An appalling example of such a lapse emerged this week when banking giant Citigroup announced a restructuring and cost-cutting plan that included 11,000 layoffs.
Take a moment to click the link and read the news release. I hope this winds up in every future PR textbook to teach how not to write a news release.
Nowhere does the release express any support for the people affected. There are 717 words in the release, not counting the nobody-ever-reads-this financial disclaimer at the bottom. Not one word is dedicated to the thousands of employees and families whose lives are about to be upended. No expression of empathy, no promise to ease the transition, not even an acknowledgement of the pain these people face. There are, however, lots of self-congratulatory words about how this brooming benefits Citigroup’s bottom line.
Euphemisms run amok. Full disclosure: At times in my career I’ve used so-called “softer” words in news releases to describe these kinds of business changes, usually for good reasons. Eliminating positions doesn’t always mean laying off people; a lot of reductions come from attrition or not filling vacant jobs. But we all know there aren’t 11,000 vacant positions at Citigroup, and attrition isn’t going to be the main driver in this restructuring. So this release is peppered with words like “repositioning actions” and “simplifying our operations” and a new one in my experience, “optimized consumer footprint.”
This release was written for (or perhaps by) Citigroup’s Finance and Legal people, not for the news media. I pity the time-strapped reporter who had to wade through this swamp. It’s dense and non-informative. Or perhaps I should direct greater sympathy to the poor PR soul at Citigroup who started out with a good draft that was crisp, informative and empathetic, only to see it gutted by non-writers who think they get paid by the syllable.
I won’t criticize Citigroup’s business decision to, ahem, “reposition” itself. I don’t know the factors that drove that decision. And let’s face it, sometimes layoffs are a sad, painful reality in the business world .
But Citigroup did no favors for itself nor any other corporation by issuing such a foggy, insensitive piece of garbage like this news release. It merely affirms the opinion of every person who thinks big business cares nothing for its employees and every reporter who thinks PR departments exist solely to obfuscate.
Far worse, it crushes real people beneath its “optimized consumer footprint.”