One of the not-so-fun parts of being a communications professional is that you’re told bad news before giving it to the wider world … and you have to sit on it while working furiously to make its eventual release bullet-proof, or at least minimally palatable. And no matter what you do–how carefully you word the truth (or worse, hide it) and time the delivery–people will be unhappy. Full many a non-communicator has presumed this work is easy–it’s anything but.
Years in the business have toughened me to not take this reality personally. At the same time, I love what I do enough to have a keen awareness of–and appreciation for–communications done right. Done wrong drives me nuts–especially when you can tell the voice is inauthentic and the language contorted to pull the wool over your eyes–but communications done right, that’s a beautiful thing. Especially the worse the news being communicated. That’s when I really sit up and take notice.
The recent announcement by Sweet Briar College, a small women’s college outside Lynchburg, that it was closing its doors brought dismay and sadness to many alumnae, and juicy fodder for an equal number of pundits. What got my admiration, however, was the set of FAQs.
They were beautifully written: straightforward, brief but informative, and anticipated just about every question anyone would ask about this sad but stunning turn of events. The questions in bold type, with clear “why,” “when,” “who,” “what” sentence structure were thorough and respectful.
There was the usual pile-on afterwards, of smug opinionators and “thank God it’s not us” press releases from neighboring institutions, but the stark beauty of those FAQs–and the careful and rigorous list of resources for more information–is what stuck with me.
I appreciated the long hours that must have gone into the drafting and rewriting, the circulating for approval, the posting to the test website, the timing of making it live, the bracing for the onslaught of emotion and back-seat driving, all while the communicators–the writers, the web editors, the PR managers, the photographers– were processing the news and the impact on their own careers.
Disingenuous FAQs are the worst. But those that are frank, truthful, polite, realistic, and kind –that’s a thing of beauty. Most will mourn the beautiful campus that is–was?–Sweet Briar. I’ll celebrate the beauty of the college’s communications. May its authors find new jobs that reward them … and may the rest of us honor their work.