Learning to Speak Agency

Learning to speak agency Thumbnail 130x130When I started at my first agency, after 10 years at a medical journal, I knew there would be things I would need to learn. I knew the work would have a different focus, and there would be more people and more steps involved in going from manuscript to finished product. But I was not prepared for the flood of unfamiliar acronyms and jargon I encountered. Sure, I understood what a word-for-word (aka WFW or W4W) was, I knew that “stet” meant I had been overruled, and I could expand NCCN without even looking it up. But what in the world did “PRC,” “AFP,” or “CTA” mean?

Fortunately, I had extremely helpful team members and colleagues who got me up to speed on all the new terminology, and within a month or two I was rattling off cryptic acronyms with the best of them. But as I gained more experience in the agency setting, with different accounts, different clients, and eventually different agencies, I realized that even within the insular world of agency life, there was incredible variation. It’s only been five years (and three different clients) for me so far, but I’ve already heard more than six different terms used to describe the committee each client has to review work for medical accuracy, legal risk, and regulatory compliance. And what do we call those hardworking folks who take our beautifully constructed print and digital pieces out into the field? No, not “reps”—they’re COSs, FMLs, TBMs, AEs, ARMs, and probably hundreds of other titles I’ve yet to come across.

There’s not much we can do to stem the tide of terminology that comes at us from clients, regulatory bodies, professional associations, and our own organizations. Each agency, each client, each branch of healthcare, each disease state, comes with its own lexicon that we must master. We are in the business of communication, and so it falls to us to absorb the unique language we find ourselves awash in, and learn to harness its power and beauty to shape our clients’ messages in a way that will captivate, educate, and effect change.

Still, language doesn’t need to be an impenetrable barrier, keeping out the uninitiated and insulating the inner circle from the rest of the world. Let’s make sure we’re taking the time to explain unfamiliar terms to new team members, keeping tools like style guides and cheat sheets up to date and easily accessible, and above all, talking to each other—across accounts, departments, and disciplines—about what has worked for us, what our challenges are, and what opportunities we have to explore new paths and keep growing as creative entities. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—especially if you’re new. We promise, we won’t laugh when you ask what a “job bag” is.

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