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Stupid Corporate Communications Watch: Say What?

By Ken Magill
Okay so I’m about to pick on data-services giant Acxiom. It’s big and successful enough I figure its executives can withstand a little ribbing.
But make no mistake. The type of crime against corporate communications they committed in a press release last week is rampant among marketing services providers.
Here is the crime in question:
“About Acxiom
Acxiom is an enterprise data, analytics and software-as-a-service Company that uniquely fuses trust, experience and scale to fuel data-driven results. For over 40 years, Acxiom has been an innovator in harnessing the most important sources and uses of data to strengthen connections between people, businesses and their partners. Utilizing a channel and media neutral approach, we leverage cutting-edge, data-oriented products and services to maximize customer value. Every week, Acxiom powers more than a trillion transactions that enable better living for people and better results for our clients.”
Translation: Acxiom offers data and data services that enable companies to reach prospects and customers more efficiently through all marketing channels.
Easy for me. I don’t have six executives above me with itchy editing fingers.
Acxiom’s descriptor is a product of too many executives having a crack at the copy before it went out. By the time they were done with it and all their edits incorporated, it went out literally saying nothing.
One problem with written corporate communications is too many people think they’re good at it when they’re not.
Also, corporate edits often reflect an individual or departmental agenda that dilutes the piece’s ability to communicate its intended message. Seven people, seven agendas all clashing in one piece of corporate gobbledygook.
A trade publisher I once worked for was about to shut down the print version of one of its magazines but planned to continue publishing the magazine’s content online.
Meetings were held and a press release written. Trouble was, the people in charge of approving the release were so concerned with putting a “positive spin”—yes, they said that—on the print magazine’s demise that it was impossible to figure out what was going on simply by reading the release.
It was so garbled that a group of people involved in the publication’s founding launched a funeral website dedicated to it.
A meeting was then held to figure out what to do about the misinformation. In a classic Magill CLM—career limiting maneuver—as my wife calls them, I said [paraphrasing, of course] to the boss in charge of the release: “You had a chance to get the information out there and you were too busy spinning to communicate. Shutting down a publication is no big deal. You just should have said what was happening.”
Executives who aren’t communications professionals are too often immersed in managing the message rather than communicating it, and it shows in their edits.
Some advice to combat agenda-driven corporate communications gobbledygook: No one with “operations” or “finance” in their titles should have ungoverned input beyond fact checking in the creation of corporate communications.
The ops and finance folks can suggest edits, but if the company’s top communications professional rejects the edits, the communications professional’s judgment should prevail. If the company’s top communications professional can’t be trusted to use that kind of power accurately and judiciously, the company should fire that communications professional and hire one who can be trusted with that kind of power.
Certain marketing folks should be restrained on a case-by-case basis, as well.
Legal is another story. There is nothing to be done about legalese in corporate communications. It is a necessary evil.
In any case, the transition from print to digital trade communications decimated many publications’ editorial staffs. As a result, there are a ton of seasoned editors out there with more than enough talent to manage a corporate communications program. There is no excuse for any medium- to large-sized company not to have one on staff, or at least on retainer.
Hire a communications pro. Trust the communications pro. Keep the ops and finance folks at bay. Implementing those steps will go a long way toward cleaning up corporate communications.
Lastly, have a relative or friend from outside the industry read the piece before it goes out. Moms are usually a good choice. If they can’t understand it, go back at it.

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