Acronym Bingo, anyone?

Few would disagree that communicating with your target audience in a clear and engaging manner is one of the touchstones of good public relations. In the first of her guest blogs, award winning freelance journalist Sal McKeown discusses one of the barriers to this and a personal bugbear – the increasing use of confusing acronyms.

Acronyms are Annoying

A couple of months ago I sat in the audience at a conference on raising literacy standards. The gentlemen in the row in front were a little restive and as the speaker worked through his PowerPoint slides they were sniggering, shuffling and passing round bits of paper. In fact they were behaving like typical Boys at the Back of the Classroom. As I peered over their shoulder I spotted that they were engaged in Acronym Bingo (AB for short). For those of you who are not initiated, this consists of drawing a 4 x 3 grid and putting in the 12 acronyms most likely to occur in a speech. It works well for politician’s speeches and is a great favourite in the run up to elections.

Sharing Shorthand

We all use acronyms. My world – the special needs educational sector – is especially prone to them. After all MS is much easier to say and write than multiple sclerosis and who would choose to say Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis when they could refer to it as ME? The trouble is that not everyone shares our shorthand. When I talk about CP I mean cerebral palsy not child protection and SLT refers to a Speech and Language Therapist rather than the Senior Leadership Team.

Acronyms are a tribal badge. We use the jargon to show we are in the loop and part of a club. However, if the only people who understand the jargon are other people in your industry, you are not going to appeal to a wider audience and attract new followers.

Worldwide Understanding

With the rise of global markets we are no longer talking just to a UK audience and overseas visitors may well be bemused by the terminology we use. Most of us interpret CPD as Continuing Professional Development but to overseas visitors that could mean anything from working towards an MBA (to use another acronym) to booking an hour with an image consultant.

But what if we stopped talking about Continuing Professional Development or CPD and instead defined it as an ongoing programme of training to improve staff skills and make companies more effective?  Then people all over the world would understand us.

In marketing and advertising, the best content speaks directly to the audience.  Now our readers and listeners are coming from much more diverse backgrounds and we will miss out on so many opportunities if they don’t get the message.

Those besuited Boys at the Back at the conference may have had a good time on the day but long term there are no winners in Acronym Bingo.

About Sal:

I am a freelance journalist specialising in features for the national press about technology and disabilities. As part of my work I talk to companies and charities of all sizes and am intrigued by the strategies they use to build their profile and increase their market share.  Some have a very adventurous approach which uses very little finance but a lot of originality.  I hope to share some of their ideas through occasional blog posts.

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  • About the Author

    After more than 10 years working in PR and media planning, providing clients with great PR and delivering tangible results still brings a smile to my face! Before joining CLPR, I worked across a variety of sectors including lifestyle and finance, and my wider experience in marketing means I understand just how PR fits into the mix. Outside of work, I play with my children, read obsessively, talk myself out of going to the gym and cook huge quantities of food for friends.

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