Daily Archives: May 6, 2008

Corporate blogs and CEOs

I’ll admit it. I still have plenty of reservations about corporate blogs. Particularly those that involve the CEO. And particularly those that want to venture anywhere beyond marketing communications.

I wrote about this in April (Help wanted: chief blogger). I commented on an article in Advertising Age (no longer available online without a subscription) that talked about the growth of corporate blogs — now about 10 percent or so at Fortune 500 companies.

I’m all for communication — the more the better. And a blog in theory should be a step in the right direction. But in practice I’m still not sure — when it comes to publicly traded corporations and CEOs. Here’s why. First, writing a blog takes time. Something tells me that a CEO won’t stick with it. At that point it falls to the PR staff — and it’s an online newsletter. Second, disclosure requirements limit what you can say — and when.

Still — and here’s the twist — I’m going to give Jonathan Schwartz credit for taking a good shot at it. Schwartz is the CEO and president at Sun Microsystems and a dedicated blogger from what I can tell about him. Here’s the story.

Last Thursday Sun Microsystems reported disappointing earnings and announced a layoff involving as many as 2,500 employees. (Full disclosure: I’m a long-suffering Sun shareholder.) And Schwartz made the announcement with the usual corporate blather, as reported in The Times article.

“Our third quarter was a disappointing one,” Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s chief executive, said. “The U.S. economy presented Sun with significant challenges in the third quarter, masking our progress in developing nations and economies across the world.”

Can’t believe I used to write crap like that. As usual, I digress.

I figured Schwartz would have something more insightful to say on his blog. I checked Thursday night. And again Friday. Nada. Nada.

Then I kind of forgot about it until today. But looking for any excuse to take a break from grading student projects and ethics papers I figured I might as well take another look.

To his credit, Schwartz wrote an excellent post on his Jonathan’s Blog on Sunday, May 4. It’s a very detailed look at the company’s results and performance. I assume he wrote it himself. In any event, it’s well done.

And in a question-and-answer format, he wrote the following:

“Why does Sun’s CEO waste time writing that blog?”
Because I believe in providing clarity surrounding our strategy and operations – not just once a year in the Annual Report. I believe clarity behind our direction is useful for our shareholders, customers, partners and employees.

In good times, and in challenging ones.

Good for Jonathan Schwartz. If this is the model for blogs by other CEOs — then maybe I’m wrong. Maybe blogs will become another tool that enhances communication. Yet realistically — there are still a few hurdles to get over before everyone joins in the conversation here. Check out the ending to Jonathan’s blog:

Safe Harbor Statement

Jonathan’s blog contains forward-looking statements regarding the future results and performance of Sun including statements with respect to the effects of our restructuring plan, and expectations for deferred revenue. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties and actual results could differ materially from those predicted in any such forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in such forward-looking statements include: risks associated with developing, designing, manufacturing and distributing new products; lack of success in technological advancements; pricing pressures; lack of customer acceptance of new products; the possibility of errors or defects in new products; competition; adverse business conditions; failure to retain key employees; the cancellation or delay of projects; our reliance on single-source suppliers; risks associated with our ability to purchase a sufficient amount of components to meet demand; inventory risks; and delays in product development or customer acceptance and implementation of new products and technologies. Please also refer to Sun’s periodic reports that are filed from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007 and its Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q for the fiscal quarters ended September 30, 2007 and December 30, 2007. Sun assumes no obligation to, and does not currently intend to, update these forward-looking statements.

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be … lawyers.