Wonder Why Zuckerberg Is More Polished in Public? Thank His New Speechwriter.
All eyes were on Mark Zuckerberg as he took the stage at a tech conference two weeks ago. It was his first appearance since his company went public in May, not to mention his first real live interview in close to a year.
He was relatively calm, cool (as in, not sweating) and collected, a strong interview at the TechCrunch:Disrupt conference, from a man who leadership has been largely questioned since day one of Facebook Inc. In a nutshell: He nailed it.
Of course, behind every good man, there’s an even better speechwriter.
Enter Dex Torricke-Barton, executive communications manager at Facebook, a.k.a. Zuckerberg’s new words man. He joined the team back in April, and has been assisting the young CEO ever since.
Take Torricke-Barton’s mission statement from his LinkedIn profile, for instance: “My goal is to support thought leaders on innovation, technology and public policy, and to advance a vision of the world not as it is, but as it should be.” That’s exactly the sort of thinking Zuckerberg does these days (having admitted he “doesn’t code much anymore”), spending most of his CEO time on the clock with executives and potential Facebook partners.
That’s fine — Zuck is a cerebral guy. But he’s also famous for his terse answers and nearly affectless demeanor from the early days of doing press for Facebook. And when you’re a CEO of one of the personal Web sites on the face of the earth, you need to come off as personable.
Along with a cadre of seasoned public relations staffers, it is Torricke-Barton’s job to help Zuckerberg become that guy.
Torricke-Barton is no stranger to the profession. Before Facebook, he was Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s personal speechwriter; quite a task, considering how many embarrassing flubs the former Google CEO has made publicly in the past.
Oh, and he also happened to do a three-year stint handling comms for a little thing called the United Nations, spearheading all the lead external press for the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative which aimed to minimize religious extremism and ease tensions between different global religious groups. It was a pretty high-priority program under U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
In other words: Torricke-Barton is kind of a big deal.
That’s not to say that Zuckerberg hasn’t already improved by leaps and bounds in just a handful of years. Not two years ago, Zuckerberg was onstage at our D: All Things Digital conference, sweating bullets under the hot house lights, while being peppered by questions from Walt and Kara.
Much of that is due to the efforts of the team led by former Facebook PR honcho Brandee Barker, who left the company in late 2010.
Still, Torricke-Barton has his work cut out for him: As the head of a now-public company, Zuckerberg has years of earnings calls, keynotes and generally being the face of his organization (so to speak). And for an enterprise that asks for the public to willingly hand over its personal data on an almost hourly basis, it’s not only Torricke-Barton’s job to make Zuckerberg well-spoken — we need to like him.
Good luck with that.
Update: 12:17 PT: As was so graciously pointed out to me on Twitter, Torricke-Barton has nowhere to go but up, considering the post-Facebook activities of one of his predecessors. Katherine Losse, Facebook’s 51st employee, wrote a tell-all on the early, raucous days of Facebook culture. It was not a flattering portrayal.