Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

CNNMoney Says Its Story About HP Hiring $20,000 Dancers Isn’t True

sinatra_dance-featureFrom the department of things you can’t make up — and so must leave to someone else to make up for you — here’s the most bizarre denial statement probably ever issued by the corporate public relations department at technology giant Hewlett-Packard.

Let’s start with the headline: Dancers Are Not Pirouetting Through Our Cubicles! The upshot, HP will not be dancing its way to a corporate turnaround.

The story goes like this: HP, troubled on many fronts after the worst year in its history, and trying mightily to ignite a turnaround in the face of declining PC sales and a troubled environment for global technology spending, was reported in a story published by CNNMoney.com to be hiring a troupe of dancers to help its employees get their creative juices flowing.

Penned by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, a freelance contributor to CNNMoney who also happens to be the wife of hedge fund manager David Einhorn, the story portrayed HP as a “lumbering tech giant that desperately needs new ideas.” It went on to detail how Von Hansen, a general manager for “future technologies” based at HP’s campus in Boise, Idaho, had since 2008 been working on a quarterly basis with the Trey McIntyre Project, a local dance troupe. Its mission at HP, according to a quote by Hansen in the story: “… Pull our staff out of the same way we do things so that we can better design solutions and solve problems.”

So far, so good, except that the story went on to list the price the dance troupe supposedly charged HP for each quarterly engagement: $20,000 for a half-day presentation.

And what does the fee cover? Something you might expect in the flakier corners of San Francisco or Brooklyn, or perhaps in an episode of “Glee,” but not the cultural backwater of Idaho. (Outraged Idahoans, save your emails; I lived there, I know.) Dancers would show up at HP headquarters, sometimes expected, sometimes unannounced, and start dancing right next to employee cubicles.

Dancers would then teach employees the dance they had just seen, so that they might learn “the translation of verbal cue to action.” The dancing would then segue into a discussion about the creative process. These corporate engagements, the story reported, are responsible for about a third of the dance group’s $2.25 million annual operating budget.

Inspired yet? Neither were HP’s understandably irritable shareholders, who quickly started complaining in comments on the story:

“This is why I hate management. They ignore the REAL problems (among them, low employee morale because they haven’t had pay raises in YEARS), but have no problems dropping $20,000 for half a day of dancing whackos. Management is CLUELESS …” wrote one commenter.

“Dear employees. I regret to inform you that we will not be doing raises again this year and are still in a hiring freeze,” wrote another. “Sad to have to inform you that your health insurance did rise again by 8 percent and your workload has increased. On the other hand we do have some people that will be spending half a day dancing outside your cube for the low price of only $20K so be happy and think creative! Think outside the box then go back to your cube.”

Others railed against the apparent irony of HP — which last year announced a wide-ranging restructuring plan, including the elimination of some 29,000 jobs — being able to afford to employ a group of dancers, but not able to keep people working.

None of it sounded right to HP executives, who did some internal checking and found that it had never hired the dance troupe to do anything.

The extent of HP’s relationship with the dance troupe appears to be that it was invited to dance at the Boise campus on a day when local charitable groups — the Trey McIntyre Project is a not-for-profit organization — solicit contributions from employees.

HP complained to CNNMoney, which has since altered the story considerably. A headline that first read, “Why Hewlett-Packard is hiring dancers” now reads “Dance troupe markets creativity to cube-dwellers,” and is accompanied by a lengthy correction note. I asked CNNMoney tech editor Stacy Cowley for a comment, and she basically pointed me to the editor’s note that’s now topping the story.

It reads:

“An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the relationship between Hewlett-Packard and the Trey McIntyre Project. The dance troupe has performed at HP’s Boise office several times as part of a company event showcasing the area’s artistic organizations and charities, but HP has not hired or paid TMP for its creative services. The text of this article has been updated and corrected. CNNMoney regrets the error.”

I also reached out to Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, the writer of the piece, and haven’t yet heard back.

Here’s the full denial statement from HP spokesman Henry Gomez:

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to a CNN Money story entitled “Why Hewlett-Packard is hiring dancers.” Needless to say, I was intrigued and read on. According to the story, HP had hired a Boise-based dance troupe to provide creative services in an effort to help turn the company around.

The dancers danced (often unannounced) and our Boise employees somehow got new ideas to take to market. The dancing cost $20,000 per half-day. “Had we lost our minds?,” I thought to myself. No, we hadn’t, because as it turns out, the story wasn’t true.

After a number of conversations with individuals at HP and the Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), the nonprofit arts organization referenced in the piece, it became clear that the story was a fabrication.

Aside from inviting TMP to participate, along with other nonprofits, in HP’s annual charitable giving day in Boise the past two years, TMP has no relationship with HP. HP has never hired or paid TMP for their services. They don’t help us with our business and we don’t show them how to dance.

I reached out to the editor responsible for the story, who was very responsive. CNNMoney apologized for the error and issued a correction, which you can read here. While we’re grateful for CNNMoney’s quick response, we question how they allowed such sloppy journalism to see the light of day.

With corporate reputations at stake, CNNMoney has to do a better job.

So for all the employees, friends and journalists who have contacted me in the past two days questioning HP’s sanity, let me repeat, our turnaround does not include dancing, just the hard work of a lot of smart HP employees. The dancing will come later.


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