Why I’m penciling in March 21

I do a lot of content development. Mostly, this is for documents that are written and designed to be read online. But increasingly, it’s for web content.

When I first started out in corporate communications, I also did a lot of content development. But that was mostly for print and mostly directed to print and broadcast editors.

I won’t go on about how much things have changed in the world of communications. I’m really glad they have and I’m excited to be part of an industry that’s in such constant flux.

For all the good, however, I’ve also noticed an alarming trend: The number of words in the average corporate vocabulary seems to be shrinking. Same with the type of words. I learned early on in my career that some words were just too colourful for a corporate press release and that even dull words were preferable to images and metaphors. (The BBC did a wonderful send-up on this recently.)

But increasingly, I’m finding that clients seem more inclined to err on the side of bland and repetitive rather than accepting new ways to express a thought. Not jargon exactly but predictable nonetheless.

I look at it this way: Does a shrinking vocabulary limit the way we talk about brands? Does it censor new ideas or reduce a strategy to same-old? Does it change the way we brainstorm new ideas or develop a creative brief? I think it does.

In the struggle to meet plain language criteria and dodge the risk-mitigation hurdles of in-house counsel, I’m afraid that if we continue down this path, we’re doomed to cycle-recycle-repeat, with the occasional new word thrown in for effect.

But I do see signs of hope. In reaction to the new U.S. President’s unique choice of words and worldview, people are talking again. They’re speaking up. They’re agitating. They’re using interesting images (and wearing cool pink hats). Is it just me, or is heartfelt language making a comeback? In a weird way, could this be the best news ever for corporate communicators, speechwriters and content developers everywhere?

March 21st is WORLD POETRY DAY, and this year it can’t come soon enough. According to UNESCO, one of the main objectives of World Poetry Day is to “offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.”

I’m quite sure the Day wasn’t established in order to help broaden the way English speakers use their language in a business context. Probably not even close. But for that one day, I’d find it so rewarding if just one outlier word made it through the client approvals process. Just one. I’m circling the date now.


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