CIA vs. MI6: How to pick the right tone of voice

Secret AgentIt’s hard to get the perfect tone of voice but it’s very easy to get the wrong one. Mostly companies get the business buzzword version (see my post: Buzzwords from hell). Sometimes they manage to do the light ironic thing well (see: Not the usual yada yada). But occasionally, they get it very badly wrong.

For example, Michael Kinsley has written an article in Slate (‘CryptoKids at war’) about the recruitment pages for lawyers on the CIA website (and, by extension, exposing the legal doublethink that is going on there). Some of the writing on the Office of General Counsel’s site is priceless. For example:

If the theme music from Mission Impossible runs through your head, or you get the urge to order a martini “shaken, not stirred,” at the mention of the letters “CIA,” then visiting the CIA’s Web page won’t disappoint.

Compare and contrast the British MI6 recruitment website which is factual, understated and, as a result, much more believable and effective.

SIS operates around the globe to collect secret intelligence in support of British government policy. The work of the Service helps the government respond to threats to UK interests such as regional instability, terrorism and weapons proliferation…

Basically, it’s Felix Lighter and James Bond all over again.

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2 Responses to CIA vs. MI6: How to pick the right tone of voice

  1. kitten says:

    What you (or the Slate author) are not mentioning is that the CIA page is well aware of how silly that sounds. It goes on, directly after the sentence quoted, “…The Employment section features a stylized human eye against a stark black background, with the words “Innovation & Intrigue” silhouetted alone on the page. Oh, boy!”

    The entire page is more like a blog entry, written very informally, about why that book would mention them as a good place to work. It is not meant to be as serious and understated as the rest of the CIA website, which is similar in tone to the MI6 site.


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    […] Direct, Google, Innocent, the BBC, for example, all have very clear, distinctive voices. Even the CIA and MI6 have to think about tone of […]

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