We’re So Over It: Rereading a Snarky 1997 Magazine Article About E-WRITE

While fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to purge a filing cabinet jammed with papers, I came across a tattered photocopy of an article about E-WRITE that appeared in the “Fast Forward” feature in the February 1997 issue of Working Woman magazine. Our business was only about six months old at the time, and we were thrilled to be interviewed for the magazine. But we weren’t thrilled when the article came out; we were stunned. What we thought would be a celebration of our forward-thinking woman-owned training business was, instead, a major mock-fest.

 

Apparently, the idea that we were charging four figures for a day-long e-mail writing course for 25 people seriously offended the author: “They get $2,000 for a day’s worth of advice on how to tighten sentences and shorten paragraphs on-line.” The piece portrayed us as snake oil saleswomen: “O’Flahavan and Rudick admit they have no technological expertise, but they sure know how to exploit the cyberboom.” Not content to belittle us herself, the author recruited experts to corroborate that our business idea was merely opportunistic. She quoted Joanne Serling, an account manager at Wilson McHenry in New York, skeptically stating “If you can’t write, you’ve got bigger problems than any e-mail course can fix” and Malcolm CasSelle, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who said “If you ride a fad, you can write your own price tag.” (You can download the 1997 article,  which I’ve retyped, so you don’t have to squint at the image.)

Thirteen years later, this nasty article makes me smile with pride:

  • We were right and Working Woman magazine was wrong. People do need, and do value, e-mail writing training. Our curriculum and our client list have grown. We’re thriving, even in tough economic times.
  • In 1997, we didn’t even have business cards, but we did have clients. Only six months old, we were doing business with Lockheed Martin and Cable & Wireless. Not too shabby.
  • The author compared us to “Mrs. Bunmaster, your tenth-grade English teacher.” Well, in a former career I was a tenth-grade English teacher. I was honored to be compared to one in 1997 and I am today.
  • The author used quotation marks around the word expertise, as in e-write’s “expertise.” Well, expertise grows with time. In 2010, our expertise is real; we’re authors of a book on e-mail writing, and I’ll be giving e-mail-related presentations at three national conferences during the first half of the year: Annual Call Center Exhibition, HDI 2010, and the Government Customer Support Conference. No quotation marks needed.
  • We shared page 16 of the magazine with Tony Bennett.

Do you have any interesting business artifacts from 1997 that you’d like to share? Sometimes, looking back is the best way to get ahead!

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Comments

Go ahead and be petty -- share the name of the author (who didn't even get a byline...such a pity) and we can look him or her up. Living well is the best revenge, but it sure goes down well with a jigger of schadenfreude. While we're at it, remember Wilson McHenry tanked during the bust; the only plausible Joanne Serling on LinkedIn is doing "freelance PR and writing at consultant." (Perhaps she'd enjoy a writing class? You could give her 10% off.) Malcolm's LinkedIn profile says "unemployed" in much more impressive terms: beware any self-description that starts "serial entrepreneur." Congratulations on 13 successful years, and here's to many more. Your post is a great reminder of the wisdom of "illegitimi non carborundum."

Posted by: David Kay | January 6, 2010 at 12:00:05am

David, I wish I could share the name of the author, but I can't remember it now (can't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday...) and my ancient file folder didn't contain her name. I loved your comment, though I admit to having to Google "illegitimi non carborundum." In spirit of getting the most out of Latin phrases, I'll offer a "Sic semper tyrannis" to the long-ago author.

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | January 6, 2010 at 07:41:03am

As David said, living well is the best revenge. And my screen saver now reads "illegitimi non carborundum"! Excellent post, and excellent comment!

Posted by: Val Span | January 7, 2010 at 01:47:43pm

Val, you're right. Talk about the best revenge. I just took a look at JournalismJob.com's Layoff Tracker at http://bit.ly/4UbpcX and can confirm that, in August 2001, "...Working Woman magazine, publishing halted,unspecified number laid off."

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | January 7, 2010 at 02:24:47pm

Great post! Glad that journalist didn't slow you down. I've been watching you from afar and admiring your work over the years. Keep it up.

Posted by: JodyBruner | January 8, 2010 at 12:40:36pm

Thanks for the encouragement, Jody. I'm going to watch you from afar now, too!

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | January 8, 2010 at 12:45:39pm

Excellent, encouraging post! I look forward to your newsletters. This really is proof living well is the best revenge! If I listened to my first critic, I would not be a writer today. Thank you for the inspiration to keep on keepin' on.

Posted by: Mamasaid | January 10, 2010 at 12:46:52pm

What a great time capsule (or portal?) I wonder about what writers and "journalists" with "expertise" are saying or writing or "commnetating" today that will be bull pucky in 12 years? Keep up the good work! You've always been a source I can recommend.

Posted by: Todd | February 12, 2010 at 08:10:08am

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