June 12, 2015

Man of Few Words

Man of Few Words

It’s often said that less is more. Vincent Musetto, the celebrated New York Post headline writer who died on Tuesday from cancer, at the age of 74, turned that simple adage into career gold. Musetto is credited with writing what is widely considered to be the greatest newspaper headline of all time: Headless Body in Topless Bar.

The famous line capped a gruesome story about a murder in a Bronx watering hole, in April 1983. I won’t repeat the gory details here (you can find them all over the internet, if you’re so inclined), but suffice it to say that Musetto’s wry and ingenious headline became bigger than the story itself, earning a place in journalistic history. It also set a trend the Post has continued to live up to on an almost daily basis. That must explain today’s headline of “Chinese Takeout,” referring of course to the most recent hack attack of the US Government’s computer system, allegedly by China.

There’s something to be said for the grace and poignancy of a few well-chosen words. I tried my hand at writing a few gems myself in this column a few weeks ago (see my May 22 post). You can be the judge of how well I did – or not. Since I read about Mr. Musetto’s passing, I decided to read up on how the real pros do it and did some surfing to see what I’d come up with. After all, I’m a journalist of sorts in my own right. I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you here, but what I found for the most part is not printable in these family-friendly pages.

All kidding aside, the ability to assess a situation and boil it down to its essence in a way that lets people immediately understand the issue is a great skill as well as a keen talent. This is particularly true in the case of complex concepts or technical matters. Here’s where KISS “keep it simple stupid” comes in handy. Big words and extensive thoughts are fine, but explaining ideas or concepts in just a few short words is an invaluable communication technique.

We at Marcum face this challenge every day in our business, even though our documents are not what anyone would call headline news. Whether we are writing a technical memorandum on regulatory compliance issues, advising a client on business planning or opportunities, constructing a long-term tax strategy or providing any other service, we have to deliver our expertise in a way that registers clearly and effectively, and oftentimes in a way that educates. Most of the time, we have to convert highly technical explanations and comments into plain English, not an easy feat for everyone.

The science is down in the details, but the art is successfully communicating the information up top. And that is what we all need to strive towards. Simple effective communication, understood by those we’re trying to communicate with on a particular issue. How many times have you walked away from a conversation scratching your head, trying to figure out what the other person was trying to say? For me, it’s an all-too-often occurrence.

And that, my friends, sums it up for this week. Have a great weekend, everybody!