Advice to Silicon Valley Speechwriters: Don’t screw up

Silicon ValleyColumnist Andrew Hill, writing in today’s Financial Times, warns executives in Silicon Valley that they could become the next public enemies, facing a PR backlash similar to that suffered by bankers.

He sees warning signs in the recent attacks on Apple, Google and Amazon for their tax strategies; for questions about the growing economic and income inequality in northern California; and activist worries about ill-protected privacy, dirt-cheap labour and the energy efficiency of data centers.

He quotes a recent article by Silicon Valley native George Parker, who grew up in the area in the late 1970’s when a home in Palo Alto cost $125,000, in contrast to the scene today when:

There are fifty or so billionaires and tens of thousands of millionaires in Silicon Valley; last year’s Facebook public stock offering alone created half a dozen more of the former and more than a thousand of the latter. There are also record numbers of poor people, and the past two years have seen a twenty-per-cent rise in homelessness, largely because of the soaring cost of housing. After decades in which the country has become less and less equal, Silicon Valley is one of the most unequal places in America.

Nevertheless, Hill notes, the public trust in, and love of, technology is much higher than that of banks. If executives can resist the temptation to take the users for granted, share some of the wealth, and “stay clean” in terms of communications they will be able to placate public opinion.

The advice to those who write the speeches of tech execs is to

…adopt a new slogan, borrowed from Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer’s declaration to fans of Tumblr, the blogging platform her company has just bought: “We promise not to screw it up.”

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