The vision thing

Being a PR person for an internet company like Yahoo! is hard. You are often selling services that are arcane, abstract or just plain hard to understand. They often have no real world analogue that you can refer back to as a kind of ‘Hollywood’ high concept pitch: a great example being Ask.com’s original pitch of its like a butler for the web, you just ask for it in plain English and it will bring it back to you from online.

So I felt for the PR people behind Yahoo’s Project Runway presentation, who were trying to put some of the cool factor back into the brand based on a business strategy of ‘steady as she goes‘. The one thing that there is no excuse for is not having a good answer for ‘What is <insert company name here>?

“Yahoo is a global series of Web experiences across a variety of devices that gives people what they want. In content it connects advertisers to an audience that is global in scope. Yahoo is all about delivering experiences to individuals that make them engage with each other. Folks anchor on are you a search company? A content company? A communications company? We would like to engage with people on the things that matter most to them.”

That’s the answer that Business Insider got at the press Q+A following the Project Runway presentation that Blake Irving gave. Irving is a seasoned executive (most recently at Microsoft), he’s got to have realised that that dog won’t hunt and the communications staff deserve a regime change because they should never have allowed Irving to step up to the table with that train wreck of an explanation.

It isn’t just Irving, CEO Carol Bartz did an even worse job in May this year:

Listen, Yahoo is a great company that is very, very strong in content for its users, uses amazing technology to serve up what increasingly we think is going to be the web of one. For instance, on our today module in the front page, every five minutes we have 32,000 different variations of that module. So you don’t even know what I’m seeing—in fact, we serve a million different front-page modules a day and that’s just through content optimization. And that’s just the beginning…Customized because we know the things you’re interested in. Maybe you don’t like light entertainment; maybe you like a certain sports team, etc., etc. And our click-through rate went up twice. So the point is, people come to us to find out what is going on with the world in a very nice, quick fashion to do their communications, email, messenger, check-in on their teens. We all know about Yahoo finance. It’s a place where you can just get it together. It’s collated for you, it’s all the things as you’re moving, you can even get your social information there. Everybody moves through many websites in a day, Yahoo is one they always stop at.

WTF?!!! This is from the company CEO.

Yeah but its only words isn’t it?

No it isn’t, in many cultures it was believed if you could name something it gave you power over it, conversely giving your real name away allowed people to do bad magic to you. There is an element of truth in that myth, if you know what an organisation is, what it does then it is a lot easier to plan and execute correctly. Conversely not being able to articulate a coherent answer to this simple quesiton makes you look foolish, everything else that you’ve said seems nonsensical, everything you do is viewed with skepticism and suspicion; it scares the pants off stakeholders who have committed to your brand with their money, credibility, careers or even their time.

It’s what we in the business call the vision thing (*_*)