Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let's Ban Consultant Speak Forever

I hate the way consultants talk. I just read, OK scanned, a white paper by a social media policy/strategy/consulting expert and it was filled with basic marketing, models, charts and quite frankly a lot of crap. Consultant speak.

An old friend of mine who is now in marketing once described it as “They make it look so complicated and academic that the clients don’t know what they are saying, and often they don’t either. But the client is afraid to admit they don’t know what it means because then it makes them look foolish.”

And the cycle continues.

The PR business is filled with consultant speak. People think we wave a magic wand and make publicity happen – that we are like snake charmers. We’re not. If you don’t have a good story - we can’t sell it. If 10 other companies are doing the exact same thing that you are – we can’t sell it.

You need to do something that no one else is doing. You need to add something new to the conversation. If anyone tells you differently, they are just taking your money. Hope you don't mind wasting it.

What kind of phrases comprise consultant speak? Here’s an easy one brought to you from the home page of one of the world’s biggest and most successful PR agencies.

“The modern practice of public relations is about creating, managing and enhancing relationships between a business or an organization and its key stakeholders to drive successful business or organizational outcomes. With the overall erosion of trust in institutions combined with the convergence of technology and media, at no time in the history of our profession has the proactive management of stakeholder relationships been more critical.”

Thank you Edelman. Just reading it gave me a headache.

Translation – You pay us gobs of money and we’ll figure out how to spend it.

I have favorite consultant speak words too – here are a few.

Appropriate – I had a consulting firm client once who used this on everything. Why? Because it doesn’t say anything. It's a lawyer word. If it’s appropriate it fits whatever situation you’re in and whatever way you are using it.

Effective – PR people use this all the time. They use the phrase “Effective Communications.” What other kind is there? Bad? Sucky? Great? Because that’s over promising. Effective promises nothing except we won’t screw it up too much. Isn't Effective kind of like when it's pouring rain on your wedding day and everyone tells the bride it's good luck. What are you supposed to tell the bride - that her outdoor wedding is ruined and it's bad luck? That wouldn't be very effective.

Right-sizing – This one became part of business lingo in the 1980s and has stuck around. It puts a positive spin on the fact that you’re getting fired. We’re fixing something that’s broken. No you’re not. You over hired or screwed up and now you can’t afford to keep some of the people that trusted you to keep them.

Impressions - This is actually the term for a unit of measurement that PR firms use to make you think that a lot of people paid attention to what was written about you. There's some abstract formula from newspapers where you take the circulation and multiply it by three I think, to account for the fact that people pass it to other people, and then you got value for your money.

No you didn't. You got value if the person who read about you picked up the phone and called you and asked you more about your company, or went to your web site and bought something. Impressions in today's world are useless. But someone recently told me that their PR firm got 50 million impressions for them - so it's still being used and it's still nonsense.

Change – Obama won the presidency on this. He borrowed it from Bill Clinton who also won the presidency on this. What does it mean? We don’t like the way things are. Do it differently. But how? Oh we can’t tell you that – it would be too specific. So let’s just throw that word around and people will gravitate towards it and vote for it. Then we don’t deliver – well that’s a whole other blog post.

Why am I allowed to rail against all of this? Because it's my blog. Because I don’t use these words. I tell clients the truth even if it’s ugly. Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker. Maybe it’s because I started as a journalist and my bullshit detector is perpetually set on high.

So what’s the advice in all of this? We live in an age where people have the attention spans of insects. No one is reading any of this stuff. Say what you mean. Use short words that tell me something. Give me real information so I get it right away. That’s the difference between Effective and great PR.

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