corporate communications

From Bio Breaks to Sugar Boogers: The Definitive List of Corporate Cliches

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A friend of mine works in the legal department of a Fortune 25 company where, apparently, they communicate entirely in bullspeak. Here, alphabetized for your convenience, is the best list I have ever seen of corporate metaphors, catchphrases and cliches you would be embarrassed to utter outside a teak-paneled boardroom. Bonus points to anyone who can use three or more of these in a single sentence:

A head shaker
A lot of people are in new chairs
A lot of tentacles
Act like you’ve been there before
Add things to the bag / give a bigger bag
Adding value
Air cover
Air time
Albatross around our neck
An “N” of one
Ankle biters
Another bite at the apple
Apple orange banana
Are we playing baseball or cricket
Are you on suicide watch? You don’t have any shoelaces.
At the end of the day
Back of the envelope/napkin
Bake-off
Ball of wax
Bandwidth / capacity
Bastardize what I was told
Beat that up
Beauty contest
Belly buttons and door knobs
Best horse to ride
Bio break
Blow smoke up your dress/ass
Boil the ocean
Boiler plate
Booger in the sugar
Boogeyman in the closet
Boondoggle
Bubble gum and duct tape
Bullish
Buttoned up
Cake in the face
Call a spade a spade
Calling his baby ugly
Can’t put the horse back in the barn
Carrying the water
Caught with our pants down
Causing heartburn
Caveman math
Caveman view
Cheap-seat perspective
Circle back/up
Circling the drain
Closer shave
Controlling the thermometer
Corral the cats
Cowboys
Critical path
Cross to bear
Crossing the goal line
Cube rats
Daisy chain
Damn the torpedoes
Dead cat bounce
Dipping your pen in the company ink
Directionally correct
Do the brain damage
Do you guys work for [Head of Corporate Foundation]? Because all you do is give money away
Do you hear that sucking sound?
Dog and pony show
Don’t paint ourselves into a corner when we don’t yet know what the room looks like
Don’t shit where you eat
Don’t spend too many calories
Don’t spike the ball
Don’t take your foot off the gas
Double hatting/wearing multiple hats
Dressing the pig
Drinking the Kool-aid
Dry powder
Dumpster fire
Eat what you kill
Elvis has left the building
Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while
Everyone’s had all their itches scratched
Finding the right dance partner
Fire drill
Fireside chat
Flag that for you
Fly wheel
Fog a mirror
From a macro perspective
Get a piece of the action
Get our arms around this
Get some more color around this
Getting legs
Getting to the altar is one thing but saying your vows is another
Give away the farm
Give someone the Heisman
Glide path
Go pound sand
Good enough for government work
Good guy vs. bad guy
Good hustle
Got out over their skis
Got undressed
Great white whale category
Ham and eggs
Hands are going to come out
He won’t get out of bed for that
Hearts and minds
Herding cats
Hiccup
Hockey stick
Holding pattern
How big is a breadbox/bread train
How big is the nut we have to crack
How does he mesh with the brass?
Hub-capping
I didn’t catch the license plate of the bus you just threw me under
I don’t think they’re going to let us do a proctology exam on all of their customers
I don’t want there to be any space between the lip and the cup
I just want to milk the cow, not own it.
If my grandmother had balls, she’d be my grandfather
If the queen had balls, she’d be king
If they’re showing up to the party armed, we should too
If you’re gonna buy a sinking ship, you better be good at plugging holes
In his shop
In my back pocket
In the windshield, not the rearview mirror
In this volley
Invited to the party
I’ve got an appointment with the rest of my life
Jump on a call
Just masturbate me for a minute
Katie bar the door
Keep my neck out of the noose
Kick the can down the road
Kill the goose that lays the golden egg
Land grab
Lay the sewers and power lines
Lead with your chin
Left pocket/right pocket
Leg of the stool
Let’s punt this one
Lift and shift
Lipstick on the pig
Lock arms
Long in the teeth
Long run for a short slide
Longest poles in the tent
Lots of moving parts
Make hay while the sun shines
Melting ice cube
Mental masturbation
Missionary work
Monday morning quarterbacking
Moral high ground
More ants at the picnic
Move the ball
Move the needle
Mowing a lawn in Iraq
My fellow American, I feel your pain
My name is above yours on the org chart
My voice fluctuates depending on my level of interest in what you’re saying.
Nasty gram
No brackets
No sacred cows
Not a heavy lift
Not a stray cat
Not married to that approach
Not willing to expend the political capital
Open the kimono
Opine on that
Opportunistic opportunity
Over a barrel
Pass the baton
Peanut butter spreading
Pick a scab
Pick your horse
Pie in the sky
Pile of shit to shovel, hope no one turns on the fan
Poke holes in this
Poke them in the eye
Pole vaulting mouse turds
Polish the turd
Pollyanna-ish
Pounding the table
Pressure test
Put something out there
Putting out fires
Raked over the coals
Razor/razor blade
Reallyyyyy now fleabag?
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic
Reduce windshield time
Riding shotgun
Riding the horses as hard and as long as you can
Rubber stamp this
Saber rattling
Sausage-making
Say grace over this
See what sticks
Sell this up the food chain
Separate the ant shit from the pepper
Sharpen our pencils
Shit the bed
Showing a little leg
Singing from the same hymnal
Sniff test
Socialize this
Somewhere between the mafia and black water mercenaries
Spitting bubbles
Squeeze the stone
Stalking horse
Stick a fork in it
String of pearls
Sucking wind
SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess)
Swim lane
Table stakes
Take a first pass
Take a quick dive
Take a step back
Take this offline
Taken to the woodshed
Talking the same language
Tell someone who cares.
That ain’t my circus and those aren’t my monkeys
That could be a real turd in the punch bowl
That dog will/won’t hunt
That has (no) legs
The harvest is ripe, the workers are few
The juice isn’t worth the squeeze
The laboring oar
The nice carpet people
The shit runs downhill
The shit that doesn’t flush
Things on fire
Throw cold water on it
Throw up on it
Treading water
Trench warfare
Trigger pulls
Two elephants dancing
Two trick pony
Value grab
Value-add
Vomit on it
Walk around money
War room
Wave the white flag
We have them by the short hairs / by the short and curlies
We want to be Switzerland
We’re down to the short strokes
We’re getting out of the blocks with a running start
Wet behind the ears
Wet my beak
Wheel house
Where the bodies are buried
Whipped cream on shit
Whose neck gets choked
Whose ox is getting gored?
Wind down
Window dressing
Wizard of Oz approach
Working off the same song sheet
Wrapped around the axle

On Choosing Your Battles

Are you charging in the wrong direction?

Are you charging in the wrong direction?

Marketers, here’s a hard fact: You will never have enough resources to promote every new product, program or hire with the vigor its advocates think it deserves.  Instead, learn to choose your battles. Here are three I would avoid:

The Battle of New Orleans.  Remember the last skirmish in the War of 1812 — the one that was fought after the war was won? Don’t engage in the marketing equivalent. I once worked for a university that started life as a teacher training program. We were tasked with “debunking the teachers college stereotype” to a generation that had never heard the words normal school.

Pickett’s Charge.  Robert E. Lee’s classic case of hubris during the Battle of Gettysburg sent the Confederate Army — fresh off victories in Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg — stampeding into disaster.  Since then, overconfidence has sunk many a marketing initiative, from Zune to Crystal Pepsi.

The Battle of Zama.  The Romans turned Hannibal’s secret weapon — his elephants — against him in this humiliating defeat. Kind of like the Internet turned the #AskJPMorgan Twitter campaign into a bloodstained rout.

Like most disasters, these could have been avoided through a combination of research, planning, and a good long look in the mirror. Make sure your clients do all three.

My shoes think my bag is hot

Writer/editor John Rambow grouses:

Here’s my pet peeve–the misuse of compliment vs. complement. In most cases it’s “compliment” that gets (mis)used–hats are forced to compliment the rest of your clothes, fries compliment burgers, etc.

Even New York magazine drops the ball on this one. The writer could, I suppose, argue that this non-alcoholic cider is a “gesture of affection” toward the hard stuff but either way it’s BAD.

As John notes, a compliment (with an i) is a gesture of affection. A complement enhances something or, to use the dictionary definition, “brings it to perfection.”

Which means that the free mimosa complements your meal (or your morning). Bags complement shoes. I compliment your beauty because, of course, it complements my wit and skill.

What’s your pet peeve?

Who cares?

That’s the first thing you need to ask yourself when starting  a new business document. If the answer is, “I do,” stop writing and think again–because that’s not good enough.

I am amazed at the number of emails, brochures, articles and web pages that address the writer’s needs rather than the reader’s. Here are three samples (names changed) from the past week:

“Just wanted to give you a heads up that celebrated infant safety author Paul Blatt will be available for interviews next Tuesday.”

“I’m pleased to announce the opening of our new state-of-the-art facility in Paramus, New Jersey.”

And my favorite: “Great news! We’re changing our name!”

My response to each of these statements was, “Who gives a f***?” followed by a tap of the delete key or slow pitch to the trash can. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the senders had in mind. Next time, maybe they’ll tell me why I should care.

Bad business

Yesterday afternoon, I called a technology vendor for a price quote. I am a serious prospect: that is to say, I work for an organization that plans to purchase this product, I am the person tasked with choosing the vendor, and I don’t sound like a serial killer on the phone.

I left a polite message, and quickly received an email from the sales manager saying: “Got your message. Am in the car. Will call shortly.”

No call.

Before leaving the office, I emailed back and asked if we could set a time to talk. I received this missive today:

“Sorry I didn’t call yesterday. I went home sick. This morning I am working from home, but it’s only 5:50 a.m. here in California so I will call you in a few hours. I don’t want to wake my daughter, who hasn’t been feeling well either.”

This made me feel a) guilty for making her return an email so early in the day; b) guilty for somehow almost waking her daughter (I guess they live in a single room?); c) guilty for interrupting her crisis to find out about her employer’s product; most of all, d) annoyed at having been pulled into the personal life of a woman I don’t know.

It’s been about six hours, and guess what? No call. it’s fine, though, because it would be a cold day in hell before I bought anything from this person.

The moral of the story? Getting personal is bad for business.

I say abrasive, you say concise

According to my wholly unofficial poll, emails are more likely to be misinterpreted than any other form of business communication. The writer dashes off a friendly note, but the reader perceives an abrupt tone. You soften the message with a smiley face, and I think “What a flake.”

Here are some guidelines for friendly but professional emails:

  • Say hello, but don’t get chatty. Pretend it’s a business call. You would greet me,  but you wouldn’t ask if I was enjoying the spring weather.
  • Don’t start with a name. When I see “Deborah:”, I assume I’m going to be lectured or instructed.
  • Break out the positive language. Don’t go over the top–I recently got a direct mail piece that said, “We were unbelievably excited to see you at the conference!” But let me know you care.
  • Don’t free-associate. Repetition and long sentences might sound endearing on the phone, but they look disorganized on the page.
  • It’s okay to be a little informal. Avoid stilted language and phrases like “As per our conversation, the attached….”
  • Don’t get personal. Ever. Imagine your email on the gigantic screen in Times Square, and make sure it won’t embarrass you if the whole world reads it.

Editor etiquette

When you critique other people’s work, it’s hard not to compare what you’re reading to what you would have done. “He should have started with a quote,” you think, shaking your head. Or “Oh God, not the passive voice!”

This attitude will not make you popular with your colleagues. More to the point, it doesn’t serve the project.

If the writer is guilty of poor grammar or word choice, awkward phrasing or other laziness, you need to call him on it. But before you do, think about what’s really bothering you. Is it the way he writes? Or the fact that he doesn’t write like you?

When the writer does make a mistake, your criticism should be constructive. Scrawling “AWK” all over the piece won’t help. Neither will rewriting it–he’ll be insulted and you’ll be angry that you had to spend so much time on someone else’s work. Try to offer concrete suggestions (“rephrase as an active statement,” “eliminate repetition”) and vent your frustration somewhere other than on the page.