One of the most relevant features offered by the horrifying economic and political situation in Spain is the absolute precariousness of its job market and the impunity with which many employers treat their staff. And this is not indeed an exclusive guideline of the many large international corporations present in our country.
It seems though that in our justified rush to slag off those trash megastores called “Banco Santander”, “Repsol”, “Telefónica” or “Zara-Inditex”, we tend to overlook the undeniable contribution of many much smaller companies to such rewarding offenses as Social Security fraud or workforce mistreatment.
In this respect, it is quite a widespread view among experts in the Spanish job market that small family-run companies are usually the most perilous ones as regards the violation of the worker’s basic rights. There are too many examples, and I have my own, based upon my personal experience in a company of that profile, several years ago.
That company I am going to talk to you about still exists, and seems to have consolidated its business over the years (or at least that is what they mean to make believe to their website visitors…). This is part of their story (only suitable for adults):
RV Edipress was founded in Madrid ten years ago, as a Communication, Public Relations and Advertising agency specialized in the tourist sector (only sector we Spaniards seem to be productive at). Its founder and current Managing Director is called Fernando Valmaseda, who had been working as a journalist for several years in written media without ever learning how to write an article in Spanish (let alone articulating a word in another language).
Fernando Valmaseda hypnotizing the camera…
This can give you a hair-rising idea of how little is required in this country to hold serious aspirations of launching a PR agency. Because Fernando Valmaseda is indeed much more than a mediocre journalist: he is actually someone whose cultural and intellectual gaps are only comparable to his immense lack of ethics of all kind.
So more than ten years ago Fernando was still a misunderstood journalist, reputed for talking with his mouth full during meals, and unsuccessfully trying to gain some recognition within the tourism and motor fields he wrote about. One day there was a turning point though: During a trade show he met a woman who held a modest post in a modest marketing agency, as unsatisfied and frustrated as himself about her job (just like practically any Spanish employee). Her name was Ángela Rivas.
Soon a special relationship sprang up between them, a mixture of love and stimulating professional prospects. It didn’t take them too long to reach the conclusion that they had everything which seemed to be required to launch the company they dreamt with: a communication agency specialized in the tourist sector. They indeed had enough contacts within the trade press, as well as two or three potential clients to begin with (basically hotels).
On a personal level, their respective roles also appeared to be quite clearly defined with no need for profound discussion: Fernando was the indisputable leader, and Ángela his right-hand woman (submissive with him and ruthless with any internal opposition within the small business). So in accordance with these extremely basic guidelines, the company started to grow little by little: new clients and new employees arrived, and soon the company’s policies (both externally and internally) were precisely settled with no room for scientific or sophisticated improvement methods.
The media relations strategy by “RV Edipress” is extraordinarily simple:
They periodically send press releases to their journalistic contacts that most of them publish, most often literally. Those “journalists” are interested in publishing RV’s releases because it is a simple way to provide content (regardless of its infamous quality); because their magazines have some modest advertising agreements with RV; and because RV’s clients (which are hotels for the most part) organize occasional press trips to their facilities, in which the afore-mentioned journalists enjoy a free-of-charge stay of several days with different activities.
The advertising agreements I have just mentioned basically consist in offering to the media stays in the hotels in exchange for advertising spaces and the publication of the press releases.
On the other hand, regarding RV’s press releases writing style, it is important to note that its managing director has imposed an utterly propagandistic, coarse and cloying way of writing which makes them unmistakably ridiculous. So if you ever open a tourism magazine and find an article of this profile, then you are highly likely to have come across a literal transcription of their press releases.
The average client of “RV Edipress” would be a hotel managed by people whose knowledge of corporate identity and communication should be as limited as Fernando Valmaseda’s. Aspiring to gain any better clients would just be unrealistic, so simple is the service provided and fictitious the results obtained.
With this point of departure, the process of increasing the number of clients has been a question of insistence, use of contacts and labelling the company as “specialized in tourism”.
Human resources policy:
The key strategy to make this business as profitable as possible from the very beginning has been to offer the most precarious imaginable work conditions (even for a country like Spain) to their employees: young students without contract, absolutely ridiculous salaries, endless workdays (up to 60 hours per week without including trips), obligation of working in weekends without any compensation whatsoever, imposition of the most extravagant duties (loading heavy items in office removals, painting the walls…), mobbing the staff members who refuse to accept certain of those guidelines…
The features of the Spanish job market, in which it is completely impossible for most young people to have any slight aspiration of accessing a quality job -related to their studies- without previously going through a humiliating and abusive work experience (often called “training”)… those features, I say, perfectly fit with RV’s shameful staff policy. The company offers no service quality because its managers are not prepared to offer it, and its usual clients are not prepared to appreciate it. So all “RV Edipress” requires as staff is a little group of employees to be exploited for as long as they can stand. Once they are burnt out, they are replaced.
A good example I remember in this respect was a recruitment process that was being held for an account executive in the communication department. After interviewing one of the applicants, Fernando Valmaseda expounded the following extremely sincere conclusion: “It seems that her parents are maintaining her, so she could be perfect for us”. Terrifying statement, isn’t it?
Another good example (there are hundreds of them) of RV’s staff management is when Fernando, some few years ago, decided to fire a female-employee who had refused to accept some of the abusive conditions imposed by him. Despite being an obvious case of unfair dismissal, this employee didn’t receive any severance pay: one of Fernando Valmaseda’s specialities is not to give a toss about what law establishes. Unfortunately for him, he was denounced and in the conciliation act (which took place in a cafe) he had to accept paying. The surprise came when the employee’s lawyer compelled him to perform the payment in cash straight away. Fernando was so puzzled that his own lawyer had to assure him several times that he was obliged to do it. So in the end, he had to make a quick visit to the bank and return to the cafe with several thousands of Euros and the most stupid imaginable face.
There are, at any rate, some interesting conclusions which can be reached through the story of this crappy company: We have all assumed that successfully running a business of this kind is only possible by being a colossal son of a bitch, which is largely true as it necessarily implies having numerous contacts of a similar profile. So the public administration, in its presumably unbridled impetus to promote the creation of small enterprises, should start by thinking what kind of businesses the current model favours.
Although, thinking it over, we should start by analyzing what kind of people usually hold the most relevant positions in the public administration. All right then…
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