Why all corporate PR droids should be shot

Photographs of Michael Harte and David ThodeyImagine this. You’ve just won a contract worth a billion dollars against stiff competition. How do you feel? Thrilled? At least, you know, a little bit pleased with yourself? Apparently not.

“The Commonwealth Bank is embarking on a significant transformation project and we are delighted to be a key partner. Through Telstra’s own transformation we have invested in world class networks and services and alliances with leading partners. We look forward to bringing these advances to the partnership to offer real benefits to the group, its customers and staff,” David Thodey [pictured left], Telstra’s group managing director enterprise and government said in a statement.

What bullshit!

Australia’s biggest telco Telstra just signed a 10-year deal to provide telecommunications and managed services to Australia’s biggest bank, the Commonwealth. The deal’s worth $100M a year. There’s bound to be some fascinating details which make this all very special. If nothing else, it’s worth a shitload of money — and that’s something to get excited about.

That paragraph of meaningless management wafflespeak is the reaction? There’s not a single fucking concrete noun in the damn thing!

Got any words of thanks for the hard-working staff who helped you win this deal, David? No.

Things aren’t any better on the Commonwealth’s side.

“Our arrangement with Telstra is a partnership which is directly focused on customer satisfaction through well-defined shared goals, commitments and business outcomes. This is the first time we have struck a deal of this kind,” the Commonwealth Bank’s CIO Michael Harte [pictured right] said in a statement.

Well of course the deal is focussed on customer satisfaction! You don’t set up deals to create dissatisfied customers, do you? Why not tell us why Telstra won? I think they’d have liked that.

Now I blame neither David Thodey nor Michael Harte for this idiotic language. I assume they have highly-paid corporate communications specialists to handle this sort of thing.

Those people should be shot.

This is probably one of the biggest business deals around this week, yet they’ve managed to drain every possible speck of colour and life from it — in the process portraying their bosses as drab, emotionless cyphers.

Read the full Telstra media release [PDF] for yourself. It’s pathetic. And the Commonwealth hasn’t even managed to get its version online yet.

Dear PR Droids, if you can’t manage to communicate the excitement of a billion-dollar deal between two of the nation’s most important corporations, then piss off out of it and clear your desk for someone who can.

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  1. andrewdotnich’s avatar

    “Our arrangement with Telstra is a partnership which is directly focused on customer satisfaction through well-defined shared goals, commitments and business outcomes. This is the first time we have struck a deal of this kind,” the Commonwealth Bank’s CIO Michael Harte [pictured right] said in a statement.

    What does this say about all the other deals they’ve ever struck?

    Reply

  2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @andrewdotnich: Oh, well spotted! Yes, we must assume that their previous deals had poorly-defined goals, business outcomes etc. This is indeed an important day for the Commonwealth Bank!

    Reply

  3. Sam Whiteman’s avatar

    Great spotting — or ‘non spotting’ as it were

    Reply

  4. Sharon’s avatar

    It’s all about spin but those announcements are very dull spin aren’t they? That “meaningless management wafflespeak” seems so prevalent across big corporations and government departments alike. I imagine the hard working staff of both companies were also treated to a serve of CEO wafflespeak. PR and management are all out of touch with the bulk of their staff, no wonder we have poor staff morale. There’s a lot of cynicism out there, amongst staff and customers. Corporate wankspeak does nothing to improve staff relations or customer satisfaction. Will it ever change?

    Reply

  5. matt’s avatar

    The mug shots must have been taken sometime during the tender process because the guy on the left has clearly had his lips firmly pursed up the arse of the guy on the right (who just as clearly enjoyed every second). It must have been the way Telstra are able to demonstrate how their own systems deliver such fabulous customer service that was the clincher!!!! Nothing to do with politics of course!

    Reply

  6. Simon Sharwood’s avatar

    What a classic example of PR draining all information (and color) out of something and thereby limiting what can be written or understood about the deal. This approach does not, IMHO, serve stakeholders well at all.

    Reply

  7. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Wow, this post really has struck a chord! Thanks for all the comments.

    There does seem to be an immense fear in corporations — and government bureaucracies too for that matter — of speaking in a concrete, straightforward way. I know that in some organisations the lawyers don’t help, insisting that everything be as vague as possible so they can’t be pinned down on anything specific later on. But there’s still so much that could be said here, even without causing “problems” — and even if the main aim is to talk up Telstra.

    I choose note to think about the mug shots.

    Reply

  8. Bill Bennett’s avatar

    You are quite right to rip this pile of junk apart.

    But the blame lies squarely with the people right at the top of both organisations.

    I’ve been a journalist for 30 years, covered technology for most of that time and now run a freelance writing business. In my experience anyone who departs from the corporate bs line would quickly be out of a job. The bosses want it that way. They also want journalists to go away and write the story that way.

    If, as a journalist, you ring them (and rarely you may be answered) they’ll try talk in that kind of language, then beg you to change their words after the fact to make it read that way. Or ring up and abuse you went their real words appear in print.

    I’ve also worked as a journalist in companies where the management thinks that way. I’ve advised them to speak fluently and openly in their own language, but they are much happier hiding behind the bs party line.

    There are many PR people who deserve to be taken out and shot for crimes against humanity AND the English language, but in this case, I fear you just want to shoot the messenger. As a journalist, that’s something I’m all too familiar with.

    The problem is right at the top.

    Reply

    1. Joss Debreceny’s avatar

      In my experience Bill is right about responsibility being at the top. Many have tried to write interesting copy in plain language, only to have committees and senior managers turn it into something unreadable. After a while it’s tempting to just write what you know will be approved.

      Of course there are communications professionals who revel in this sort of language and believe it informative and relevant.

      Reply

    2. Sabian’s avatar

      I referred this to my former boss, a journo-cum-media liaison in good standing. This is his reply: “I refuse to read anything with the word ‘leveraging’ in it, although I am pleased they are ‘aligning execution with business outcomes’, which may cover shooting the droids.”

      Reply

    3. Sweet Sister Morphine’s avatar

      I hazard “Hah! In your face, Optus. IN. YOUR. FACE!”, as a more apt public statement. :-|

      Reply

    4. Stephen Stockwell’s avatar

      I gather the over-riding motive behind this kind of prose is to offend absolutely no one. Not at any cost. Any corporate monster the size of these two would much rather bore us all to tears than risk the perils of printing one word of pithy honesty — any day of the week.

      But so what? Sure, in the communication stakes it reads like a bowl of tepid tripe. But I’d wager anyone who actually gives a shit about dull, corporate PR statements like this just expects such a committee-sanctioned pastiche to be that dull anyway. And if I were one of them (which I’m not) I’d probably think something fishy was going on if senior management started talking to me as if they weren’t a droid, wouldn’t you?

      Reply

    5. Brian’s avatar

      But please tell us how you really feel. Don’t hold back….

      (I appreciated your candor)

      Reply

    6. Baden Smith’s avatar

      Why not have a quick competition to rewrite that paragraph more satisfactorily?

      Reply

    7. Joss Debreceny’s avatar

      This is a great example of what corporate media releases can look like.

      Vodafone’s paper-based bill lives on
      Media release: 2 February 2009
      Well, that didn’t work, did it?

      Late last year we announced we’d introduce a new online billing process that meant customers would be able to receive a TXT or email alert about their bill and could go online to pay it.

      Nice idea, we thought. People will like that we’re thinking of the trees and the convenience factor will be a big plus. Certainly the trial group liked it, so we rolled it out to the public. To encourage customers along we also said we’d charge $1.50 per month for those customers who still want a paper bill, with that charge kicking in some time in the first half of this year.

      And that’s where the wheels came off.

      Our customers have told us they quite like the idea of online billing but they hate, hate, HATE the idea of being charged to receive a paper bill.

      Did we mention they hate it? Well they do. And we’re going to listen to what they say.

      So, being the company we are we’ve decided to do a U-turn, an about face, a 180: now you can get your bill in the post each month if you so want, and it won’t cost a penny.

      In fact, we’ll go a step further – customers can opt to carry on getting the email or TXT alerts, they can get a paper bill posted out to them or they can chose to get their bill emailed out to them in PDF format.

      And we’d like to say sorry for all the trouble. We’re not perfect. We’re only human but hopefully we’re grown up enough to ‘fess up when we make a mistake.

      Reply

      1. Gordon’s avatar

        Gee whiz good for Vodaphone. Getting dragged back into the industrial age because grandpa and grandma don’t want to give up their paper. I’d have more respect for a company that takes a stand on this — for efficiency, cost reduction, warm-fuzzy go-green philosophy or whatnot. Instead, let the customer bully you into reversing a decision that all your competitors have made already.

        Ah, but it’s cleverly worded, folksy and “real.” So we should all appreciate that. Ha.

        Reply

        1. Stilgherrian’s avatar

          @Gordon: Maybe you’ve forgotten who’s paying whom for the service in this little scenario.

          Oh, and posting from a false email address too? I’m glad I didn’t publish your other, abusive, comment. That kind of gutlessness isn’t welcome here.

          Reply

        2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

          @Joss Debreceny: That, Sir, is precisely the sort of human communication which cuts through! And what’s even more impressive is that they actually use the word “sorry”. I’m increasingly impressed with Vodafone and I’m sorry I stopped doing business with them.

          Reply

          1. Joss Debreceny’s avatar

            I certainly wish I could claim credit for it! They used to be a client when I worked for a consultancy a while back. They were ahead of the game then, and are getting better than ever.

            Reply

          2. Stephen Stockwell’s avatar

            I stand corrected. It can be done. Convincingly.

            Reply

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