So our grand project in Radical Transparency has hit the streets. It's the cover package of the April issue of Wired, which went on sale this week. The cover, as you may have heard, is a technically ambitious exercise in mylar-craft featuring Jenna Fisher ("Pam" from The Office) in a business suit carrying a sign that says "Get Naked and...". Lift the mylar sheet and she's taking her own advice.
One of the feature stories in the package is a case study by Fred Vogelstein of Microsoft's blogging initiative, which is something I've been really impressed by. Today the company has more than 3,500 bloggers and its corporate messaging has gone from mostly press releases and scripted executive speeches to more of an authentic conversation in public between rank-and-file employees and customers. It's a fascinating shift in culture for a company that was once known for being fanatically obsessed with trying to control its image and messaging. The case study tells the story of how this happened in the most unlikely of places (okay, Apple would be even more unlikely, but you get the point).
Yet the old company culture is not gone, as evidenced by an executive briefing memo from Microsoft's PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, that Vogelstein was inadvertently sent in the body of a scheduling email. At nearly 6,000 words, it's an amazing document and a telling counterpoint to the laissez-faire spirit of the open blogging initiative. Because it so aptly illustrates the parallel open vs. closed cultures that now exist at Microsoft, as in any big company trying to evolve a command-and-control messaging process to an out-of-control age, we decided to post the whole thing online in the spirit of transparency.
The memo coaches the executives on what to say and what not to say. It talks about Vogelstein's interviewing style and possible biases (also how he's "tricky" and "digs for dirt"--the memo cautions the executives to avoid certain paths and to watch out for traps). Here's an example (emphasis in the original):
"He is digging for tension where it does not exist. We have to be hard core on this point and communicate in no uncertain terms the level of executive commitment and support for Channel 9 and 10 [Microsoft's videoblogging efforts]"
On a personal note, it's kind of freaky to read the memo describe how I was wooed (even manipulated, if you want to think of it that way) into commissioning the piece:
"CharlesF met with Chris Anderson during his fall tour in '06, placing the idea that Microsoft is thinking differently and creatively about its outreach....Dan'l Lewin met with Chris Anderson in October and also emphasized the company's work in the arena, pushing the story further...Jeff Sandquist traveled to the Bay Area to meet with Chris and his editorial team. They were highly engaged in Jeff's conversation..."
And so on. By the way, as far as I can tell, everything in the memo is accurate. I also think the executives were very well served by the document; they did indeed stick to their message and they got pretty much the story they wanted. This was also, as it happens, the story I wanted--or was it just the story I thought I wanted because I was so effectively spun by Microsoft's PR machine? The mind reels...
You can read it all here.
[UPDATE: Read Waggener Edstrom's Frank Shaw on their side of the story here]
[UPDATE2: You can read Fred Vogelstein's reaction to "reading my own FBI file" here]