“I’m sure you know why we are having this conversation, Stanley.” George used names rarely enough that when he did, he sounded like a judge passing a sentence.
“Is it about the block email I drafted?” asked Stanley?
“It is indeed. Stanley. What on earth were you thinking?”
“Is there a problem?” asked Stanley. “I drafted it according to the brief?”
George harrumphed. Stanley had never heard anyone harrumph before. He’d always thought it was a figure of speech.
“Is there a problem, he asks.” George rattled a sheet of A4 that Stanley presumed was a printout of the draft he’d circulated. Stanley knew that if he’d printed it, it was because he’d planned to wave it around for theatrical effect. Knowing it did nothing to dilute the effect. “Well let’s look at it. Let’s start with this sentence here:
“‘We are committed to complying with all data protection regulations regarding our comprehensive collection of all personal data which you enter into our website or concluded from our analysis of your use of it, and we will only sell it on to third party companies that express a similar commitment although we cannot be responsible for their adherence to that commitment and they may be in jurisdictions where European Union regulations do not apply, in order to fund your ongoing free access to our website.”
George slammed the paper on to the desk under the palm of his hand. Even as he flinched, Stanley had to acknowledge the hours of practice that must have gone into slamming down a sheet of A4 without the paper flying out from under the hand.
“Do you think the sentence is too long?” Stanley didn’t want to speak, but George’s glower carried a demand that was impossible to deny. “I could break it up?”
George threw up his hands. “He thinks the sentence is too long! Stanley, have you even read your predecessor’s customer service emails?”
Stanley bobbed his head.
“And do you think I, or anyone else in this company, give a damn about the grammar?” George demanded. “Do you think our customer service emails are the stuff of deathless prose? Have you not noticed that in a customer service email, that sentence would be considered a marvel of brevity? No, Stanley, the problem with that sentence is not the length of it but the content.”
Stanley gathered his courage. “I was told to make our customers informed of our business model to comply with the new regulations. I thought that was what that sentence did.”
“Precisely. You have hit the nail squarely on the head.”
“You have,” said George. “Hence the problem with the content of that sentence. There is far too much of it. You were told to make our customers informed. If we were as suicidally inclined as to send a mail with that sentence in it, we would make them aware, which our business model depends on their not being.”
“Oh,” said Stanley.
“Oh. Oh indeed. Has the penny dropped?”
“You mean…” Stanley was afraid he was about to cry. “You mean I should draft a simple mail saying they’ll stay with us unless they use an opt-out option that will be hidden at the bottom of the mail, and will lead them through at least a couple of pages requesting information before they actually unsubscribe.”
“And… and there will be another link that will take them to a page that – that we can arrange to load very slowly – that will describe our business model.”
George’s expression darkened, so Stanley spoke faster. “But the page won’t have that sentence. It will split the content of that sentence over ten thousand words of, of long, of very long sentences.”
George grunted. Last time he’d grunted, it had foreshadowed the harrumph, so Stanley dared to hope this was an aftershock and the worst had passed.
“The penny has dropped indeed,” said George. “Now it falls to you to open the door to the lavatory. Do you follow me?”
“In your footsteps,” said Stanley.
“Good. There lies the wisest path. I may not fire you after all. Now get on with it, man.”
As Stanley left George’s office, he found he was actually looking forward to the task.