“When I read profiles of myself, I sometimes think: ‘I have spent my whole life struggling to understand my motivations and impulses, and I’ve never quite sorted them out,’” Monty Pythoner and TV travel host Michael Palin once said. Good profiles get us thinking. The standout entries in this year’s Neal Awards for Best Profile Article dealt a lot with motivations and impulses—and interesting backgrounds.
“Before you ask Michelle Tran what she’s working on, make sure you’ve blocked out some time on your calendar to accommodate a lengthy answer.”
So begins Vestwell’s Michelle Tran Rarely Rests, Which Is Making a Difference for Women in Fintech, Justin L. Mack’s Neal Award-winning profile of the senior VP and head of enterprise sales and daughter of immigrant parents—in Arizent’s Financial Planning.
In an age when AI-generated articles draw criticism for their lack of personal touches, profiles have become more important than ever in all platforms. (TV sports profiles are everywhere now.) A common denominator in every niche is the fascinating people that populate it; good profiles give us that inside view to bring us closer to those people.
“…As a first-generation Asian-American, Tran said there wasn’t necessarily a lot of flexibility when it came to the childhood question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,’” Mack wrote. “The options were doctor, lawyer or another ‘fill-in-the-blank’ stable profession. ‘When I went to college, I was pre-law and said I was going to be an attorney. But I was bored to death. And I definitely can’t be a doctor because blood makes me squeamish, so that’s not going to happen,’ Tran said with a laugh. ‘So I thought, econ.’”
Start strong. It’s important to get readers right into these lives. Landscape Architecture Magazine was another Neal Award winner in Best Profile for an article titled, In Their Elements. “Outside the kitchen door of the Massachusetts farm where Stephen (Steve) Stimson, FASLA, and his wife and partner, Lauren Stimson, ASLA, live with their two kids is a water feature created by Steve in the agrarian spirit of thrift,” opens Jonathan Lerner. “Steve’s cousin welded steel plates to form a rectangular source basin. Its overflow spills into a straight 100-foot run of off-the-shelf C channel, bordering an extensive vegetable garden.”
Add nice photos and/or video. Later on we see a beautiful Stimson-designed enclosed courtyard (pictured), part of the renovation of a 1951 library on the campus of MIT in Cambridge. We also learn that Stimson and his wife issued a “Third Space Resolution” asserting that their firm “should consider itself a third space… as a safe place… “where BIPOC, LGBTIQ, and anyone else that was once on the fringe feels heard, celebrated, and respected…”
Hear from others. An important Neals Award finalist profile came from Foundry’s CIO, written by Sarah K. White. It focuses on DevColor, a fledgling career accelerator for Black technologists, and its CEO Rhonda Allen. Again we get drawn in quickly. “Nearly a decade into his IT career, Brian Mariner started feeling a sense of isolation that many Black IT pros experience at work. He had built up a ‘reasonable set of professional network opportunities’ but felt that he ‘didn’t have a lot of confidants in the industry either from school or professionally,’ he says… At DevColor, and in the A* program in particular, Mariner was finally able to be in a room ‘surrounded by software industry peers’ and have the experience of ‘not being the other’ in the room.’ “…Whether your company’s culture was built intentionally or not, it exists, Allen says, noting that DevColor works with companies to ‘help them disrupt the inertia of how they’ve always operated.’” Nice.
Mark an occasion. Janelle Foskett, editor-in-chief of Lexipol Media Group’s FireRescue1.com and FireChief.com, was another Best Profile finalist, for the story Las Vegas 5 Years Later: ‘Going Back Is a Big Deal.’ “Oct. 1, 2022, will be different for CAL FIRE Captain Chris Wetzel,” Foskett begins. “For the past four years, Chris and his wife, Amber, have spent Oct. 1 visiting the Beaumont, California, gravesite of Hannah Ahler—a ritual to honor the friend Chris had known for 20 years. This year, however, Chris and Amber will return to Las Vegas to attend events marking the five-year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.” Remembering an occasion—triumphant or heartbreaking—through a person who lived it serves profiles well, especially when the writing is this good. “It doesn’t feel like five years for Chris. Much has changed in his life since the shooting—an evolution from defeat to appreciation.” And the pictures are moving as well.
Make us feel like we’re in the room. A few months shy of his 93rd birthday, Bob Dunlap has no plans to retire. He says he’d be happy to spend his final moments on this Earth behind his wooden desk, gnawing on a cigar, crunching numbers and serving as chairman and CEO of Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc.” That’s the start of another Neal Awards Best Profile Article finalist, from Endeavor Business Media’s Modern Tire Dealer by Joy Kopcha. In 2021, Dunlap & Kyle surpassed $1 billion in sales, so Dunlap knows where he treads. Diversity comes in many forms today; often in photos age might be the underrepresented group. This article shows Dunlap great respect. “’We have a lot of charities,’ says Bob Dunlap, who has been recognized for his generosity. ‘The more of them you help and the more money you pay employees, the more money you’re going to make. People miss out on that.’”