PR Fish Bowl

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TGIF: Clientspeak in the PR Agency World

At the start of a new client/agency relationship there is always a period of ramp-up or onboarding or whatever word you like. Most of this is on-the-fly learning about your client’s systems and processes and establishing good reporting schedules and communications. But one of the most important and often nuanced parts of the process is translating what some clients are really saying.

We find that “clientspeak” tends to fall into three main categories. See if your experience aligns with ours.

The Jargoneer

This client is so taken with marketing lingo that even the simplest conversations are replete with corporate buzzwords. And jargon never dies; expressions that were popular a while ago – “out of the box,” anyone? – have been replaced by some other trendy words that often merely bog down the process as everyone scrambles to one-up the other in usage. (My personal pet peeve is “low-hanging fruit.”)

The Secret Handshake

The client with the secret handshake is similar to the jargoneer since each sometime speaks in their own code. The Secret Handshaker, however, has an entire lexicon used solely by them (and their frustrated agency partners who need to adapt.) Often this is company-specific; for example, we used to work with a client whose core technologies had names like LCD, LED, and OLED; product divisions like MFP and SIICA, and corporate divisions known as SEC, CEG, SMCA, and ISG, so meetings would sometimes take place entirely in acronyms!

Mr./Ms. Malaprop

Some people are in love with certain words, however ill-considered their usage might be. In some cases creative terms are born. For example, a former client coined “youthanism” for “euphemism.” These folks cannot be faulted for being in love with the English language, but we can always anonymously gift them with “vocabology”, an app that helps build your vocabulary.

Whatever “clientspeak” examples you may encounter, here are a few rules of thumb to gain clarity.

  • Be an attentive listener. Let your client speak as much as he/she wants. You may find you understand more than you think.
  • Ask good questions. If you ask the first time an acronym is mentioned it will prevent future misunderstanding.
  • Take notes. Typing or writing often helps messages sink in.
  • Put it in a follow-up memo. This way you can confirm that you got it right!

Any examples of “clientspeak” you’d like to share – we’re all ears!

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