Steve Blitz has been writing research on Wall Street for 45 years. Along the way, he’s had some incredible mentors and learned lessons applicable to writers anywhere.
Blitz started his career in 1977 working for Tilford C. Gaines, the chief economist at Manufacturers Hanover.
Gaines told Blitz: “People don’t have time. Make it easy.”
At the time most banks published reports each week. The Manny Hanny report was printed on hot type in a facility on Varick Street. They joked that the technology hadn’t changed much since Dickens. The report was delivered by hand.
Because the report was so expensive to publish and distribute, the commentary had to fit on one page.
Blitz recalls painstakingly writing and editing to fit the allotted space. They worked especially hard to remove any extra words that would bump text to a new line (Those unneeded words are known as “widows” by journalists.)
Gains used to ask his analysts: “Are you writing to be read or show what you know?”
Wall Street analysts are particularly prone to layer on arcane details to show they “did the work.”
Blitz argues that if you work at Goldman, JPMorgan, Fidelity or any big institution, people assume you are the best of the best. Don’t overdo the background, he says. There is no need for footnotes or a bibliography. “People aren’t interested.”
In the early 1980s, Blitz joined Salomon Brothers. He worked for the legendary economist Henry Kaufman, who was cut from the same cloth as Gaines.
Kaufman’s main advice to writers was that each article should make only one point. Otherwise, readers get confused.
Wall Street research started getting longer in the 1990s as the costs to print and distribute plunged.
As the world went digital, there were even fewer constraints. Analysts could write as long as they wanted.
It may have been modern, but it wasn’t progress.
After working at Salomon, Blitz moved to the investment side of the business, first at OFFITBANK.
Morris Offit, the firm’s founder, taught him that anytime you write you are asking the reader for something precious: their time. Offit argued you are wasting their time if they can read the same thing in the Wall Street Journal.
These days Blitz writes for TS Lombard. He says he’s developed his own technique, something he calls “tilting the mirror.”
The idea is that we are all looking at the same data, but tilting the mirror lets you see it from a different angle.
That way you notice things others have missed.
And when you write about something from a new perspective you don’t waste anyone’s time.
(Blitz was interviewed by Ted Merz, co-founder of Principals Media, as part of a series on business writers. Principals Media provides content strategy and solutions for executives and companies.)