BOB KALSEY about writing


One of those annoying (and usually ignored) banner ads showed up this morning in my web browser while I was reading a news article about the latest threats to America's security.

"Need to align people and processes to meet enterprise goals?" it asked. Well, I thought, who doesn't? That's what business management is all about and I do it myself constantly as both a writer and a video director. Writers of corporate communications, after all, don't just type words and directors don't just say "action!" and "cut!" and "You're beautiful, baby." A big part of either job is process management: setting objectives, conducting research, negotiating one's way through a labyrinth of often-conflicting agendas of all the individuals and departments that "own" a piece of the project.

So I have to admit that the question asked in the ad means something to me personally--if I stop to think about it. Still I have some problems with this ad because, while it may mean something to just about everybody, it doesn't mean much of anything in particular to anybody. And it certainly doesn't hold a special appeal to any distinct segment of the web surfing audience.

You get that kind of non-effect when you use MBA-speak like "enterprise" and "align" and "processes" and when you try to generalize a message to include every possible audience. "Enterprise" used to be synonymous, in one sense, with "business," but it's been adopted as a code word to mean "any reasonably large organization that might buy what we have to sell." Thus we have "enterprise resource planning" products offered through the "enterprise line of business" division. "Enterprise" doesn't really add anything to "resource planning" except to make it sound more serious -- and maybe more expensive. And why don't companies just call their large customers "large customers" or, maybe, "major accounts?" Would that make smaller customers feel inferior?

MBA-speak also lacks energy, excitement and vitality. It's especially anemic when it's used in dialog. Imagine a radio commercial in which one actor says to another, "Jim, we need to align our people and processes to meet enterprise goals." As though people really talk that way. As though companies are just now discovering that it would be a good idea to get all their employees on the same page and give them the tools they need to get their jobs done. I've heard many a spot lately with that kind of dialog and I can't help wondering if the writers (and their clients) have ever actually experienced a conversation with another human being.

I don't mean to come down too hard on SAS Institute, the sponsors of the ad that inspired the above harangue. I'm sure SAS is a fine organization. They are, after all, the largest privately-held software company in the world and the biggest employer in Cary, North Carolina ("The Technology Town of North Carolina"). They sell something called "Enterprise Intelligence" -- software that is supposed to "turn raw data into usable knowledge." I'm sure it does just that, since 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use their stuff. I think, though, that their ad banners might be more effective if they said something about turning data into knowledge. Or something about the numbers of companies that use their products. Or something about ... something.

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