It's a truism of the business world that as long as there are bosses who send memos, there will be staff members who snipe and snicker at them. But an obtuse new memo from a magazine honcho, titled "Business Update – Strategic Realignment," is so gravid with buzzwords that while reading it, I had to keep my second monitor clear — in case the spawn of suit-speak were to suddenly issue forth.
If you think that a guy heading a media organization would be able to deliver a message to his employees without resorting to jargon… well, maybe we just caught Condé Nast CEO Charles Townsend on a bad day.
The gist of Townsend's note seems to be that he wants to give people more authority to run their own departments. Unfortunately, he's nested the idea in such a heap of retreat-speak that those recently freed underlings could be forgiven for doubting how different — how utterly decentralized and empowered — their jobs are about to become.
This paragraph alone must have left "brand publishers" squirming in their Aeron chairs:
To optimize brand revenue growth, we will shift responsibility for single-site, digital sales and marketing to the brand level. Publishers can now fully leverage their offerings across all platforms. Next month, we will begin newly established brand management meetings where the publishers and editors jointly discuss the growth strategies for their brands.
Other than relief that it lacked the ominous phrase "Reduction In Force," staffers were unsure how to interpret the note, according to WWD Media.
I have a personal theory that the more unpopular a strategy is, the more insulation it requires — usually in the form of strategy-speak and non-actionable clauses. And boy, is there some insulation here. Reading the memo, I could only imagine the bruised and newly blooming egos — and the realignment of brown-noses — that Townsend's new plan has likely touched off.
There's probably even a flowchart somewhere that can predict the next evolution of Conde Nast's jargonese. Because once all those individual groups are free to work their own sides of the street, new memos will probably start flying around about how the situation's out of whack — due to too many "information silos." And the inertial pull-back toward centralization will begin.
Over at The New York Times, David Carr ran the memo through the "Gobbledygook Grader" — it came out with a rating of 76. The means a readability of "Graduate" level. Or, as Carr says, "the memo borders on the indecipherable."
For comparison, I ran Carr's text through the grader — minus his quotes of Townsend. Carr's piece scored at 94 — or "Undergraduate."
And to be fair, I ran this post through it, as well. It got a rating of 85 — "2 years Undergrad." Which I guess makes this sophomoric.
Like I needed to be told that.