Thank goodness for companies like Verizon. They provide me with perfect examples for my PR classes. Stragegic ambiguity, as defined by Jargon Database (jargondatabase.com), is “One side being deliberately vague on a policy so as to preserve their options. Also known as having it both ways.”
If you’ve been following the Verizon strike for the past couple of weeks you’ve likely noticed the full-page print ads in the Boston Globe placed by Verizon. In a Boston Globe article by Taryn Luna (8/17/11) union officials point out that the $85,000 annual salary of Verizon workers mentioned in one of their ads includes overtime pay. “Union officials contend technicians in Boston would have to work the equivalent of two months of overtime to earn $85,000 a year.” Union officials also pointed out that the $51,000 in “combined benefits” mentioned as one of the reasons why an unknown employee liked to work for Verison will be reduced if “Verizon has its way in contract talks.”
Each side is spending millions in advertising to get their points across to the public. Whether or not each side should engage in such an expensive undertaking is for another debate. The question here is should Verizon have run an ad with questionable copy? My answer is only if they are absolutely sure they are right about the $85,000 annual pay and plan to continue the $51,000 in combined benefits. And, Verizon must be able to defend the copy.
Employing strategic ambiguity is nothing new. Public Relations agencies and departments within organizations have used this tactic for eons. Today, however, it’s harder to get away with. Social media sites and blogs have made it easier for opponents to point out ambiguous statements and lies to the press and the public.
My belief is if organizations really believe they are right, don’t engage in strategic ambiguity to help their cause. It might, and probably will, backfire. If Verizon really needs to cut benefits, explain why. Of course the unions involved must also tell the truth. All organizations involved have their own sides to the issue, but all sites need to take an ethical stance and tell the truth.