Meeja: November 2009 Archives

Insurance company Axa has commissioned some cod research to come up with the dazzling idea that we should rename the word 'pension'. The great thing about this is that only 20 per cent of the people surveyed were put off saving for a pension by the word 'pension'.

It's a bit unclear how they came to that conclusion in the first place as much of the source release is about word association. Axa says YouGov conducted the poll but, as ever, there are no clues as to whether the sample is larger than the locals hanging around a nearby Starbucks or what questions actually went into the survey. There are some shockers in there. Remarkably, 72 per cent of young people associated 'pension' with old age. Who says the education system is in crisis?

But a stunt's a stunt and emboldened by the size of an underwhelming minority of respondents, the company put up a survey to ask what term should replace the word 'pension' and, apparently, got 900 responses. The top ones were corkers like 'Age Wage', 'Future Fund' and 'Freedom Plan'. I hate to think what the losers were. 'Cackpile' perhaps? My favourite is 'Magic Beans' - clearly the idea of someone who's been sold a personal pension by the likes of Axa in the past 20-odd years.

I'm all for this word rebranding thing. We've got way too many ugly words. In fact, I suggest we rename all problematic words. Not only that, we must go further and work to stop them becoming terms of abuse, the demeaning last step for all euphemisms coined with good intentions. Let's face it, 'special needs' didn't do fare so well. So, my plan is to replace these problem words with the same one: pilkoj.

For most people 'pilkoj' has no meaning. It's a tabula rasa. Society can apply any meaning to it but can't corrupt it because it means all sorts of things. You can't shout "Pilkoj!" at someone in the street because they can't be offended at a word with no specific meaning.

Obviously, there will be teething problems and issues of comprehension: "How much pilkoj do I avoid by putting more money into my pilkoj?" But these are minor considerations compared with making language a happy fun place for everybody.

So, Axa, I say pilkoj to you.

Bums on seats

26 November 2009

From the journalist's perspective, it's amazing how often PRs have almost no focus on the target. Or rather, the target the average journalist thinks the PR has is not the target they are actually aiming at. The discrepancy usually surfaces when it comes to the sticky business of 'events', whether these are simple face-to-face meetings or full-on press conferences.

The scenario runs something like this:

PR rings or emails to find out if a journalist wants to meet an exec or go to an event hosted by the client. So far, so good. Let's assume that it's not to announce the opening of the Altrincham sales office (I've nothing against Altrincham but I'm sure the local paper has a greater interest in this) but something a bit more relevant.

The problem is, for whatever reason, the journalist is not available on that day. Here's where reality and assumption start to part company. Nine times out of ten (I made that statistic up, it's probably less than that, but it feels like it), the PR will say something along the lines of "oh well, never mind. I'll send the press pack."

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but the bit that surprises me is how rarely the PR says: "Is there another way of doing this?" More often than not, it's me checking whether another day can work by phone or other means. To be fair, some will say, "of course, no problem". These are what are known in the trade as The Good PRs.

However, a lot of the time it descends into farce. Usually, the PR will say they will check it out and...nothing will be heard until the next event. If you push the issue, no executive is available for a conversation except on that very day where, apparently, they will struggle to do an interview using a hotel's speakerphone rather than the perfectly serviceable, purpose-designed, electronic starfish at their own office. Excuses range from "the press packs won't be ready then" (so do it without) to "they're all away the week after".

The best ones are when I can't do the meeting because I'm at a conference elsewhere that I know for a fact will be attended by management from the PR's client. You'd think this one would be a no-brainer wouldn't you? Let's do the show right there. Um. No. That option is not available. It's all about the means rather than the end. The opposite happens quite often as well, although is a bit more understandable.

I don't want to write the story I'm given - I'd rather have something else more interesting and like to organise things that way. But it's always a bit of a surprise to find how rarely anyone in the whole promotion business seems bothered about The Message making it to publication. I can only assume it's because the means are getting measured not the end product.

So, I'm going through the list of talks and panel sessions at the IP-ESC conference trying to work out which ones are worth turning up to and which are best replaced with meetings. (If the acronyms IP and ESC mean nothing to you, you probably don't want to know any more about this event, so I won't explain it.)

Part of the process involves triaging sessions using just their title and abstract in those cases where you're not quite sure how good the speaker is. Actually, you can do it mostly by title because one thing I've found is speakers and the people who put their presentations together often try, and generally fail, to disguise their real intentions. Unfortunately, their real intentions often seem to be to deliver the most anodyne pabulum possible.

Here are some of the warning signs of talks that are guaranteed sleep inducers:

"Adventure" - It's obvious, really. You know you've a real yawner on your hands. So, what do you do? Spice it up with the word 'adventure' and maybe people will think you're Indiana Jones and will tattoo "Love you" on their eyelids. Or not, because you've actually tacked the word onto something suspiciously sedentary, such as "The 21-year SX101 flange-bracket adventure".

"X: what are the issues?" - This is one that tends to turn up in panel sessions. It's approximate shorthand for: "We don't know what this panel is about either, maybe you can help".

"Doing X with Y enables Z" - Generally, a sales pitch in disguise. Except the disguise has slipped a bit. Often, because the presenter is so upfront about it, there's a reasonable chance of finding some worthwhile content. Which is more than can be said for anything that involves the word...

"Evolution of..." - This one's deceptive. It looks interesting but is generally the conference equivalent of being sold double glazing. The speaker will generally airbrush history to make sure you agree that uPVC is indistinguishable from woo..er sorry, make sure you agree their product is The Future.

"Innovation..." - Let's face it. Experts around the world have tried to come up with a workable definition of 'innovation' that is better than "I'll know it when I see it". The word, unfortunately, is nothing more than a promise of forthcoming motherhood and apple pie. Don't ask what innovation is, only understand that it is good. And run don't walk from sessions entitled "Innovation through supply chain partnership" if you prize sanity or not being sent down for ten years for attempting to perform an appendectomy with the presenter's own Vaio.

Thinking about it, anything with 'leveraging', 'solution' or 'partnering' is generally one to be avoided. If you get more than one in the title, double your efforts to avoid it.