The language of professionalism is a cop out

The language of professionalism is a cop out

Im not sure how many times Ive heard people in businesses say Oh we couldnt say that, we need to sound professional, which sadly these days is code for boring jargon-laden language devoid of humanity.

The literary landscape of the corporate world is a pretty barren place indeed and that matters because while what I do finishes the story, the words I use get things started and set the tone.

Why is this on my mind this week?

As with most things I write about, it comes from the trenches. I was working with a client last week on a survey they wanted to send out to get some feedback, so response rate was pretty important.

The email to accompany the survey was as expected: distant, third person-laden corporate speak almost designed to do anything but get people to want to take part.

I suggested some alternative copy that included a bit of deliberately non-corporate language. Predictably this was met with “Copy was great but we replaced X because it didn’t sound professional.”

So what was the flagrantly offensive language I had sneakily tried to insert in the email? “Pleased as punch”. Yes, that’s right, apparently it’s unprofessional to indicate any level of pleasure one would justifiably feel from a good result.

Now while the response rate on the survey wasn’t bad (it was an internal survey after all), it was still behind the target. So one brave soul decided to try a last reminder message that used the phrase “pleased as punch” (gasp) and just to be totally wild and crazy was written in first person.

The result – a last minute rush on survey responses that bumped the total by a third in under eight hours. Now maybe it was a case of last minute responditis but I believe when we talk to people like people they respond. And everyone wins when that happens.

The idea that only a certain language is “professional” is a cop out and mostly gets used because people are either too lazy or too afraid to step outside accepted corporate speak.

But why not? lf you want people to pay attention; if you want to capture their hearts and minds (or even just their minds for that matter); a few well-placed phrases out of the ordinary can go a long way.

Now I’m not suggesting you need to go into urban dictionary land. It’s still got to be in sync with what you care about, but there’s plenty to explore between the poles of profane and professional. So crack open the thesaurus and go diving – a world of magnificent, entrancing, wondrous words awaits. You know you want to…

If you have some great examples of words that defy corporate convention, I’d love you to share them in the comments. You could say I’d be pleased as punch!

See you next week.


Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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