I want to put words in the mouths of politicians
October 17, 2008 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I would like to start working as a speech or letter writer for a political/government office. What advice do you have for me on how to best go about this?

In terms of existing qualifications and experience, I have a B.A. in English, a community college diploma in publishing, a handful of college certificates (one in desktop publishing, the others in unrelated things), and I've spent my entire career so far (14.5 years) working as an editor in various publishing companies in Toronto. I have a book review website with something like 40 book reviews on it to offer a sample of my writing skills. My level of competency in the French language... eh bien, c'est juste triste. I'm not very open to relocation.

Of course the answer is likely to be "bone up on current affairs and apply already" but perhaps there is more I could do to better my chances and/or one of you works at Queen's Park and has an insider perspective. (I have a friend who's spent her career working in various ministries of the Ontario government and I've asked her to ask her contacts for advice.)

Hive mind, please let your sweet, honeyed words of wisdom flow.
posted by orange swan to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know a few people in this line of work (though not in Canada, sorry). They fall into two distinct camps - those with media/communications/PR qualifications and experience, most likely to be found in the civil service, and the lifelong party faithfuls who are employed by the politicians themselves. If you aren't the latter, I'd recommend looking into media/communications courses or think about ways you can frame your experience to date in those terms, as it's essentially a PR job.
posted by goo at 9:33 AM on October 17, 2008

Get involved in politics. I don't mean "take an interest," I mean get involved in someone's campaign. Contact the local offices of your party of choice and just start getting involved. They may have you start out doing fairly mindless get-out-the-vote activities, but politics is a voracious consumer of linguistic talent. If you can write, someone will find out about it. You may have to spend quite a while--years even--volunteering before you can get on someone's payroll, but this is a good place to start. While you're volunteering you can also apply for positions in legislative offices, which is another way people get these jobs.

But getting involved in politics really is a must, and the first step towards such a career.
posted by valkyryn at 9:58 AM on October 17, 2008

Best answer: I'm assuming you are in Toronto - why not try this link?

As well, respectfully, I cannot recommend getting involved with political campaigning as a way to break into government communications - I've worked on political campaigns myself, and the messaging is usually handled by senior people in a campaign. Volunteering in a campaign for you would mean knocking on doors and answering phones.

The people who work in government communications are apolitical, because it is important to survive in your position if government changes.

I have also worked as a communications officer with the BC government, which has modeled its communications secretariat, the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) on the Alberta government model.

The PAB model is basically a communications secretariat that exists across all government ministries. The PAB secretariat hires a pool of communications staff, who are dispatched to each ministry. PAB (which is centrally controlled by the Premier's Office) controls all messaging.

I don't know what the Ontario model is.

Here are what qualifications you'll need to get into the BC Public Affairs Bureau.

While they may talk about the need for an MBA or whatever, for the most part they are hiring cannon fodder and worker bees, because the pay is quite low (CAN$50K a year for a public affairs officer).

Generally, your resume should demonstrate:

- knowledge of how government works
- ability to work to deadline
- ability to understand key concepts and synthesize information
- proficiency with core communications competencies, including creating a communications plan, experience with event planning, ability to craft a news release or fact sheet
- ability to work under pressure

That said, I got my speechwriting job with no experience. I figured out that I wanted to work for the Public Affairs Bureau, I networked and did *a lot* of informational interviews, figured out who the hiring manager was, sent my resume in, and got the job.

Since I didn't have a communications background, I had to demonstrate I had all the core competencies (like the ones I listed above).

Many people go through some sort of communications diploma program, so if you have the time or money, you could do that, too. And you will most definitely get a communications job, because there is a lot of turnover.

But, once again, don't get involved in politics in order to get a government communications job. The government correspondence you will be writing for a Minister focuses on what government wants to say. The political messaging in campaigns is crafted by political types. Once an MPP/MLA is elected, the partisan speeches and so on are crafted by caucus communications, a totally different realm that is much much much harder to break into.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 AM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: I'm definitely inclined to agree with you about the civil service being apolitical, KokuRyu. My friend in the Ontario government certainly is. She doesn't even vote, and she says that's typical in civil service culture.
posted by orange swan at 10:44 AM on October 17, 2008

Oh, the civil service votes - why do you think Victoria is an NDP riding both provincially and federally? However, it's unwise to get too connected with one particular party
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2008

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