Magazine article Communication World

Smile! You're on Corporate TV

Magazine article Communication World

Smile! You're on Corporate TV

Article excerpt

Ask any employee communication manager about the company's television news show and you'll get a comparison to what's on the networks. "It's our 'Nightly News,' our 'Good Morning America,' our 'PM Magazine,' our '24 Horas,' and yes, our 'Entertainment Tonight.'" Look at the intros of most of these shows and you'll see why. The music pulses to a staccato of synthesizers and horns both tense and heroic; the company logo spins and dips amid dazzling graphics, with a burst of light when this corporate icon settles screen center; the anchors chat silently in the background and turn to camera with a high-energy smile when cued to speak.

This is where the mimicry ends. Indeed, no manager would even dare mention "60 Minutes" as a model. While the stopwatch into would be easy enough to copy, it's hard to imagine a corporate TV reporter lying in wait outside the CEO's office for a Mike Wallace-style ambush: "Why are we laying off workers? Why aren't we spending more on R&D? Why is the value of our stock declining?

Nearly Half of Companies

Use Employee TV

With maxims about openness and informed employees holding sway in management circles, television has come to the fore as a potent tool. And regularly scheduled news shows on everything from a quarterly to a daily basis are an increasingly common programming choice. According to D/J Brush Assoc., which tracks the use of TV by corporatons, employee news shows are produced today by an estimated 43 percent of large- and medium-sized companies; the figure for the Fortune 500 may be even higher. The vaunted aims; greater visibility for top management, greater penetration of company values, greater morale and productivity.

Managers insist that borrowing from broadcasting simply offers their news operations a format and tone employees are familiar with. Besides, the majority of their viewers already depend on television for news of the world, and the corporate ranks are filling up with a generation that has never known a world without TV. But let's not forget that in mastering these formulas, they also lend their programs an aura of objectivity and candor that can otherwise be lacking.

"We model ourselves on broadcast TV in every way except objective reporting," says Paul Donovan, who for eight years was executive producer of "Horizons," the bimonthly news show at Southern California Edison in Los Angeles. A few years ago, Donovan fought with his bosses over a story on acid rain. He argued that coverage should be balanced and include outside experts on how utility plant emissions may contribute to the problem. The company only wanted to tell employees that exact causes were unknown and more research was needed. Donovan lost that one.

Is TV Open Communication

or Just Glitz?

Of course, employee communications have always been a way of putting management in the best possible light, and TV news shows may be nothing more that a brighter, snappier way of spinning the company line. The eye-catching visuals, pithy sound bites, rapid cutting and happy banter that have come to define broadcast news offer a powerful vehicle for making arresting images and compelling reports. But is this what we mean by open communication? Or will the power of the medium overwhelm any and all good intentions to communicate substantive information?

In many ways today's "corporate communicators" are yesterday's "hidden persuaders," the symbol manipulators and motivational researchers who sought "to channel our unthinking habits . . . and our thought processes," as Vance Packard wrote in 1957. Corporate news shows rarely cover hard, breaking news; with most appearing monthly or quarterly, they are usually scooped by the company's print media when it comes to major events.

So rather than mirroring the flux and change of these tough times, the stories tend to package basic corporate messages in ways that seem "newsworthy. …

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