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Jul 16 2009

Corporate Communication for Dummies

One of my numerous responsibilities at the large international company where I work is writing news articles for our corporate intranet site. I'm sure it will surprise no one to hear that it's not the most exciting kind of writing to do. The subject matter is by nature rather dry, and often the most challenging thing about it is finding a new and semi-interesting way to tell the same "sales success" or "best practice" story over and over again.

This week I had to write about the roll-out of a new corporate screensaver to all company computers this month. Because installation is going to occur automatically via the network servers and will include a slight change to each computer's security settings, we needed to inform users of it in advance.

Now despite the fact that my company is a recognized leader in a pretty high-tech industry, we have still have our fair share of employees who border on being computer illiterate. (I blame the WinDoze operating system for some of this.) So in addition to announcing the roll-out, I also had to explain the behavior of the new screensaver in simple terms; for example…how it will appear on monitors after 10 minutes of inactivity and automatically lock the computer, thus requiring a password to get the desktop back, etc.

A further detail that will surprise many colleagues is the fact that once installed, they won't have the option to change it. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the best way to communicate this last bit without it sounding all George Orwell's 1984, and after several revisions I had what I thought was a pretty decent and neutral closing sentence. But before sending the draft article to the European IT manager for a final check of the technical details, I decided to add one further sentence just for his amusement.

So the final paragraph looked like this:

"Be advised that once the new screensaver is installed, user preferences for this element of your computer’s appearance will be locked. So please do not bug the IT HelpDesk when the image of your “cute” grandchildren, long-dead pet, boyfriend/girlfriend or celebrity fantasy lover no longer shows up whenever you’re not working, you lazy bastard."

Confident that he would appreciate the joke, I looked forward to his response. But the next morning I was greeted by a somewhat sternly worded e-mail indicating that the tone of the article was inappropriate and the last paragraph was "really over the limit and needs to be removed." He then said he would write a new proposal himself, prompting me to ask my departmental colleague Eliza (who had nearly wet her pants from laughing at the original article) if all Belgians lacked a sense of humor in the workplace? 

My reaction went from shocked that he didn't recognize an OBVIOUS joke, to saddened that he just didn't "get it", to insulted that he actually believed I thought it was okay to post something like that to our corporate intranet site. But I sucked it up and dashed off a quick and apologetic e-mail explaining my attempt at humour and that there was no need for him to rewrite the entire article…I would merely delete the last sentence.

And then I waited, and waited, and waited for a response. NOTHING. Which was really kind of odd since there was supposedly some urgency in getting the article posted.

Then just before lunch Eliza walked into my office having just spoken to one of our web developers. Turns out that not only had the European IT manager gotten the joke, but he printed the article and passed it around the entire corporate IT department! Those cheeky Alpha Geeks then conspired with him to send me the scolding e-mail, and then just sat back to watch me stew! Gaaaaaahhhhhh!

But to be honest, I was so relieved to find out that I was not, in fact, living in some weird alternate humourless universe (AKA WAHU), that I was actually happy to have the joke turned on me.

Feed my ego!

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