Thursday, March 15

Targeting Gibberish: David Meerman Scott

Most people would never know it, looking out over the vast expanse of desert, but Nevada's biodiversity ranks as the fourth highest in the United States, placed near Florida and Hawaii. There are many reasons for what some call an environmental paradox, but the simplest explanation is the combination of dramatic elevations and abundance of mini-ecosystems that were created when the ocean receded from the Great Basin.

Not dissimilar from business, each complete ecosystem provides a home for tiny pockets of unique animals and plant species that can survive nowhere else. Just as Devil's Hole pupfish adapted to living inside a limestone cavern, business people in every industry adapt to the language used by their company. Inside, it's a matter of survival to know the terms; outside, no one really gets it.

David Meerman Scott gets a hat tip today for sharing how an agency public relations professional, who obviously learned to survive in the "comprehensive electronic document management" industry, forgot that those survival skills might not translate into the real world. Scott didn't get what the company (Esker) does and I suspect that the pupfish, er, public relations professional, still doesn't understand why.

Scott goes on to ask that public relations professionals eliminate gobbledygook and try to speak like human beings. If your mother doesn't know what the company does, neither will the media that you are trying to pitch. He also defines that gobbledygook often resembles the meaningless terms he found in 388,000 news releases in 2006 alone; words like next generation, scalable, and mission critical.

I appreciate what he is talking about because there are many days I want to take down "Words. Concepts. Strategies." from our banner and put up "Translator." The only reason I don't is because some people will not appreciate the humor when I begin listing industries as opposed to foreign languages. You see, I believe that business communicators and writers are the ones who are supposed to translate all those inner ecosystem terms into words that everyday people can understand.

Usually, after I make this case, someone like Eric Eggerston will come along (he commented on Scott's blog) and say “Most administration managers or IT managers know what a document management system is, so I don't think the jargon will get in the way of communicating with their target market."

Hmmm... since when did the burden of communication become the responsibility of the listener and not the speaker?

The answer is never. As Scott points out, the media, analysts, employees, partners, and suppliers don't really want to learn a new language every time they turn around.

No, I don't mind learning new terms because I enjoy working in many different industries. However, when it comes time to communicate to a specific public (and all those other publics), I think it's best to drop the jargon and speak English. (I am not even going to touch on anacronyms, considering I recently spent 20 minutes discovering that "I-n-A," as pronounced, means "Information And Assistance," which is what you need when you first hear the term.)

One of the first examples I share with my "Writing for Public Relations" class is a very telling example: a writer working for us asked me my opinion about a sentence that started "The object of sequential inputs for counting..."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "That's what they told me. Does it sound good?"

Yeah, well, um, maybe … maybe it sounds good to the five people on the planet who actually know what you are talking about.

The sentence was promptly tossed out. It's a good trick. If an editor with little or no experience on an account can understand the communication when they read it, then you are on the right track. Sure, naysayers will always come back to the idea that everybody in their ecosystem understands what they are saying. Fair enough...

However, if you go out into the world wearing your "burro" suit, don't be offended if someone thinks you're just a ... um, burro.



Unknown on 3/16/07, 3:42 AM said...

Well said Rich.

Here is a fun example for your students. What company is this?

"Since its founding [Company X] has remained faithful in its commitment to producing unparalleled entertainment experiences based on its rich legacy of quality creative content and exceptional storytelling. Today, [Company X] is divided into four major business segments... each segment consists of integrated, well-connected businesses that operate in concert to maximize exposure and growth worldwide."

Answer - The Walt Disney Company

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like a missionary trying to convert one writer at a time. If we work together, maybe we can help to change the world! Keep the faith.

David Meerman Scott

Rich on 3/16/07, 1:43 PM said...


That is an exceptional example, thank you very much. I will certainly share it.

You're spot on: I do feel like a missionary when I'm teaching ... hopefully I'll have a few converts when the class ends next week.

You are one of several sources I'll be handing out so they can continue the lifelong pursuit of better communication and better writing.

All my best,



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