Our Blog ~ Pros and Cons

Pros and cons will discuss the good and bad in marketing, media and politics. It will also feature marketing tips and whatever else we’re in the mood for posting.

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July 15, 2014

“Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a ... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?”

From I, Robot

Who wouldn’t want to replace reporters with robots?  It’s understandable when you consider the advantages.

Robots are available when needed.  They don’t call in sick, don’t complain, don’t make annoying demands and they’ll even work on holidays.  Their work may be flawless, they always make deadlines and they’re 100% objective.  They don’t gossip, don’t waste time talking about sports and won’t try to unionize.  They don’t collect a paycheck and they don’t need health insurance.

Robots make great employees, because they’re not human.  So it’s not surprising that the Associated Press this month has begun using robots from Automated Insights to generate up to 4,400 quarterly earnings reports.

AP isn’t the first to use robowriters.  Forbes uses algorithms from Narrative Science to research and write brief stories about companies whose stocks are performing well, while The Los Angeles Times uses bots to publish stories about earthquakes and homicides.

June 30, 2014

At one time, employers had employees.  A Personnel Department managed hiring of employees, as well as employee benefits and policies.

Today Human Resource Departments are in charge of hiring "talent" or, in the more collectiveist organizations, "people."

No doubt some employees are very talented, but referring collectively to your employees as your “talent” is a stretch unless you manage a talent agency. 

Employees really don’t mind being called employees.  They no doubt prefer the term to "human resources."

June 27,2014

Isn’t all time real?  Yet in the business world, we frequently use the term “real time,” as though there were also “fake time” or maybe “unreal time.”

In today’s busy world, we want our news as it’s happening – in “real time.”  We want to chat online in real time and we’d like our brokers to track financial data in real time, so they can make sound investing decisions.  We want “real time” data and we may tweet to share information in real time.

But the concept of real time is a bit surreal.  If “real time” is the time when something actually happens, does it become “fake time” after it happens?

June 26, 2014

In the 17th century, “empower” was a legal term, meaning “to invest with authority.”

In the 1960s, when the civil rights movement and women’s movement hit their stride, “empowerment” became a fancy way of saying “power to the people.”  Sort of a way of saying, “We don’t want equality, we want power.”

Now that the college students of the ’60s are all grown up and, in many cases, are in positions of power, they are promising to “empower” their employees.

But today, “empowerment” has a new meaning.  Roughly translated, when employers “empower” employees, they are giving them more responsibility without more pay.

If you are an “empowered” employee and disagree, try any one of the following and let us know how empowered you really are:

  • ·         Tell your boss that the weather is too nice, so you are taking the week off.
  • ·         Give yourself a raise.
  • ·         Redecorate your office, charging all expenses to the company.
  • ·         Tell your boss, “You report to me now.”
  • ·         Better still, fire your boss.

“Empower” is a word that has lost its power.  Employees are still employees, no matter how “empowered” they’ve become.

June 25, 2014

It’s time to disengage from the word "engage."

This overused word is often used with "audience," because speakers want to "engage" their audience, even though they have no intention of marrying it.  

Marketing and sales professionals most often want to "drive engagement," but need to fill it with gas first.  Better still, the cliche-oriented business professional seeks to “drive meaningful engagement.”

What makes an engagement meaningful?  Is it an intangible bond between the engager and the engagee, or is it closing a sale?

June 24, 2014

Human resource professionals are among the greatest abusers of the English language.

The people who brought us right-sizing, downsizing and a dozen other ways to say, “You’re fired,” have now introduced the term “onboarding.”

Onboarding is how new employees acquire the knowledge and skills they need to become effective employees.  In other words, they’re “on board” and assimilated into the workplace.

“Onboarding” is off-putting.  This concoction is more painful than waterboarding.  Stop the torture!

June 23, 2014

The term "asset," of course, plays an important role in business, but the term is often used to describe property that doesn't belong on the balance sheet -- employees, for example, are often described as "human assets."

Used in a sentence, “When human assets are leveraged, employers can increase their human capital valuation.”  Assets are valuable possessions that you own, so don’t refer to your employees as “human assets” unless you practice slavery.

All of your assets should be inhuman.

Here's another example of how the word can be misused.  While helping out a non-profit, someone sent me a media list and referred to it as one of his “PR assets.”  I thought of the person who sent me the list as an asset, with the emphasis on the first syllable.

June 20, 2014

The word "unique" has a unique ability to annoy, perhaps because it is used so frequently and often inappropriately. 

How, for example, do those with “unique expertise,” gain such expertise?  It would have to be self-taught to be unique.  Luke Skywalker's expertise, as one example, was not unique, because he was taught by Yoda.

Even if something is “unique,” it doesn’t necessarily make it special.  Each snowflake is unique.  So what?  Explaining what makes something unique is much more iimportant and more nteresting than calling something unique.  

Of course, doing so would be a unique approach.

June 19, 2014

Today's tired word was initially used more in government than in the private sector, but it's been privatized.  Now companies across America are promising it, and shareholders and regulators are demanding it.

The word, of course, is "transparency."

As with environmental metaphors, "transparency" is more about talk than action.

Somehow “transparency” has come to mean making everything you do more visible and open, but when something is transparent, you can’t see it.  Keep that in mind when your representatives in Congress promise greater transparency and you’ll see right through them.

So what constitutes greater transparency?  Is any company really going to give away its trade secrets to competitors?  Should a private company open its books to the world?  

Meanwhile, in government, the mysteries of what happened in Benghazi have yet to be revealed, and the e-mails of Lois Lerner and six other IRS employees have gone missing, as the IRS attempts to cover its targeting of conservative groups.

"Transparency" is increasingly becoming opaque.  

June 18, 2014

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable.  Yet they’ve been polluting corporate language since at least 1993, when consultant James F. Moore won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

Since then, a whole industry has developed around the concept of “sustainable business.”  Sustainable business practices have helped businesses become more efficient, but too often businesses expend more effort on talking than they do on acting.

Remember Enron?  The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

At the least, “sustainable” business practices can be beneficial, although the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.