Begging the Question

Over the weekend the news broke that ahead of the acquisition by Microsoft, Skype has let eight of its executives go. Bloomberg ran the story Sunday night with early rumblings of the story starting over at the Skype Journal.

Bloomberg ran the story with an angle saying that the execs were canned so the company wouldn’t have to pay them as much. Since Bloomberg led the story, we see that angle in a number of today’s follow on pieces and is leading to some snarky comments about corporate greed like Preston Grella’s over at Computerworld.

However, today we find another angle starting to emerge: that this isn’t about the money but is instead part of an already-planned shake up. Sarah Lacy’s article over at TechCrunch takes this line, quoting an unnamed investor.

Whatever the real reason is, the initial story angle isn’t a positive one and it’s giving the event a more negative tone and broader coverage than I think Skype (or Microsoft) wanted. You typically want announcements like this to come and go quickly. And with a pending acquisition, that goal is even more important to help keep things moving on the acquisition and not inadvertently drag your acquisition partner into a negative coverage cycle.

So far, this has spawned two waves of coverage rather than one. Fortunately for Microsoft, it’s not hitting them, at least not yet. But that’s no thanks to Skype and their handling.

What caused this is that Skype failed to look at their news like a regular person, figure out any logical, reasonable questions, and answer them in their communications.

This is their official statement: “Skype, like any other pragmatic organization, constantly assesses its team structure to deliver its users the best products. As part of a recent internal shift Skype has made some management changes.”

Companies don’t typically lose eight execs all at once, particularly when going through an acquisition. So people are naturally going to ask:

  1. Why are you getting rid of this many execs at once?
  2. Is this related to the acquisition

By failing to account for these questions in their statement, Skype’s handling simply begged those questions, and Bloomberg was happy to try and fill in the gap.

Given that “unnamed investors” are talking to the press today and giving a different story, it’s clear that the theme of the first wave isn’t what at least some people at Skype wanted out there. But having this new theme come out through unofficial channels only confuses the issue any more.

If the goal at Skype is to kill the theme of “they were fired to save money”, they need to get out on their blog with a statement clarifying the story, follow up with Bloomberg and try to get the right story out so that it overtakes the initial theme.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

In the meantime, the lesson here is that while we want to follow the rule of “less is more” when communicating bad news, you want to make sure your “less” isn’t begging questions. If it is, you can lose control of the story like has happened here.