and do a proper job that’s informed by proper training and comprehensive knowledge about what paths with lead to the best possible outcomes for us. But shouldn’t that be true of everybody that gets paid to do something? If you’re bagging my groceries, I want to know why you chose to put the loaf of bread on the bottom of the bag under the bottle of soda. Is there a reason? Or do you just not care about anything today?

It’s surprising how many people could be choosing to do things on purpose who instead fall back on phrases like, “that’s just how we’ve always done it”. If there’s a defensible reason for having always done it that way, then let stakeholders and team members know, so they’ll better understand the process and go forward with the confidence that things are done by design.

Clients who rely on me for production of their radio commercials, and students who’ve enrolled in my copywriting course, know only too well how I feel about music beds in advertising. Does it serve a purpose? No? Then get it out of there. If the purpose of the music bed is to liven up the spot, maybe try writing copy that doesn’t suck, and you won’t need the music bed. Same for you, radio DJ who plays music in the background of their conversations to help it feel like things are moving along. Maybe you should try having conversations that are actually moving along.

Every sentence in an advertisement should serve a purpose. Every music track in a podcast should have been a deliberate choice, and the producer should be able to describe why this track instead of that one. Every ingredient in my entree should be there for a reason. Every time the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, it should be to throw the pitch that the catcher decided was the best one to throw now, and here’s why.

Doing things on purpose is what defines a pro. The alternative is either an amateur, or a con.

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