What’s your favourite part of a government magazine or corporate brochure?
I’m going to sweep aside any notion that you don’t read and enjoy government magazines and corporate brochures … so I can sail into one of my pet peeves.
Because surely your favourite piece of any of these glossy publications is: the welcome message from the Minister? Closely followed by the welcome message from the CEO / Director / Chair?
I mean, what’s not to enjoy?
Here’s the anatomy of a ministerial welcome message:
Use the headline WELCOME
Name the project or event you’re writing about
Refer to how long the project or event has been going
Throw in some grey, broad stats about its economic impact
Throw in some warm and fluffy phrases about its social impact
Commend people to that project or event
Delightful, aren’t they?
I don’t know anyone who reads these pieces, often featured in prime glossy real estate like page 2. It’s a longstanding communication tradition especially in the public service and makes about as much sense as having 20 throw cushions on your bed – it’s window dressing that really just frustates people and gets in the way.
The most recent brochure complying with this excruciating convention comes from The Adelaide Festival of Ideas and the Adelaide Film Festival. It’s a two-in-one brochure which is a nifty idea, but only serves to point out again how awful managerial welcome messages are because they’re featured on both sides for our double delight. Each begins with a message from the South Australian Premier, each featuring exactly the same official portrait of the Premier grinning in front of the state flag.
I admire these events immensely and plan to get along to a few AdFOI events this weekend. I’ve enjoyed poring over the printed brochure (that’s right, I don’t only inhabit the digital world. I do occasionally like some burnished pages and some dog-ear action). And I recognise this type of corporate communication wasn’t an invention of our current Premier. It’s something that has infested the government and corporate sphere around the globe for decades.
That doesn’t mean we should keep on doing it.
Welcome columns do serve a purpose of course, which is likely the crux of why they continue to be used. When a government agency or corporate sponsor wants to be acknowledged for their support, what better way to placate them than to give them some front-and-centre space in your brochure? That ticks the box for ongoing happy relations, no?
But just think of all the time and money we could save if we just did away with them.
I used to work for a number of government agencies, either within or closely alongside the internal Public Relations teams, and believe me I know the tedious hours and hair-pulling that goes into writing something as banal as a CE or Minister’s welcome message. Innumerable drafts are written. Hours goes into research and rewrites and approvals processes. All this for what? A few paragaphs that you wouldn’t read if it was the last piece of reading material in Hell’s waiting room.
Related reading: Dude! Where’s my plain language?
We’d save our comms teams hours and angst if we said “no more”. Not required. Get on with something useful, like devising a new public health campaign or writing a speech that actually means something and will move people by imparting meaningful concepts that inspire us rather than talk down to us.
I don’t know where the edict came from – perhaps the same place that invented “welcome to my website” messages – but apparently it’s imperative that these columns teeter on the edge of affirmative support without overbalancing into any giddy waves of enthusiasm. It has to be the perfect mix of “I vouch for this but mind you I can’t really vouch for this”. You could all but swap out program or event names for an entirely different name, without anyone noticing.
Just for once, I’d like to see … A welcome message from that program’s most enthusiastic participant. Who was up at 7.30am every day and in the office pulling the event together? Who poured sweat into that construction site six days a week in Adelaide’s summer? Who came up with the idea to get that community group together and lugged refreshments from their own beaten up car across the carpark into the community meetings where generous volunteers were waiting to lend a hand? I’d like to hear from them. Not a figurehead who’s about as close to the program as the Queen is to cleaning Buckingham Palace’s toilet.
When I work with organisations on their social media plans, one of my first steps is to examine ALL of the communications tactics a client uses. Often this includes newsletters and brochures and I’ll ask a client about the results of that work. How much time and effort goes into the printed publications? What do they measure? Do they know if anyone reads them? Do they know if some articles or features are more popular than others?
It’s a very important question to ask, especially as I know they’re going to ask about the ROI of social media. Yet it’s vital to ask about the ROI of all communications tactics. And that includes these darn welcome messages …
Stop the presses! Additional note:
Since writing this piece, the Festival of Unpopular Culture (or FUC) has pointed out its little gem of a brochure to me. Inside the front cover? A piece by Adelaide Festival of Ideas director Sophie Black, stating: “To be honest I have no real idea what these people are talking about”, scene-setting by co-director Jennifer Greer Holmes and the late Sir Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon chiming in too. Sensational!