Corporate writing: The Toddler Syndrome

I would describe the trouble with much corporate writing as the Toddler Syndrome: It’s all about me, me, me. The audience (and clarity) is irrelevant.

Best Buy offers a perfect example in this press release: 

Best Buy Realigns Leadership Team to Accelerate Future Growth 

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 26, 2007 – Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE: BBY) today announced changes in its leadership team intended to strengthen the company’s ability to draw insights from employees, customers and partners in order to provide excellent customer experiences and solutions; provide clear accountability for each element of the enterprise’s growth strategy; and place leaders with strong points of view on how to generate growth in roles where they can bring those ideas to life.  Unless otherwise noted, all changes are now in effect. 

Seventy words in that first sentence, and what does it really say?

You’d have to slowly and carefully reread this to be able to share it with someone else. If their writing is this obfuscatory, how much faith can we have in their promise of “clear accountability”?

Comment #1:

I always wonder how things like this get written. Because it’s not quite the same thing bad writing—it’s a very specific *kind* of writing, which, although terrible, is executed perfectly.

Is there an English-to-jargon translator on staff? Do people actually *write* this way? Do they use phrases like “growth strategy” in their ordinary lives? Are there classes in business schools to teach MBAs how to be more obtuse? I don’t get it.

My response:

It might be MBA class. From a Wall Street Journal report: “Of all the complaints recruiters register about M.B.A. students in the Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey, inferior communication skills top the list.” As a PowerPoint hater, here’s my favorite quote: “Students seem to think a better grade is assigned based on the number of (PowerPoint) slides in a presentation,” says one recruiter.

Comment #2:

I think it stems from an HR perspective where you can’t really point fingers, tell it straight forward, or lay blame without risking litigation nowadays. This paragraph feels like a very small committee “finessed” an announcement by stripping out all the personality and sprinkled in a bit of double-speak with a dash of PR BS until it was so vanilla and vague that it was sure to numb anyone who stumbled on it – and most importantly, didn’t make anyone on the leadership team it mentioned feel bad.

They could have done themselves a favor and just followed the headline with: Effective immediately. Please keep buying our stuff. Thank you.

(Originally posted in 2007)


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