BAD LANGUAGE

Communications and marketing people are often accused of performing some of the most heinous crimes against language. Management consultants carry some of the blame too, but can be forgiven because they are cleverer than the rest of us. But communicators should know that complexity is the enemy of both clarity and understanding.

Reed Hastings, the chief executive of US-based DVD and online movie business Netflix, recently outlined a change of strategy for his business.  The change didn’t go down well with customers and they made their unhappiness known through social media.  Hastings had a rethink, and then came out and apologised personally for the manner in which the change was communicated.

In the aftermath of this episode, the Financial Times’ ‘Judgement Call’ column reviewed the case, and asked three professionals for their opinions on whether Hasting’s response was the right one, whether it is appropriate for a CEO to take personal responsibility for big strategic announcements, or whether they just need to be good announcements.

The academic thought no, that the CEO should remain above the fray; the businessman, Gerald Ratner as it happens, sat on the fence by saying yes and no; but the PR man gave his full support to Hastings’ actions.  I’ll spare his blushes by not naming him or his employer here. You can find out on FT.com if you’re interested, but he wrote:

“Change is always best communicated within an overarching narrative that connects the core decision to the future benefit of the customer and employee. And stay loyal to tone and voice of the brand. Netflix has forged a deep personal connection with its customers through the power of movies. The CEO recognises this and has taken personal responsibility to move the conversation on.

“Often, followers of technology brands over-focus on the CEO or founder. The CEO is a symbolic figure but not the only champion. Communicating the message through the leadership, sales force and customer service can be just as valuable. It gives the message scale and depth.”

Eh?  I understand each of the words.  It’s just the particular order in which they are written that has my brain in a spin.

Please. Do us all a favour. Stop it. Use English that everyone can understand, without the need to read the copy three times before we can make sense of why it is you want to say.

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