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Let's push the envelope to reach out and touch base

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I rarely, if ever, blog about television programmes I happen to like – largely because it would be a bit off-brief if I did. This is, after all, a blog that is specifically supposed to appeal to Creativepoolers, with features, advice or opinions on some element of the creative landscape.

But this week, I feel that it is indeed on brief to talk about the recent reshowing of BBC mockumentary W1A – and not because it features some knock-out comedy performances from a killer cast.

Set at the BBC's new Broadcasting House, and with much of the action taking place in meeting rooms called Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd and the names of many other leading lights of light entertainment, it's not just the obvious self-mockery that I find appealing. In many ways, the BBC could be any big corporation, because so much of it revolves around people spending an awful lot of time saying absolutely nothing. A bit like some of my blogs, some might say. But W1A takes that ball and runs with it. Oh, sorry...

Ian Fletcher, played by the imposing “who knew he could do comedy so well” figure of Hugh Bonneville, finds himself in a role created for him: he's the BBC's new Head of Values, having previously been Olympic Deliverance Chief. What either of those two titles actually mean is a mystery, but we're frequently assured by the Head of Strategic Governance that such-and-such an issue is more of a “Values thing” than a “Strategy thing”, simply because he wants to shoulder as little responsibility as possible while taking all the credit when things go right. Typical management attitude, I hear you cry.

Having worked as a freelance copywriter for many years, I've worked with tiny companies containing a handful of people to giant corporations that employ thousands upon thousands of people across umpteen companies worldwide. As one might expect, these large corporations are often quite a lot worse at falling into the hand-gnawing management-speak than the little guys.

However much a fan I may be of the BBC, they're no exception.

At W1A, nobody has meetings in meeting rooms. They might instead wait for people to “come into their orbit for an update” in their “creative clearing”. Yuk. And so it is when I have been to visit one or two clients. They want me to “reach out” to the Head of Marketing who might be able to give me a “heads up about where we see our USP going”. Hm.

I don't know who first thought up management-speak or how it still evolves, but new phrases seemingly appear as if by magic every year. But to me, they always sounds sort of retro – as if they came from the Eighties...which they may well have done. In a weird way, I almost slightly admire management-speak. It takes a certain amount of linguistic nous to be able to dream up phrases that sound so good and yet mean so little. As copywriters, though, this is the antithesis of what we aim to do. Clarity is key and ambiguity is our enemy.

NEWS JUST IN: Within the past few minutes, and while writing this very blog, I have received this auto-reply email from a company in California. I kid you not:

“If you do not receive a response back within 48 business hours, please feel free to reach out to me directly.”

48 BUSINESS hours? So hang on, let me work that out. Let's say that your average working day is 9am to 5pm, if you're lucky. Minus a one-hour lunch break, that's 7 hours. So are you suggesting I wait until this time next week, plus an hour, to get back to you? Oh, no, wait – sorry, I forgot to factor in the weekend. So that's another two days. Erm...right...so today's Monday and it's now roughly 3pm. So I should “reach out” to you (“directly”, not indirectly, of course) after 4pm next Wednesday, right? Is that what you meant? Or did you randomly insert the word “business” into “48 business hours” just to make yourself sound more businessy? Sheesh...

So, Creativepoolers, what's your favourite example of management-speak? 

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, editor and blogger

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