A Writer’s Tale: For Love of Fact and Fiction
Wordsmithie founder and CEO Laura Bergheim got her start in technology, she says, “when dinosaurs roamed the internet,” managing content teams for search pioneer Lycos in the late 1990s. She spent the next two decades honing her expertise in content development and marketing strategy. Laura became creative director for the first digital marketing agency, Resource Interactive, in Columbus, Ohio; founded two marketing consulting agencies; and in 2005 landed at Google as Senior Program Manager, Content Strategy for Google AdWords (now Google Ads) products. She launched Wordsmithie in 2010, building a talented group of writers, editors, designers, and content strategists, providing content for online, retail, and consumer brands. Under her leadership, our client list has grown to include startups, nonprofits, and multinational corporations including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Eventbrite, Cathay Pacific, Atlassian, NetApp, Palo Alto Networks, and more.
But before Laura was bitten by the web bug, she was a popular freelance writer and syndicated columnist, writing books, articles, a radio show, and online content about travel and American history and culture.
Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia in a family of progressive activists (her father was also a local government official, journalist and editor, and her mother was a local arts advocate and college professor), Laura had writing, reporting, and social justice in her blood. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a B.A. focus on writing. With a fondness and appreciation for all things curious, odd, and kitschy, she went on to author a number of books, including Weird, Wonderful America (Simon & Schuster 1988), which became the basis for her King Features syndicated column of the same name; and An American Festival of “World Capitals” (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997). She also wrote a historical guide to Washington, D.C. and a guide to D.C. libraries and archives, and co-authored an online consumer marketing book, The Ten Demandments. I the late ’80s and early ’90s, she also served as the “Rand McNally Adventure Traveler,” writing about and promoting road trip adventures for the Rand McNally Road Atlas.
Yet, during all this non-fiction writing, Laura has made time to feed her own muse, writing two novels. Her latest, composed from her home office in the seaside village of Rockport on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, explores what happens when an artificial intelligence (AI) “Virtual Best Friend” becomes sentient and gets involved in the lives of her developers and those she was designed to befriend. She’s also written a novel about a love triangle, inspired by the Twin Lighthouses off the coast of Rockport.
“My fiction writing has helped keep my creative muscles limber for our Wordsmithie work, and it’s a nice way to stretch my skills beyond my day-to-day work running the company,” Laura shares. “As a coach-player, I also do a lot of writing, editing, and project management for our clients. So, it’s lovely, in the evening and on weekends, to return to the world of fiction. And since the latest book is about the world of AI and natural language processing (NLP) — and our evolving relationship with technology — I’m able to keep my head in the game on both sides of the fence.”
Laura lives in a Victorian house two blocks from the beach with her husband, personal chef, and travel companion, Jim, and their Maine Coon cat, Rosie. In addition to running Wordsmithie and continuing to write novels, Laura has partnered with several Wordsmithie teammates to develop an initiative called HumansWrite as a resource and online community for social justice writers. They plan to launch the site in 2022.
“In 2020, in the face of COVID-19 and then George Floyd’s murder, our team wanted to make a difference through skills-based volunteering with a nonprofit” Laura explains. “We spent a lot of time trying to find the right match before we finally connected with the content team at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights (www.civilrights.org), and have been helping them create social media and other content (including for their e-commerce site). The experience of trying to find a match for our volunteer services made us realize that there wasn’t a place for social justice communicators to connect, learn, and find career or volunteer opportunities. So, that’s what we’re building with HumansWrite.”
Laura supports her Wordsmithie team members in pursuit of their “side hustles” or other passions — whether guiding hikes around San Francisco (Alex Kenin), arranging music (Michael Gaylord), covering NHL hockey (Jason Rogers), or leading a nonprofit to bring more girls into tech careers (Khaleelah Jones) — which make them not just well-rounded writers, but (more importantly) happy people.
“Having a team of multi-talented people with interests that extend far beyond our daily work brings us a rich tapestry of creativity and skills,” Laura says. “And because everyone in the group has outside gigs or passions (or both), our team doesn’t burn out. Our philosophy is that work should be a part of your life, but never your whole life. There’s so much more that we can do in the world!”