The horror of finding yourself using corporate speak
Though I have been subjected to it for many years, it’s only been in the past year that the language known as “corporate speak” has been creeping into my vocabulary. I must make it stop.
I switched jobs a little over a year ago and moved from the thankless ranks of financial journalism to the thankless but better paying ranks of financial public relations. For years as a journalist I waded through corporate euphemisms and double talk. A journalist’s job is to cut through corporate speak like an explorer cuts through dense jungle. I didn’t loath public relations people, I just knew I could not sound like one when I spoke or wrote if I wanted to be taken seriously.
I vowed to myself that I would not let this nonsensical and vacuous vocabulary creep into my speech, but in some ways it has. There’s no prohibition from sounding like a corporate automaton because now I work in public relations and corporations pay our salaries. Corporations paid my salary when I was a journalist also, but those businesses were depending on me NOT sounding like a corporate mouthpiece in order for my work to me marketable.
Now I AM a corporate mouthpiece, whether I like it or not. None of the companies I serve through my public relations job are ominous monoliths that are trying to cloud the truth or cover up any wrongdoing; they are for the most part small entrepreneurial companies doing some interesting things, but they are companies that expect us to be their representatives to the media. We have to be the bridge between the corporate world and the jaded, skeptical world of journalists and we have to sound the part both ways.
Whenever you speak with someone, you want to sound like you belong, like you understand where they are coming from. If everyone’s slinging the same corporate bullshit, they’re establishing a rapport in some small way. In agency public relations, you are not only selling your clients to media, you’re constantly selling yourself to current and potential future clients. Thus you have to sound like you could fit in at a corporate board meeting, and that’s easier to do when you shovel two-cent words around like so much manure.
So as a writer who takes pride in my ability to find the right works for any situation and a human being who decided long ago to embrace reality-based life, it horrifies me to find myself using corporate speak in any non-ironic capacity.
It’s only happened once or twice, but no matter. Like Ebola or cancer, corporate speak must be wiped out entirely if you wish to survive in the reality-based world.
The one phrase I’ve been guilty of using is “next steps” as in “we’ll discuss next steps” instead of saying, “we’ll talk about what to do next” or “what steps to take next.” Another word that’s lapsed into corporate speak is “leverage,” such as “let’s leverage our resources to gain media traction.” In my own overuse of the word “traction” regarding how to get media attention, I risk making that corporate speak. Now both lever and traction are real words that wouldn’t be corporate speak at all if you were talking about pulleys, debt or driving over snow, but when applied to business situations and overused, they become corporate speak. There are damning lists of useless and pathetic phrases that comprise corporate speak. The list is always evolving.
There are a lot of things I am willing to do to provide for my family. I’m willing to read work emails on the weekend, endure mind-numbing meetings and phone calls that should have been emails, write trite crap about boring topics and be courteous to asshole clients. But I won’t become a corporate speak user. I have my limits.
So I resolve here and now to avoid corporate speak and expunge it from my vocabulary. I will be a better person for it.
A Mayoral Lack of Horse Sense
Several years ago, while visiting the tourist sites in Manhattan around the holidays with some family, we were walking on Central Park South after a stop at The Plaza. As we passed by the line of hansom cabs, my Grandmother remarked that she had never taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. My father set about rectifying that at once, and a few minutes later they were on their way in a horse-drawn hansom cab.
My dad’s spontaneity and love for our grandmother was admirable and made the day more memorable. If he visits New York next Christmastime, he may not be able to take a hansom cab ride.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged, days before his recent inauguration, to do away with the hansom cabs.
Animal rights activists, including the predictable coterie of celebrity actors, have long denounced the horse-drawn carriages as manifestly cruel. They’ve been aiming to have the carriage rides outlawed for a long time.
De Blasio was inaugurated with much fanfare from his liberal supporters who are happy to see a Democrat in office once again.
But doing away with the horse-drawn carriages is foolish pandering to a lobby polluted with fringe players and the loss of a fine tradition and lots of jobs. Cruelty to animals is terrible, but animal rights activists are never too far away from taking a hard left turn to crazy town, and outlawing horse-drawn carriages is a fringe activist power-grab that a mayor is supposed to be wide enough to sidestep.
The New York City Police use horses regularly, and there are a few stables that offer horseback riding within the five boroughs. Space for horses is hard to come by in most of New York, but so is space for anything.
Being generous and assuming for the sake of argument that conditions for the horses are bad, the solution is not to outlaw an industry but to improve and regulate the care of the horses. It’s not wrong to use horses to pull carts. It’s OK to ride horseback and it’s OK to ride an elephant and a camel. There are lots of animals that are not suitable for riding, but horses are alright. This is actually common knowledge and the fact that there’s a serious debate over banning the industry shows how a more extremist animal rights community has been successful in framing the debate. Luckily the carriages won’t go without a fight.
What’s more, de Blasio is potentially putting hundreds of working-class New Yorkers, whose Teamsters Union endorsed him, out of work. For a politician who came into office on a platform of fighting for middle and working class New Yorkers with the nebulous pledge of ending “inequality,” putting hansom cab drivers out of work is the political equivalent of crapping in an inaugural ball punch bowl. Mayor de Blasio likely knows this, so hence the announcement during the holidays and before the hullaballoo of his inauguration.
There have definitely been drivers who overworked or abused their horses. One driver was even arrested for animal abuse when found to be working a horse that had an infected hoof. But the carriages are regulated and inspected and have been under significant scrutiny for years.
If we let animal rights activists start calling the shots, we’ll start on a slippery slope to becoming a city of pathetic vegetarian tree-huggers.
Save the Tourists (and Airbnb)
Tourists: No other form of life on the New York sidewalks and subways is more simultaneously loved and despised. We love that they are here spending their money and enjoying the wonderment of our city while we hate how they slow us down with their clueless wanderings and slow gait unfamiliar with the pace of city life.
New York needs tourists. Tourism is a central part of the city’s economy and messing with the flow of tourists to New York is effectively kicking the Big Apple squarely in its big balls.
So the New York State Attorney General’s office threatens to throw cold water on this essential industry with its subpoena of Airbnb’s New York State records.
Airbnb is a web site that connects visitors with private hosts who rent out private rooms or apartments, usually for significantly less than hotels cost. The N.Y. Attorney General’s office claims that the platform is being abused by people operating illegal hotels and avoiding hotel taxes.
I did a quick search for hotel room rates in New York City for the first week of March 2014. Prices are higher around the holidays in November and December and the second week of March might see abnormally high rates for people coming for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This study was unscientific, and there are web sites like Priceline.com and others that can help you find discounts.
Starting with a non-luxury, well-known hotel chain, the Marriot Marquis in Times Square charges an average of more than $360 per night for one room for two adults with no children. That jumps to more than $430 per night if you want such luxuries as a sofa bed in your room. A Marriott on East 40th Street got a rate of $206 per room.
Going to the cheaper hotels, Days Inn offered a rate of $131 per night on 94th Street. The chain charges $95 per night to stay at their hotel at JFK Airport. Nothing at JFK Airport is worth $95 a night unless it comes with a free strippers and cocaine.
A similar search on Airbnb gets you $175 a night for a room near Times Square in Manhattan and as low as $57 per night near JFK. The offerings were scattered and not as numerous to put too much of a dent in the hotel business, judging by the search I did on the web site.
No doubt there are people using Airbnb who are running illegal hotels outside of the legitimate regulation of the law, but there is a way to differentiate between these groups and the people making a few extra bucks renting a room to budget-conscious tourists. And about 90% of the Airbnb hosts are people renting out rooms in the homes they live in.
For whatever its faults, Airbnb is American capitalism and New York ingenuity at its best. Even with the abuses as they are the city and state gain more than they lose by enabling more tourism. The money tourists don’t spend on hotels they spend on Broadways shows, Yankee games, hot dogs and hookers. Let them.
Standing Strong on Pier 17
Fried food is the last thing I need to eat, but I needed to eat at a seafood restaurant at the South Street Seaport just to give them my business.
As I approached the Pier 17 mall, I found it surrounded by barricades with the only entrance guarded by a security guard turning people away. He admits that the restaurant is open, but calls it a “café” when it clearly is not.
“I understand there’s one restaurant still open inside,” I said to the guard, who was discouraging someone from entering.
“Well it’s not a restaurant, it’s a café. If you want to check it out it’s on the third floor.”
The restaurant that remains open among dozens of empty storefronts is called ‘Simply Seafood’ and it’s clearly a restaurant like any other food court restaurant in any food court, only this one is the only business left in a large three-level mall at the South Street Seaport.
The restaurant is the lone holdout in a large mall that a developer is trying to tear down. They have a lease and expect it to be honored. The landlord has used illegal and very underhanded tactics to try to remove them, such as locking the doors to the mall and reporting that the restaurant had closed, and is still using dirty tricks today. With shady developers normally getting away with their violations of private property rights in the name of economic development and the city normally either turning a blind eye or helping out in with corrupt deals, the urge to score one for the little guy is immense and well worth the price of fried shrimp.
Howard Hughes Corp. owns the property and wants to build another, fancier mall there. I would hope that if Howard Hughes were alive today he’d throw a jar of his collected urine at the people running this namesake corporation. Howard Hughes didn’t need to harass small business owners; he flew airplanes and banged Katherine Hepburn.
Security guards pace the otherwise empty mall eyeing customers suspiciously. There are bathrooms open on the second floor, but otherwise the mall is a ghost town of abandoned stores, makeshift barricades, ‘No Trespassing’ signs and caution tape.
Despite the best efforts of the rent-a-cops, people continued to come for seafood. The restaurant’s struggle with the landlord generated publicity that has brought some people; it’s why I was there. The allure of touring a mostly-abandoned place brings more, and hopefully the chance to stick it to a real estate Goliath will bring more. New Yorkers can’t help but respect and admire the people who fight for their rights even against overwhelming force.
New York landlords are notorious for their unscrupulous behavior. The price of real estate is so high and both the expenses and potential profits so huge, a hold-out tenant can cost an owner lots of money. In the case of a prime commercial real estate in New York’s tourist-heavy downtown, developers stand to lose millions of dollars if they have to maintain a mostly abandoned building for the next seven years.
A small group of tourists asked the men working why they were the only business still open at the mall.
“We’ve got a lease,” said one of the men. “We’ve have a lease until 2020.”
I had a lunch of friend shrimp and fries. What made it such a delicious meal was helping a determined small business stick to their guns.
As I left the mall, the security guard at the entrance was turning away another group of potential customers, wrongly calling the restaurant a café. But not everyone was turned away, many continued through and moved on to give the restaurant their business, and I hope Simply Seafood is there for a very long time.
The Fine Art of Not Belonging
One of the perks of working as a financial journalist is that you sometimes get to go to parties in nice places where food and drink are free. It doesn’t make up for working for years without a raise and being in constant fear of being laid off, but it’s nice nonetheless.
Last evening was one such party, a charity event put on by people in finance.
Ostensibly my coworker and I were there to meet people that would help us do our job. Schmoozing with financial people is part of my job, but it’s a part of the job that I am bad at.
I dressed well enough and was pleasant and polite and still had no hopes of blending in. Members of the financial class are their own race, though they are made of different races. They can look through you as if you are not there and walk with a confidence that bristles with a condescending hostility and feels perpetually offensive and false. I wore a nice suit but maybe there was something in the way I said thank you to the caterers, or the fact I thanked them at all, that gave me away as decidedly not one of the financial class.
There’s nothing wrong with finance, but the people who work in the higher echelons of finance today are not cut from the same material as the people who invent things or pioneered and forged new industries. They are custodians of other people’s money and often speak in a gloating jargon that moves lots of money but creates little of value. I’m sure many of them are decent people and good at their job, but they do not possess the fire of the technology entrepreneurs or venture capitalists I met during previous jobs.
After thirteen years of working in financial journalism, I have actually gotten worse at the art of fitting in at these types of gatherings. My motivation for the easy smile and the glad-handed talk has waned. But I am glad not to fit in among this alien class. Somehow I feel that in the important calculus of life I’ll have more to show for it at the unspoken reckoning at the verge of the great beyond.
I ate as many miniature lobster rolls as I could without making a spectacle of myself and made my discreet exit after putting in a respectable amount of time at the event. I briefly enjoyed the sights of the city on the first really warm evening of the spring before making my descent to the subway for home.