For those of you who listen to Desert Island Discs, you’ll know that when the celebrities go to their imaginary desert island, they are allowed to take the Bible plus one other book. It’s only a matter of time until someone chooses their corporate briefing book.
If you who don’t know what a briefing book looks like:
It’s one thing for the Prime Minister to have a big book with details of everything from knife crime crackdowns to puffin colonies with him at prime minister’s questions. It’s quite another for a product manager to be unable to speak without reading the lines from a company’s messaging document.
The messaging document is the greatest enemy of Talknormalism today. I don’t believe they should all be burned in the metaphorical town square. I’ll even concede that companies have to have consistent messages, and a way to send those out.
The problem isn’t the idea of the document, but what’s done with it.
First, communications departments keen to justify their existence bloat the document on the assumption that 50 pages of advice is better than five pages, offering an answer for every question and a mantra for every situation. If you have gone to this trouble, it often follows that everyone should follow the document to the letter.
But compiling a big document by committee – which is how it’s done – means it’s very difficult to say anything of value. As soon as you do, someone’s going to edit it. If you’re contributing to one of these, it’s not in your interest to stick your neck out.
Sadly, some journalists are focussed entirely on performing interviews by email, allowing the guardians of the book to simply cut and paste dull answers into the reply, attributing it to some director or other, without going to the hassle of even consulting them.
The result? A growth in the number of spokespeople who are corporate speak-your-weight machines. And some who don’t even know what has been said in their name.