Back to index
Marino, Arthur J., Jr. Hypertext allays 'Chairman's Letter' panic.
(use of hypertext in composing chairman's message for annual
report). In Public Relations Quarterly Spring 1994, v39, n1,
You say your communications department has been downsized -- or make
that "right-sized"? Worse, you've been assigned, besides your normal
duties of dismantling trade show exhibits, to write the chairman's
letter for your company's annual report? Hey -- don't sweat it. You
don't have to be another Ernest Hemingway. This is the easiest
writing job you'll ever be handed.
Every possible statement that's appropriate for a chairman's letter
has been written many times. All you have to do is access the right
statements, personalize them with the name of your company and a few
financial figures, and string them together. Hypertext -- a
computerized "book" that allows you to travel electronically through
fiction or fact by numerous routes, and to skim various parts or
dwell in depth -- soon will allow all of these possible statements to
be contained on one CD-ROM disk.
As a prelude to that happy day, what follows is a low-tech version of
hypertext. It's a pick-a-paragraph approach, using passages from a
number of 1992 reports -- and the same approach will work for a
speech, letter to employees or other "personal communication" from
the chairman. It is flat-out guaranteed to make you come up smelling
like a rose, and, by the way, get used to writing in cliches. For
annual reports, they're your crutch to see you through with flying
So, let's get a move on. First, in the letter, tell the shareholders
what kind of year your company had. If it was a good year, state your
chief executive officer's delight, as in this example from an actual
It is a pleasure to report that M-1 Corporation achieved record sales
and significantly increased earnings in 1992, with broad-based
product line participation.
Whoops. You say it was a bad year. Well, then, make some inane or
We stayed right on course in developing our long term growth
prospects during fiscal 1992 despite the effect of the recessionary
economy on our first half performance. Or:
While A-1 made significant progress on many fronts in 1992, none of
the year's accomplishments is immediately obvious in our financial
results, due to the overriding influence of unusual items.
If your company lost money and the timing is right, or if the board
of directors is hostile, possibly the chairman can pack it in:
We did not achieve the results you and I had hoped for, but we
cleared the decks for the next CEO.
If the CEO doesn't want to retire, it can't hurt to massage the
My thanks go to the Board of Directors, whose members have never
failed to ask the hard questions, to criticize and suggest, and to be
a source of support and knowledge.
Now it's time to talk strategy. What would be good strategic
elements? How about being a low-cost producer, satisfying customers
and adapting to changing conditions? Wow] And here it is:
Our strategy for success in this competitive environment is to
maintain our position as a low-cost producer, to provide total
customer satisfaction and to remain flexible. We have developed a new
vision that builds on our tradition of reliable, competitively priced
That contrasts, one supposes, with the old vision that built on
unreliability and price gouging. Note, too, that "strategy" in the
first sentence evolves into the highfalutin "vision" in the second.
As any psychic knows, "vision" sounds much more impressive than a
mundane "strategy," even if what follows is mundane:
The key elements of our vision are people, service, quality and
This is the point in the letter to give a big hand to our employees,
We could not have recorded such a performance last year without the
unflappable loyalty and dedication of our associates around the
And what do these associates or employees do? Why, they help us meet
This year's Annual Report is dedicated to our employees. They made
K-1 the strong company it is today. With their leadership and
initiative, we have and will continue to successfully meet our
The progress we have made in challenging times is a testament to the
dedication and professionalism of D-1 employees worldwide.
This leads us into Total Quality Management, or TQM, and surely your
company has such a process. Expounding on its benefits in your letter
is especially useful when business conditions are terrible:
Market conditions are not expected to improve in the near future, but
a number of Total Quality initiatives begun over the past year will
enable this business to grow, even in such a tough environment.
For a double whammy, combine your praise of employees and TQM.
Throughout the company, I sensed a level of teamwork and community of
interest unmatched by anything I have seen before at Q-1...It is the
result of so many hundreds of Q-1ers becoming active participants in
the scores of Total Quality Management teams that have been organized
throughout the company to seek measurably better ways to do their
We may define the future, but only World Class Quality will take us
there. Saying that another way, only a dedicated workforce can take
us there -- which is exactly what we have at C-1. Less than a decade
after we introduced a Total Quality management system, C-1 people now
speak the vocabulary of World Class Quality.
Of course, if things are real bad, the company might have had to let
some of its associates go, or to disassociate them:
Cost control and efficiency are two keys that we believe will help us
weather the current business climate. Accordingly, in 1992, we
offered a voluntary early retirement program to 438 eligible
employees in an effort to reduce staffing levels.
You also can try a little tightrope walking and make it sound like
the employees are letting themselves go:
We are grateful to all who continue to work long and hard in our
mines and coal company offices where many are still, in effect,
managing the efficient elimination of their jobs. That's tough duty.
Next, talk about your remaining employees' safety record, of course,
and -- a new wrinkle -- the diversity of your work force:
A-2's professional, technical and production ranks have a rich talent
mix exemplifying diversity in gender, race, ethnic and national
origins, and educational backgrounds.
Despite the diversity of your people in general, are all your top
executives middle-aged white males? No problem:
If you look at the photo of our Business Unit leaders on pages 18 and
19, you can see that we have not yet achieved important elements of
diversity in our top management ranks. Our commitment is to do so.
At this point in the letter, if you can manage it, try an
off-the-wall statement or bizarre metaphor to juice up interest:
We have never been a company that thumped its own chest and made
We aim for D-1 to be an exceptional "business athlete" --
well-conditioned, flexible and capable of performing superbly under
You can bet, too, that the "business athlete" in the latter passage
wouldn't shy away from some mighty corporate chest thumping.
If your company frowns upon creativity in its shareholder's letter --
as it seems most do -- how about working in a truism? You can sound
profound and not say a doggone thing:
As global economies recover and industry fundamentals improve, prices
Now, tell the shareholders how your company is protecting the
environment, and make it sound as if you're doing it without
We also continue to uphold our commitment to protection of the
environment and the well-being of our employees and the public...
Continuous improvement remains the only acceptable standard in these
Did your company fall short of its environmental goals? Again, no
We have not yet reached the level of environmental performance that
society expects of us and we expect of ourselves. But there is no
mistaking our progress, our seriousness and our commitment to
The future. Isn't that what shareholders want to know about most?
Only trouble is, we don't know what the future will bring. What are
we, fortune tellers? So, let's try a sweeping generality or two and
leave it at that:
Despite the uncertainty that characterizes the defense industry, we
are excited about the future for A-3. The industry consolidation that
lies ahead will bring challenges, but we believe it also will bring
tremendous opportunities and rewards for defense industry companies
that are well positioned in their core businesses and remain focused
on those businesses. Our mission clarifies our focus. Our strategy
will enable us to take advantage of the opportunities and share the
rewards with our shareholders, customers, employees, and communities.
It is important to understand that our strategic plans have always
had at their core the commitment not only to rebuild A-4, but also to
build value for our shareholders. We continue to believe strongly
that as the economy recovers and the investments we've made into
A-4's infrastructure are realized, shareholder value will be
restored. Our marketing and sales plans are focused on taking
advantage of A-4's very unique market niche. As these plans are
implemented, we believe sales growth will be renewed. Be assured that
we are committed to make it happen.
If you have a pessimistic outlook for 1995, make it sound optimistic
by linking it to the indefinite future:
I continue to be extremely bullish when I look to our company's
future and am cautiously optimistic for 1995.
What's that? You still have a quarter-page to fill before the
concluding paragraph? It's time to show your business savvy and haul
out the corporate cliches and buzzwords:
We will continue to foster a corporate culture that promotes
continuous improvement and cost-effective client solutions. We have
work to do to improve financial performance and enhance shareholder
value. The process of laying the groundwork to achieve these goals
Since it's just filler, don't worry too much if the statement is
We believe that successfully combining our business units' brands and
market share leadership with channel-focused, key customer
partnership programs will result in M-2 establishing sustainable
Finally comes the conclusion -- a grand summarizing statement:
Its dedicated employees, financial strength, product diversity,
commitment to research and quality-improvement efforts provide
stability for our company and growth opportunities for the future.
These characteristics generate consumer confidence and enable our
company to continue to grow, even in difficult times. In addition,
our company's attributes and the capable efforts of our dedicated
employees provide assurance that the confidence of our customers and
shareholders will continue to be rewarded as we move close to the
third century in which our company has operated.
As the saying goes, "It don't get much better than that."
Congratulations. You've completed the chairman's letter. Briefly,
now, let's examine what the future holds for annual report letters
themselves. With growth in the use of hypertext, as well as the
spread of electronic annual reports, there someday may be one grand,
definitive chairman's letter that applies to all corporations. Having
entered the name of a particular company, the shareholder will be
given a specific paragraph path to follow to compose the letter for
In effect, letter writers, you may be on your way to the same
oblivion as the coal mine workers cited in Q-l's annual report. On
the other hand, there are more cliches being written each year than
can be held even on a CD-ROM disk.
Here's just one example from the 1992 batch:
This kind of cultural mix is part of the energy of this company, of
the spirit of impatience with the status quo, one that gives us the
opportunity to leverage the power of newly gathered minds.
Arthur J. Marino Jr. is manager of corporate public relations of PPG
Industries Inc., a post he has held since 1977. He is responsible for
financial communications, crisis communications and media relations.
In addition, he has been involved in annual report preparation for
the past 24 years. He joined PPG in 1959 as a technical writer for
the firm's glass research laboratories, near Pittsburgh. In 1969, he
moved to PPG's Pittsburgh headquarters as a public relations writer.
He became manager of news and photo services for PPG in 1975 and
manager of public relations two years later. A native of Pittsburgh,
he is a chemical engineering graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.
He also has completed the executive program of the University of
Michigan's Graduate School of Business Administration.
COPYRIGHT Public Relations Quarterly 1994
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 1997 17:39:39 -0700
Subject: Bibliographic records
Bukatman, Scott. Virtual textuality. (hypertext). In Artforum Jan
1994, v32, n5, p13(2).
Although the term "hypertext" has yet to acquire the mass-cultural
(and instantly cliched) cachet of "virtual reality," a growing corps
is treating it with a similar utopianism. Yet the two modes have
interesting points of divergence: where VR eliminates language,
hypertext is based entirely on the sign; where VR emphasizes a
dizzying phenomenology of direct experience (or the elaborate
illusion thereof), hypertext emphasizes symbolic representation;
where VR is sexy and mainstream (Wild Palms, Lawnmower Man),
hypertext remains the province of Brown University's English
department (just kidding). A "virtual reality," as anyone not living
in one knows by now, is a real-time computer-generated environment
that single or multiple users can inhabit with the aid of such
devices as Datagloves, electronic bodysuits, 3D Eyephones, and the
simulation of 360 !degrees^ sound. These instruments immerse the user
in an environment of data, which might one day represent anything
from a cockpit or a surgical operating room to spreadsheet figures or
a Westworld-style vacation paradise. "Hypertext" designates texts
composed and displayed on computer terminals. The structures of these
texts are nonlinear (or multilinear): on-screen, the text is
separated from its physical existence on the computer's hard disk,
and becomes a malleable, "virtual" text. Through a click of the mouse
or a touch of a key, one unit of text may be "linked" to another, or
to a different text altogether: a glossary or annotation, or another
work by, or influenced by, that author, or even written in the same
period. Further, these texts can incorporate illustration, video, and
sound, as well as music or movie samples.
In 1945, in the Atlantic Monthly, Vannevar Bush posed the developing
problem of the information explosion, and the need for a means of
threading through it all. Since the human mind "snaps instantly" by
association from one idea to the next, Bush proposed a device called
a "memex" (for "memory extender")--a kind of giant desk packed with
oodles of microform texts that would allow a reader to annotate and
quickly rearrange the retrieved information. Bush, George Landow
writes, was proposing "what are essentially poetic machines--machines
that work according to analogy and association, machines that capture
the anarchic brilliance of human imagination. Bush . . . assumed that
science and poetry work in essentially the same way."!1^
Virtual reality and hypertext might be seen as similarly both
scientific and poetic, and both are similarly concerned with
negotiating what would otherwise be an overwhelming proliferation of
data. Each depends upon spatial metaphors. Much of VR's appeal in the
popular imagination derives from the primacy it grants bodily
experience--it heightens one's sensorial experience of data--and from
its promise of fully realized, hyperreal alternate realities (a
promise that continues to lurk behind most nonspecialist discussions
of VR). The mapping of a familiar physicality onto unfamiliar systems
of information transforms the digital into the tactile, reversing a
process described by Jean Baudrillard over a decade ago. Hypertextual
systems constitute a different kind of electronic experience,
remaining largely rooted in the culture of the words. Still, a
rhetoric of spatiality continues to define the structures of
hypertext ("readers move through a web or network of texts"), not to
mention the general proliferation of texts fostered by the computer
("a vast sea of database"!2^). Jay Bolter maintains that every
writing technology produces its own "writing space," which is also a
reading space.!3^ The literature on hypertext repeatedly defines its
flexible, unit-oriented writing space as a network that challenges
the linearity of the book, questioning such elements as fixed
sequence, definite beginning and end, and the ensuing perception of
unity and wholeness. I'd argue that the reader continues to start,
stop, and otherwise organize hypertext to produce a sense of unity or
wholeness, but certainly textual authority has been displaced, if not
obliterated.!4^ For novelist Robert Coover, an ardent hypertext
enthusiast, this is a medium in which "narrative bytes no longer
follow one another in an ineluctable page-turning chain. Hypertextual
story space is not multidimensional and theoretically infinite."!5^
The phrase "theoretically infinite" raises another question: the lack
of closure may be a theoretical strength but a practical weakness.
Landow concedes that "complete hypertextuality requires gigantic
information networks" linked more tightly than existing networks.!6^
A "complete" hypertext, like the perfect simulation promised by
virtual reality, remains a kind of electronic grail. Descriptions of
VR deemphasize language to evoke a kinetic, phenomenologically
heightened field of bodily movement and metamorphosis. This
depreciation of the linguistic is easily aligned with an
all-too-prevalent discourse (I call it cyberdrool) that imagines
cyberspace as a site of Dionysian antirationalist liberation. (For a
brief but memorable period, cyberdrool was most easily locatable in
the magazine Mondo 2000.) In this version of the future, VR actually
poses itself against language, and ultimately, in its solipsistic
focus on a solitary disembodied subject adrift in the cyberdelic
fields, against culture and history as well. As VR-developer Jaron
Lanier writes, "In virtual reality, there's no question that your
reality is created by you"--a remark that is typical of the rhetoric
of subjective empowerment surrounding VR. This rhetoric inevitably
yields to an almost parodic evocation of sublime transcendence:
"Virtual reality is the first medium to come along that doesn't
narrow the human spirit."!7^ At the same time, however, many writers
have stressed the potentially revelatory power of a medium that
permits absolute control over the objective conditions of subject
formation. Allucquere Stone and others have convincingly argued that
VR encourages a new interrogation of Being, as once unalterable
conditions, such as the relation between subject and bodily identity,
are suddenly rendered malleable (at least in theory).!8^ If VR may
become an ontological testing ground, hypertext permits an
exploration of some of the tenets of poststructuralism, creating "an
almost embarrassingly literal embodiment" of such issues as
authorship, multiply centered texts, and the active power of the
reader.!9^ The rhetoric may be more modest than that of Vr, but by
emphasizing an active, creative, and free reader who not only follows
but forges links between units of writing, hypertext, like VR,
presents itself as a liberating "space" of empowerment. It also gives
us a breakdown of barriers: between texts, between kinds of texts,
between reading and writing, and between reader and writer. Yet even
as it celebrates decentered discourses, multiple authorship, and
multiple linearities, it still retains and extends the controlling
power of the individual reading subject. Paradoxes abound. While both
VR and hypertext designers privilege the individual subject, both
also make the formation of community an anxiom, and both posit new
public "spaces"--cyberspaces--to enhance or replace more traditional
spaces and communities. VR communities will operate in a real-time,
simulated environment. Users will coincide in time while their "real"
bodies remain spatially distant. Hypertext communities, on the other
hand, will "incorporate" (interesting word) temporarily "distant"
(also interesting) users, each using and annotating the same text
over an indefinite and perhaps infinite period of time. The most
active existing cyberspace community, the Internet, combines aspects
of both of these modes, as users both "chat" in real time (albeit
without full sensory interface) and post messages and responses for
other users to encounter at their own pace.
Inevitably, as on the Internet, virtual realities and hypertexts move
together. As real-world limits reduce the scope of VR's ambitions,
and increased power in desktop computing expands the capabilities of
hypertext, the two forms will undoubtedly blur together. But right
now (at least until next Tuesday) the separation between them
remains. Their merger will generate a synesthesia of data experience,
one that might finally establish the crucial relation between the
phenomenological subject privileged by virtual reality and the
acculturated, historical subject that grounds the hypertextual
exploration. 1. Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think," The Atlantic
Monthly 176, July 1945, pp. 101-108; and George P. Landow, Hypertext:
The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology,
Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, p.
2. Landow, pp. 11 and 22.
3. Jay David Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the
History of Writing, Hove and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
1991. See also writings by Friedrich Kittler on typewriter "space."
4. Landow, p. 102. Landow grudgingly allows the possibility of this
organizing activity on the reader's part.
5. Robert Coover, in a talk quoted by Landow, pp. 104-105.
6. Landow, p. 187.
7. Jaron Lanier, quoted in "Virtual Reality," Mondo 2000: A User's
Guide to the New Edge, eds. Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius, and Queen Mu,
New York: Harper Collins, 1992, pp. 257-59.
8. See, for example, Allucquere Rosanne Stone, "Virtual Systems,"
Zone 6, 1993, pp. 609-21.
9. See Landow, p. 34.
COPYRIGHT Artforum International Magazine Inc. 1994