Thursday, August 14, 2008

Talking to ourselves and making little sense

One of my many journalism obsessions is watching the internal communications processes at publishing companies.
I follow this stuff pretty closely. I read the memos (when I can get them.) I check out Intranets and wikis (when they're available to me.) I read executives' blogs, publishers' sales reports and I attend in-house meetings at client sites whenever possible.
So allow me to share this important bit of info:
As a general rule, for reasons that escape me, companies that are in the business of communicating information to readers do a terrible job of communicating information to their employees.

Today, for example, I had the chance to read the internal memo that Source Media's CEO Jim Malkin sent to employees earlier this week to announce a large-scale reorganization.
And it's awful.
If you read my initial post about Source Media's plans on Tuesday, you'd have seen that I was supportive. You'd also have seen that my support was based largely on a quote that Malkin gave to Folio.
But today as I struggled to read the memo, my support simply drained away.
Am I being too harsh?
Check it out yourself.
I'm sure you'll agree that the memo is simply unreadable.
First, it's 1,830 words long. And I have this picture of every poor soul at Source trying to "speed read" through the thing to get to something important.
Second, the memo doesn't answer the one question that probably every single reader had: Is anyone getting laid off?
Third, the memo is full of dense paragraphs of "who reports to whom" nonsense that should have been in a graphic (or even in a separate memo.)
The result of all this, I'm sure, is that the employees of Source Media reacted to the memo in a way that the company would not have wanted. Some employees likely felt manipulated or misled (as they read through line after line of spin only to find that there was no "news" there about the layoffs.) Others, particularly the journalists, likely spent a good bit of time chuckling at the writing and complaining that the boss had "buried the lede." And it's pretty unlikely that the clerical and support staff was filled with team spirit after reading seemingly endless descriptions of which executive would be reporting to which other executive.

There's simply no reason for this sort of thing at any company. There are loads of very talented people working in the internal communications field. Any decent size company can hire someone to manage employee communications. Even the smallest company can get a consultant to help with major messages.
But at a journalism company, failing to master internal communications is just unforgivable. For god's sake, a publishing company is filled with people who communicate for a living!
So please, whether you're the CEO, a publisher or anyone else at a media company -- the next time you have something important to say, walk down the hall and ask someone for help.

To see some other examples of simply awful internal communications in publishing, check out Tony Silber's critique of John French's memo to Penton earlier this year, check out my post on the fury at Cygnus, and don't miss the now-famous video of Sam Zell cursing one of his journalists.

Also, if you're interested in following developments in internal communications (a field that is struggling with many of the same issues as B2B publishing), I'd suggest you start by reading two of the best blogs in the space: Talking Internal Communications and H&K's Change and Internal Communications.

tags: , , , , , , , internal communications, employee communications

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.