Opinions - Sharpe practice. Can we be creatives without sounding like idiots?


by Magnus Shaw


*If you've been following the BBC's peerless Olympic comedy "2012" you'll be more than familiar with Siobhan Sharpe and her empty-headed, rapid-fire marketing eyewash, delivered to perfection by the superb Jessica Hynes.

Anyone who has spent any time working in advertising or PR will have met many Siobhans on many occasions. In meetings, pitches and bars, Siobhans pop up all over the place.


Not unfriendly and rarely nasty, this industry stereotype is more guilty of toe-curling, vacuous nonsense than anything really harmful and yet her or his (there are plenty of male Siobhans) characteristics do have the tendency to give the business a bad name. Clients can and do complain of being blinded with marketing "science" and leaving strategy sessions more confused than enlightened. The jargon and mystery of social media and the internet have only added to the prevalence of gobbledegook and fluff. What's more, the Siobhans among us give those who mock and decry the creative industries an open goal for their satire and derision.

If you haven't met her, here's Siobhan:

But hold on. While we're all so good at spotting Ms. Sharpe and her kind, rolling our eyes and sighing as we're treated to another lecture on "cross-platform roll up", can we be completely confident we're not Siobhans ourselves?

Logic and sense are sorely lacking in Sharpe's pronouncements, but her topics are the things we talk about every day. And as we talk about them, the danger of drifting into complete b*llocks territory is very real. It's difficult. We know there's a fine line between intelligent discussion and hot air, we're wary of crossing it, and yet we can't always see it.

What is an acceptable turn of phrase? "Unique selling point", "Brand values" - they seem okay. "Boiling the ocean" and "Psyche gambits" - they sound ridiculous. How about "Killer app" or "Soft launch"? There's definitely a grey area where we may be expressing something important, but could just as easily be running our mouths off.

I think there are two aspects to consider if we're determined not to be "Siobhans". The first is meaning. I don't see anything wrong in using a smattering of industry jargon if it rapidly conveys a conceptual thought. But this comes with a hefty caveat. If jargon or waffle is a replacement for a strong idea or is deployed to mask a lack of knowledge it is redundant. It's also worth remembering that a concept which cannot be explained without recourse to industry buzzwords is likely to be flawed. If a campaign can only be sold by referencing "demographic ramping" or "social leverage", is it really destined for success? In short, I'd suggest we only use jargon when it is strictly necessary and ensure we can always deliver our messages without it.

The second consideration is company. The language we use when talking about creativity must be adaptable to suit the audience. Short-hand jargon can be valid between creatives and account managers. If the conversation has purpose and meaning, it doesn't matter if we occasionally revert to a few Sharpe-isms. It can even be acceptable between the agency and a client, as long as the client is familiar with the terminology and BS isn't replacing a genuine answer to the brief. However, as before, this should be approached with extreme caution. I would never use high-blown, complex language in a pitch. Most members of the panel will not have the faintest idea what is being said, and will undoubtedly see the speaker as pretentious and unattractive. Nobody ever lost a pitch because their offering was too easy to understand. Equally, it's advisable to swerve all that "love brand", "regressive psychology" hoo-ha in a job interview. If the interviewer expects all that, you probably don't want to work for them. If they detest this sort of talk, you most certainly won't be landing the job.

I once received an email from a creative director saying how much he'd enjoyed my "synergistic mind prompts". I still have no idea what he meant, but do recall it made me laugh and think of him as a bit of a twonk.

Siobhan Sharpe is a brilliant creation and one of the most acutely observed caricatures since David Brent. But it's important to contain her in the sitcom world and make sure Jessica Hynes' joke isn't on us.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.

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