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Monday, November 14, 2016

Tiresome Terms

Over the years, certain turns of phrase have crept in to the American business lexicon. Some are wildly overused; others can be code for something else. We have all heard them and perhaps we still use them even though they are annoying. Here are my pet peeves:

“Think Outside the Box”--why can’t we simply say, “think creatively” or “think differently”

“Give 110%”--total nonsense. You cannot never give more than 100%. Also, most psychologists and others involved in study of humans posit that most of us only use 25-30% of our brainpower.

“Hit the Ground Running”--a worn out cliche if there every was one. Why not say, “get started immediately.”

Synergy--this one perhaps irks me the most and will be the focal point of this brief post.

Back in the 1970’s, media people and advertising folks often talked about a synergistic effect in media plans. The chosen media types in a plan would produce a result where the sum of the individual components would be less than the actual effects on consumer awareness. Certain media types were said to work unusually well together and by receiving messages from different media and, in different ways, the total effect of the campaign was magnified in the eyes and ears of the consumer.

Okay, I can accept synergy in a media mix analysis. Over the last 15 years or so, synergy has been used in a different context--generally it surfaces with mergers or corporate buyouts. These days when I hear the word synergy it means that two companies are getting together. Should they have similar products, services, warehouse or delivery operations, it usually is code for many people losing their jobs.

I have a long standing acquaintance who has been “synergized” three times. He was at an ad agency for many years and was part of the team that departed after the buyout of his shop by a much larger firm. At the time, he told me he was going for a media job as he wanted something more stable. Since then, he has been let go twice due to one corporate buyout and the second a merger. He is getting bitter and was terrified when he heard of the AT&T/Time Warner proposed marriage. Well in to his fifties, he said the following-- “If I get whacked again, I will be virtually unemployable. No one is going to take a chance on me at my age and salary level. My CEO was asked at a staff meeting about the AT&T/Time Warner deal and he said that there were interesting synergies in the merger of the two giants. My young colleagues all nodded. I had to be stone faced.”

The truth is that most mergers end up costing money despite the much discussed “synergies” that will emerge. In the real world, financial and equity analysts usually evaluate a deal by looking at how big a reduction in force will occur and and how much can be saved as a result. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the better. Have you ever noticed when a company does a layoff of 5000-10,000 employees? Invariably, the stock price jumps the next day. That is what synergy is and does. In a free market society, it is inevitable. The victims tend to be those who believed the boss(es) when she spoke about the new, stronger company. Why is it impossible for leaders to speak in plain, American English?

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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