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Weasel Word Wednesday #26 – reach out

Photo: ~diP,

Reach out and touch somebody…

Unfortunately, every time I hear or read the words ‘reach out’ used at work, this song by Aussie rock band Noiseworks pops into my head. As I said, unfortunate.

Instead of asking me to call or contact Jim, people in my organisation are more likely to suggest that I should ‘reach out’ to Jim.

This is one of those phrases that I think reflects a familial culture in the workplace. In my organisation, people generally kiss rather than shake hands. There are other verbals signs. One of those is ‘share’. No one seems to send, email or post something to someone, they ‘share’ it with them. While I like the sentiment, it’s still a fluffy description of what is actually happening. And a teensy bit creepy.

Instead of ‘we have reached out to all our customers’ let’s use ‘we have called/written to/emailed’ or whatever it is that was actually done.

Related to this phrase, I often hear my PR peers in Australia and around the world use the term ‘media outreach’ which basically means calling, meeting or emailing journalists. I guess saying you have ‘implemented a media outreach program’ feels more important than saying you called a bunch of journalists.


Management consultants and other enemies

A friend who is visiting at the moment dabbled in management consulting this year. He didn’t last in the job. One of the reasons he resigned only six weeks in was his inability to create ‘beautiful PowerPoint slides’ with words that did not reflect what was being delivered to the client, but made them feel happy about investing in the project. In other words, a sell-job. I gathered from what he said that he didn’t understand the jargon his colleagues used and did not feel comfortable lying. He should be applauded for that.

This week BRW journalist Leo D’Angelo Fisher has written another excellent piece on bad business writing, and management consultants cop a serve (not just PR people this time). He agrees that most jargon junkies are “out to impress”. They think the convoluted and complex language they use shows they fit in with the team and are intelligent and competent. The column includes some great examples of memos that say nothing.

The trouble is it’s hard to find examples of good business writing. I’d love to read a few memos to staff about organisational changes that are well-written, honest and convey meaning. Finding bad ones is just too easy. My blog is full of them, for starters, and I’ve reviewed a couple of books dedicated to them. I am sure there are examples of clear and brilliant corporate writing out there. Any pointers?

Weasel Word Wednesday #25 – artisan and organic

A double-whammy today.

Normally the words I select for WWW as overused and grating are those found in the corporate world. However, I’ve been meaning to point out for some time how the word ‘organic’ is starting to lose its meaning thanks to overuse, especially by major supermarket chains. Then this morning I read a terrific article in the Huffington Post about the word ‘artisan’ along similar lines.

Living in Tasmania, the fresh and high quality local produce just blows me away. From bread, cheese and meat to olive oil and wine, we eat extremely well here thanks to the talent of local people. And most of the produce is artisan or organic or both.

Do I believe in the value of organic produce? Of course I do. I find the option of eating food that hasn’t been grown/fed with chemicals very appealing. The less of that stuff we ingest the better, surely. I don’t spray any chemicals on my own vegetable garden, figuring if the plant dies, there was a good reason. But I started to think things have gone too far when I read last month’s Organic Gardener magazine and found a substantial portion of it dedicated to why children should only wear organic cotton or linen clothes. The brightly coloured garments from K-Mart or Target contain all kinds of terrible chemicals that will slowly poison your child. I agree that life would be much better if we could all waft around in healthy organic cotton and hessian sacks and live a simple life. Unfortunately, that isn’t modern life or realistic or affordable for most people.

Actually, I do come across the word ‘organic’ in the corporate world and it is a little grating and overused. It’s used in the context of ‘organic growth’, or expanding your business due to increasing the number of customers, increased output or productivity, new sales, or any combination of the above, as opposed to mergers or acquisitions or adding new product lines. I am not sure that it is clearly understood, so it’s probably better explained in terms of how that growth will be achieved.

I’m off to enjoy a cup of organic green tea and harvest some of my organic purple garlic, catch you later.

Weasel Word Wednesday #22 – gifted

I have noticed more businesses using ‘to gift’ instead of ‘to give’, and worse, ‘gifted’ instead of ‘given’. It often relates to a donation or gimmicky corporate gift. Nothing in particular to say about this one except: it grates, please stop using it. Unless you are referring to someone with exceptional abilities, that is.

23 tech terms that should be banned

This morning I read a nice list of 23 words used in the technology industry that should be banned. Couldn’t agree more. Some of them have already featured on this little blog, such as ‘game changing’ and ‘synergy’. Some particularly awful ones that haven’t appeared yet include ‘monetize’, ‘form factor’, ‘prosumer’ (ugh) and ‘price point’ (isn’t that just the ‘price’ or ‘cost’?).

Instead of just complaining about words and usage that I don’t like, I must look harder for good examples of clear communication in information technology marketing. Now there’s a challenge. If you spot any, please let me know. It will surely help in the campaign for simple English explanations of technology and its benefits.

Weasel Word Wednesday #15 – rockstar

Years ago when I worked on Microsoft’s PR account, some of their software developers in Redmond were known as ‘rockstars’, which I thought was a little cringe-worthy. It meant that other developers thought they were pretty cool dudes, and when they got on stage to present some new whizz-bang piece of software there was a lot of whooping from the audience. Some even got standing ovations at Microsoft conferences. The company I work for has some technology analysts that some people refer to as ‘rockstars’ – they are the analysts who often present new, thought-provoking ideas and usually have lively presentation styles. But at least they don’t call themselves rockstars, at least within earshot! And no-one in Australia whoops. Maybe they do in the U.S.

Then today I read a little article about 13 Completely Ridiculous Tech Executive Titles and it gets worse – someone has called themselves ‘Chief Rockstar’! I’m sure many of these titles are tongue in cheek… no, actually I doubt it. I’ve heard some bad ones in Australia too, including a woman who used to work at Virgin Mobile with ‘PR Princess’ on her business card. Urgh.

Weasel Word Wednesday #7 – traction

Thanks to Stilgherrian for reminding me of this one in a post on Twitter this morning:

This year I shall spit upon everyone who says “gaining traction”, unless they’re talking about adhesive friction or orthopedics.

Couldn’t agree more. No, I don’t mind hearing about traction (or loss of it) when I’m out at a track day with the BMW Drivers Club, but I’d rather not hear about companies, products or people ‘gaining traction’ when all they usually mean is that someone listened to them or bought their stuff.