The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13


I’m a bit obsessed with corporate communication, broadly defined: how do organized groups of people talk to each other? More specifically, I’m obsessed with the culture of the all-hands email or memo. The fiery rally-the-troops memo, the anodyne corp-speak memo, the new-hire announcement memo, the he’s-fired departure memo—I think they’re all fascinating.

Corporate communication needs context, though. Nick Denton gives good memo, of course, and his latest is no exception—or is it? I wonder sometimes: do Gawker Media staffers roll their eyes at Denton’s memos? Do they say: “Not this again. He’s writing for the Observer, not for us”? Optimistically (maybe naively) I would like to believe that no, they say, maybe quietly to themselves: “Damn. I’m proud to work for a guy who can write something like that.”

Now I’m trying to think of famous memos. Maybe there aren’t that many that we know about? You’d probably have to go looking for subpoenaed corporate corpuses available to the public, right? And then you’d have to find the memos. Researchers went to work on the Enron emails, and I’m sure they’re hungrily devouring the State Department cables, but the focus there is on the entire corpus, and I really am just interested in one particular kind of message: the one-to-many announcement.

So you’d be looking for cc: all. You’d be looking for the email describing the re-org, the printout announcing the acquisition, the mimeograph detailing the new cost-cutting measures. You’d be looking at the length, the vocabulary, the style. You might even be looking for Nabokovs among the cubicles.

So seriously: famous memos? (Post-2000 tech-company murmurings are disqualified.)


The publicly known one that jumps to mind to me right now is Carol Bartz’s ‘I’ve just been fired on the phone’ memo.

I have three others I’d be happy to tell you about, but off the record.

Personally I am more concerned with endlessly tangled reply-to-all rings involving a group that’s just big enough for it to be painful but not big enough to get obviously trimmed. I’d love a data mining operation that would identify examples of these and infer, from later emails, patterns of effective trimming. A sort of phylogeny of communications evolution.

Ooh I like that. And you could use what you learn—build it into email clients. “Warning: this email chain now has an 85% chance of getting out of hand.”

Right now I have a crude handrolled version of that using labels and my own intuition about the participant combinations. Certain to-field address combos automatically earn the extra tagline, “Warning! Annoyance!”

Tim Maly says…

Gates’ Internet memo? John Yoo’s torture memo? David Mamet on drama?

Tim Maly says…

Google results for “famous memo” are pretty great. The paperclip memo. The hotrodders memo. The peanut butter memo.

that is true. leaked memo is also a good one.

Ha, nice. Also, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Disney memo from 1991. There’s a certain kind of memo—Gates re: the Internet, Katzenberg here, George Kennan’s long telegram—that sort of fit into the “I’ve had a big idea and I will now share it with you” genre. I feel like those are the most likely to be leaked, because of course they generally make the author look pretty good.

I’m most interested in the memos that sit a couple rungs below these: what does Katzenberg write to Disney on the Monday after they release a movie?

Oh, somehow I missed the disqualification of post 2000 tech companies. Hmmm. . .the only thing I can think of is something like the Blood Telegram or Kennan’s Long Telegram . . . not exactly one to many but one to quite an important few. Oddly, the other thing I am reminded of is FDR’s D-Day address to the nation.

I guess these are all in the spirit of the Long Telegram, but: Brad Garlinghouse’s “Peanut Butter Manifesto” (Yahoo), Howard Schultz’ “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience,” and Stephen Elop’s “Burning Platform” memo (Nokia).

Less famously and maybe more along the lines of what you’re looking for, there was real-estate investor Tom Barrack’s (totally sexist) “Bella and Edward Who????” memo last year.

But it’s possible some of your best specimens, including Denton’s greatest hits, of course, are in Romenesko’s archives — which, how strange is the art of crafting a memo for your staff and your industry at the same time? I’ve always been impressed by Joe Sexton’s emails at the Times: “City Room for a New Age,” “Revolutionary Appointment,” and the “Maudlin” memo are typical.

ChrisB says…

Robert Reed’s memos to Sherwood Schwarz. Fighting a losing battle for realism.

Warren Buffet jumps to mind immediately. He’s been writing famous memos his entire career – – which is one of many reasons he’s so lovable.

Also: “…on behalf of Nick, who is currently favela paintballing in Brazil.” That’s a thing?

I don’t know how many of them are public, but there should be a ton of cc: All, Subject: See ya later, suckers! memos from people leaving their companies for greener pastures / sanity. One of my favorite ones from a former colleague involved reading Camus on a beach.

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