For my sins, I've spent a lot of my working life in and around the world of corporate communications. Crafting and disseminating messages. Writing and editing copy for websites, wrestling with obscure technology product descriptions (anyone for a next-generation SMSC? Anyone at all?), constructing the information architecture and style guides for large intranets and more besides. Politely disagreeing with colleagues over jargon, accuracy and basic grammar.
In this time I've seen an awful lot of very bad communications materials get signed off on and wend their merry way out into the world. This is a constant. I think most people are pretty well inured to corporate messaging at this stage and don't notice just how very, very bad much of it is. I know I try hard not to pay attention, but often just cannot help myself. The week just gone has dished up some howlers.
There was a widely covered massive data breach over at Myspace. The people there were minded to make a show of acting like good corporate citizens who are concerned about their users' data privacy, and set about informing the folks who might have been affected. An email showed up in my inbox from the impressive sounding sender 'Myspace Legal'. At a scan of the headings in the body of the email it looked like they'd got a lot of the basics of crisis communications right. It starts with a 'Notice of Data Breach', which is reasonable, as I'm eager to know what this correspondence is about. This is followed by 'What Happened?', 'What Information Was Involved?', 'What We Are Doing' and 'What You Can Do'. All reasonably good so far. I mean, it could be much worse. But,
This notification is nice. However, as it tacitly acknowledges, things have happened in the wrong order. As a user of Myspace I shouldn't have found out that my personal data was at risk through something that happened with their systems through the news media. I should have known before the story was widely reported. Now it looks to me as if this welcome communication from Myspace was something of an afterthought, and would likely not have happened if the breach hadn't been reported.
Memorial Day is a holiday in the US. It is not a holiday anywhere else. People from outside the US aren't at all likely to know that Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May each year. Nor should they have to. I'm assuming this email was reviewed multiple times by multiple Myspace employees, yet still nobody picked up on this. It's bad even for US residents, because Memorial Day is a movable public holiday and the date on which it falls is not constant. Put in the damn date, Myspace, and don't make your audience do this work.
The email closes with a copywriting flourish, a traditional call to action livened up with a dash of reassurance.
This seems positive, right? They've gone above and beyond just putting a team on the case. Except the multiple teams phrasing seems to be the go to weapon in the arsenal of reassurance in communications these days. Just last week LinkedIn told me the same.
Of course, the effort being made does largely depend on the amount of appropriate people allocated to the task. And a team is any number larger than one.
Enough of that and back to the big corporate comms story of the week, the month, possibly the year. This was tronc. If you haven't heard of tronc, just roll the word around your mouth a few times before we proceed. How does it feel? Satisfying? Slightly uneven? Pleasant with a hard to discern aftertaste?
I had planned to write a bit about tronc, because I have some moderate to strong feelings about tronc, but I don't feel there's anything I can say about tronc that Allison Hantschel hasn't said better in 'On #Tronc, Journalism and Its Value'.
It's reminded me that whilst expensive corporate communications exercises gone badly awry like this should always be laughed at, they should also be highlighted as a reason why journalists are losing their jobs and journalism is suffering as a result. That the piece is a nice understated hymn to city journalism is an added bonus.
What has happened to newspaper companies in the past two decades is not about “industry shifts” and it’s not about “digital paradigms” and it sure as hell isn’t about Kids Today not reading. Nobody checking Facebook on an iPhone made the Tribune a national joke today, and if there was no internet at all in the world, newspaper companies would still be imploding because stupidity is a constant, whereas technology changes with the times.
Yours etc., @loughlin
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