Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fantastic Collaboration?! Maybe Giving Up the F-Word Would Have Been Easier Than Ditching the C-Word?

Ahh, C-words and F-words. What a lovely way to start a Thursday blog. But considering the disturbing news week with bombings, poisoned letters and a fertilizer plant explosion, perhaps it’s the perfect time to write a follow-up on these lovely gems of the English language.

In February of this year, ThinkInk launched an experiment: could we, as a company, strike (or reduce to a minimum) usage of the word ‘client’ from our copy –especially if its usage was meant to devalue, demean or unfairly generalize the men and women who literally pay our bills and salaries.

Like ex-smokers in the throes of nicotine withdrawal, cutting back on our C-word count proved anything but easy. And, as many ex-smokers do, often we traded one harmful choice for another. Rather than using phrases like “client needs,” or blaming an entire organization for some creativity failure, we instead went the other route, overly personalizing our frustrations and directing that anger toward individuals. In some instances, we adopted new C-words or “curmudgeonly” when speaking about clients.

Curious to learn more, I also reviewed my inbox, searching for C-word references. Let’s just say the results caused an F-word or two to slip out. In dispassionate computer speak, Microsoft Outlook kindly informed me, “Your search returned a large number of results. Narrow your search, or click here to view all results.”

Thank you, Outlook. Granted, some of my staff have titles that include the word “client,” which of course skewed the results. But even an email I sent earlier this week was peppered with our favorite C-word.

Clearly we could have done better.

Perhaps it was the flaws in our original parameters that led to our flawed results. After all, client isn’t a bad word. It’s just how we use it that can hurt. The same goes with personalizing attacks. While it’s OK to disagree and disagree vehemently with our CLIENTS, it’s not OK to treat them with fuses so short that any minor tangle causes an explosion.

Think about how much more slack we give our friends. Do we want to call them F-words and C-words at times? Absolutely. Yet we don’t, because we know there’s a friendship at stake; there’s surge capacity inside all parties to absorb shocks and arguments. So we shrug our shoulders and move on.

Clients aren’t our friends. They’re business partners, cultivated over mostly successful PR results. They wouldn’t be clients, otherwise. But their feelings can be hurt just like anyone else’s. The reality is, if I’m finding a client conversation difficult, it’s likely they’re finding the situation challenging as well. Neither of us is happy.

So before we reach for an arsenal of C-words, F-words, expletives and snarky nicknames, let’s tweak our experiment. “Client” is back in play at ThinkInk but client-bashing remains off limits. Take a deep breath. Count to a thousand, eat a sandwich and channel your peeves into passion – steadfastly solving problems and finding solutions – don’t whine about them.

That way, we can all celebrate another F-C combination: Fantastic Collaboration. Three cheers for that!!!

When it comes to successful PR, those are words we should all be proud to say.

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