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The Downfall of Being Too Comfortable With Industry References

What does it mean?In today’s society, slang words and phrases certainly prevail.

Perhaps the most recent examples are “pulling a Kanye” (to impetuously capitalize on a moment in the spotlight in order to express an unfounded political statement), or a “Town Hall Moment” (According to BuzzWhack.com, “Sen. Joe Wilson's tacky explanation for calling President Obama a liar during the president's address to Congress.  ‘I had a Town Hall Moment.’ The recent healthcare town halls were known for the disrespectful behavior of some healthcare reform opponents.”) BuzzWhack, in fact, is a site chock full of interesting buzzwords and phrases. One of my favorites is “jitterati” (what the digital generation becomes after sipping one too many cups of Starbucks).

Jargon in the Office

Such slang terms are not limited to pop culture and politics, however, but also prevalent in everyday office semantics. 

For example, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who works for an advertising agency. She was talking about her supe and the AMD this, and the MD that.  For all I knew, she was talking about Advanced Micro Devices and her Medical Doctor.

For those not working at her company, this would be quite meaningless. Just for clarification purposes, “supe” referred to supervisor, “AMD” was Associate Media Director, and “MD” was simply Media Director. 

“We also use jargon all the time in terms of media math,” she explained to me. “Instead of thousands, we speak in MM and M.” In their digital department, she further explained that there is a whole dictionary of words that you won't know unless you are working in that specific division of the company. “If you’re not in the field you probably won't hear the words,” she stated.

This is where she’s wrong, however. At Walker Sands, we work with a variety of industries and don’t necessarily have direct contact with some of these slang terms or acronyms on a daily basis. Just as our clients oftentimes need to clarify certain terms for us, we likewise have to do the same with journalists. 

Jargon in the Media

While in some cases buzzwords can certainly make your company stand apart and separate you as a thought leader for defining a new term, in most cases you want to get your point across clearly and in a matter-of-fact manner. 

When in communication with reporters, we have to be careful about making sure that we clearly dictate what each words mean. In plain terms, it means no jargon.

As a case-in-point, a few months ago we started pitching the media about the rise of “seller financing.” While we were versed in the aspects of seller financing and why it was becoming a trending topic in the marketplace, we found that it meant little to reporters. In looking at our approach, this response from a very prominent TV news anchor summed it up:

“Give me a brief description of how seller financing works.  Help me get my head around it.”

While we thought it was fairly straightforward, someone not familiar with the process of selling a business might not know what this means. Sometimes even standard industry terms need an explanation.

You cannot make assumptions that a reporter is going to know what you’re referencing, as while some may be well-versed in a certain industry, most often than not they are covering a beat that is relatively new to them (see my previous post that talks about how not all reporters are created equal).

The same no-jargon guidelines also apply for any media interview. You’ll want to avoid the use of jargon to ensure you’re not confusing the reporter by throwing out too many acronyms, prompting them to draw inaccurate conclusions, or forcing them to constantly ask you to explain certain points.

In fact, Advertising Age, an industry trade publication for marketing and media companies, have certain contributed article guidelines in place to defeat the issue of industry lingo that may confuse some readers:

Jargon should be avoided at all costs. Here’s an example of a sentence that shouldn’t have been allowed into print:

“This was a multibrand and multiplatform negotiation to drive a portfolio of game properties, and we initiated it to secure seamless integration in the right environments and to leverage their budgets for maximum impact.”

What does that quote mean to you? That’s what I thought.

So the next time you’re heading up an editorial article, writing an opinion piece, posting on your blog, or even simply submitting a letter to the editor of your local paper, be forewarned that you may get some questions surrounding your use of jargon. Unless you have a very niche audience that works in your specific industry, it’s best to just avoid jargon altogether.  It will allow you to communicate more effectively.