Industry jargon is all about power and exclusion – surely it’s time to cut out the BS?

Gem Fletcher urges us all to dispense with the acronyms and buzz words, and have more open, honest, direct conversations about creative work, for the benefit of everyone.

9 June 2022

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When I left agency life to go freelance in 2016, the thing that caught me off guard wasn’t the inevitable feast or famine reality. Or how much of my precious time I’d have to waste chasing overdue invoices. It was the disarming reality that I’d been talking in corporate agency jargon for almost a decade. You know what I mean – that seemingly endless coded speech that seeks to dress up creative work, to make it sound more complicated. As if bullshit=value. Over time, I’ve realised this language isn’t just about corporate greed to justify a few additional zeros on the invoice. It’s about power and exclusion; a way to isolate folk. To draw a line between them and us. You and me.

Suppose we put the relevancy debate to one side for a minute. For junior creatives entering the workforce, it can be a terrifying experience sitting in your first client meeting and realising you don’t just have all the standard pressures of starting out and holding onto your job, you also have to learn a new language. A language that no one will teach you and that is constantly changing. You’re expected to pick it up overnight via osmosis. No questions asked. And nothing you say will have resonance until you codify it! It’s hard enough starting out in this industry, why do we insist on throwing the next generation into a black hole of unknowing?

It took me a couple of months of freelance life to detox the jargon, and it was liberating to speak plainly about ideas and creative strategies. The work felt more powerful and, more importantly, more human without it. So, why does the industry persist? We all know making great work isn’t about the number of acronyms you can reel off in a pitch meeting. It constantly surprises me how folk are determined to cling to this language like a life raft, even during the life-altering reality of living through a pandemic. In truth, in this unstable era, having human conversations are more urgent than ever. After all, isn’t the essence of creative work about problem-solving? So surely having a more open, honest and direct chat will benefit everyone. Especially the work.

“There is this awkward/freeing ease about just saying from the off, let’s not bullshit each other. It pops the bubble.”

Lydia Pang, Morning

One agency that champions a no-bullshit approach is Morning. Co-founded by Lydia Pang and Sam Jackson, Morning describes itself as “punk positive – leading with good trouble, unafraid to be brutally honest and have tough conversations”. Before Morning, Lydia and Sam worked for some of the world’s biggest brands and agencies and they too spent a decade navigating the trials and tribulations of agency speak. “I've certainly dressed in agency garb over the years. It was kinda survival,” Lydia tells me. “I didn't know who I was, so I was trying on some different suits to see. But through that, I found my own way of speaking, my own processes and ambitions for what our industry could be, and I’m super grateful for all my experiences. I believe Morning represents the future of collaboration and partnership, no bullshit and heart-led.”

For Morning, it’s not just about abandoning the tired tropes of corporate language. It’s about the transformational energy of direct conversations. But, as Sam explains, cultivating the strength to draw a line and imagine client relationships anew didn’t happen overnight. “It has taken us a number of years to build up the confidence and agency to lead with this no BS proposition. However, we have seen immense benefits in leading with honesty and this more human approach. I also think there is a craving for an ego-less partnership between brands and their collaborators. When we leave the acronyms and ego at the door, we can create better, more meaningful work.”

For Lydia, it all comes down to liberating the creative process to serve the bigger mission: to birth meaningful work for good. “There is this awkward/freeing ease about just saying from the off, let’s not bullshit each other. It pops the bubble. We’re all humans in these zombie zooms. Let’s grow as creatives. Let’s make only relevant work that we all wanna get out of bed for. Let’s hold ourselves accountable for making exceptional work that benefits the world. You can’t make work of this nature without candour and trust. We promise you’ll thank us for it later.”

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About the Author

Gem Fletcher

Gem Fletcher is the photo director of Riposte, host of The Messy Truth podcast, and writer for publications such as The Guardian, Elephant, British Journal of Photography and AnOther.

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