A set of “talking points” is a basic element of the PR professional’s toolkit. But should talking points be broadly distributed to employees? The short answer: maybe.
Two incidents this week suggest talking points are best kept under lock and key. Both involve documents, intended for internal use only, that were leaked. At Google, talking points about the company’s private buses, which are irritating most of San Francisco, sounded imperious and gave the impression the company was putting words in Googlers’ mouths. The memo suggested employees say that eliminating the buses would increase city congestion because they’d have to drive to work, and a condescending “Feel free to add your own style or opinion” also rubbed people the wrong way. And Walmart‘s fictional scripts about unionization were leaked by Occupy, the protest group against economic inequality. The scripts were goofy theoretical representations of how employees might discuss the prospect of unionization.
What was wrong with these documents wasn’t the content but the tone. Google comes off as superior (Valleywag.com described “a memo from the overlords”), while Wal-Mart’s fake conversations feel like they’re trying to put one over on employees. These companies might have escaped some of the negative PR from these leaks if they’d just provided workers with straightforward facts that articulated their company’s position – nothing more.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Google and Walmart. Good ideas, clumsy execution.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: A company with employees is a company with spokespeople – lots of them. Trying to manage your workers’ public commentary is futile, not to mention potentially damaging from a PR perspective. Instead, be up front. Don’t tell employees what to say or think, just provide the company’s reasons for doing what it’s doing (and leave out the hyperbole and manipulation). Employees who agree with you are smart enough to adopt your eloquent words for their own. The ones who don’t? Well, a company memo won’t change their minds anyway.