Opinion

What went wrong with Yahoo7’s bewildering media release?

Following Yahoo7’s jargon-heavy restructure announcement on Tuesday, Fee Townshend, director of Curve Comms, takes a look at the nitty gritty of what went wrong.

It seems ironic that a publishing company – which exists to provide us independent news and insights – has taken such a clumsy and cagey approach to sharing its own business.

But there you go.

Oh, where to begin on this ‘restructure’ that will ‘carry the company into the future’ piece, I wonder? As I sit in my glasshouse polishing my stones.

The headline starts with some fairly sobering news for some of the staff at Yahoo7, but it then trails off to a lofty ‘harnessing the power’ justification.

The original release’s title

From the get-go, this release can’t commit to a linear narrative.

It oscillates wildly between tiptoeing around the nasty business of some ‘needed’ ‘changes to structure’, whilst celebrating (in a rather unsubstantiated way given Yahoo7’s access to data) the myriad benefits of Oath’s technology and scale.

It is not yet clear what the restructure will look like

I am re-watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and I am reminded of the moment Margaret Atwood’s Commander tells Offred: ‘better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

Because the news, essentially, is this:

Yahoo7 will be making redundancies within its local back-end development staff and capitalising on the efficiencies and scale of its global technology capability, Oath.

It took me a few reads to get there and I am 92% sure I am right…

I get that the objective is to focus on the positive in this situation, but what is painfully missing – which is why this narrative goes in a circle that may never end – is directly addressing the news, providing detail around the next steps for those impacted, and outlining the business case for Yahoo7.

This release has tried too hard to reduce the fuss about a restructure, whilst vaguely showcasing shiny new capabilities. It weaves back and forward between ‘needed’ changes and positive sentiments about the future. And it just makes for a confusing read.

Our confusion around how just extensive this restructure could be is amplified in paragraph four, which states: “This change would lead to a planned reduction in locally-produced bespoke platforms, and potentially across the associated teams.

“Smaller changes are also planned across the rest of the organisation.”

Yikes. Is this not likely to send the ripples of fear Yahoo7 seems to have been trying to avoid?

Reality check guys: these small changes can be big news to the individual, so this is a message that needs to be delivered straight.

When you are sharing news that impacts people’s jobs, it’s about those people, first and foremost. The business needs to deal with that openly, and with respect.

History provides hundreds of instances where, due to new ownership structures, rising costs or service/product diversification, organisations have made executive decisions to restructure.

In these situations, providing the greatest amount of transparency around the process, the timings, and the potential scale of the impact is the basic level of respect required.

If appeasing investors and shareholders is a major objective, it’s worth considering bringing home those points in a separate piece that’s directly targeted at that audience. Possibly through direct communication or bespoke investor relations.

If businesses are going to make tough business calls – big calls that that will impact people’s working and personal lives – then they also need to be big enough to discuss them in a direct and responsible way.

Fee Townshend is the director of Curve Comms.

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