Acronyms can be fun and tempting to use, but they have a dark side.
They can be addictive for writers and bewildering for readers.

Okay, I admit I sometimes use acronyms and initialisms. (And, I confess, I sometimes erroneously talk about them as if they were a single concept.) There are even times when I encourage my students to use them. (Here's an example I posted on this site last spring.)   However, I only use them in moderation, and I caution my students against confusing people by using too many in a single message.

Gabrielle Dolan, a best-selling author about storytelling in business, said similar things in an article in IABC's monthly publication Catalyst. It's worth reading in its entirety, so I'll only share a few highlights to whet your appetite.

She begins with an assumption, followed by a quick denial: "One of the main reasons we create acronyms is to make communication easier and more efficient... In the vast majority of cases, I would suggest that they are not."

The ironic truth, according to Dolan, is that acronyms were "designed to confuse." They began coming into prominence in the English language during the Second World War. "The idea was that when the enemy intercepted a message containing lots of acronyms, it would be difficult to understand." And, therein lies the irony of using acronyms in public relations writing today. As public relations practitioners, we constantly strive to make our messages clear and easy to understand, but we have unwittingly "adopted a style of communication that was invented to make it harder to understand the meaning."

When, and if, you're sure your audience will actually understand the meaning you're trying to convey with an acronym, use it. "It can be a very efficient way of communication," Dolan said. But, don't assume that is always the case. Your audience may not have any idea what the acronym you're using represents. Worse yet, they may have a totally different, but equally valid, understanding of what those initials mean.

"Many common acronyms have multiple meanings." For example, "AP," equally well means Associated Press, Asia-Pacific, Accounts Payable, advanced placement, automated production, access point, and dozens of other things. And, neither your name nor title, nor the context of your message will necessarily indicate which meaning is the correct one.

"When you use acronyms you are putting all the onus and hard work on the reader to interpret what you are communicating," Dolan concluded. "(It) is just lazy and results in poor communication... it's also annoying for your audience."

So, the next time you're tempted to use an acronym, stop and ask yourself: Is it really the best way to get my point across?

Read Gabrielle Dolan's complete article.     

This site was initially created to support public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University.
Now it's used as a supplemental text for scores of university courses worldwide.
It's also frequently used as a reference/refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

PR job-seekers need to be versatile
like a Swiss Army Knife.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the 21st Century proclaimed that successful job-seekers in coming years will be "versatilists," people who can switch gears and readily handle several different jobs, instead of highly-skilled specialists whose expertise is limited to a single field.

Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, wasn't the first to say it, but the book's long tenure on the best-seller list firmly linked his name and the concept of "employee versatilism."

The difference between a specialist and generalist is obvious and has long been self-evident in many professions, including public relations. Versatilists are much less understood.

Although versatilists tend to already have well-developed skills in several areas, they still strive to progressively widen their skill set as well as the range of situations they can handle. They constantly seek new competencies, build new relationships, and move into new and different roles.

In decades past, the best and highest-paying jobs went to well-trained specialists who spent their career doing essentially the same tasks over and over, again and again. Today, there's still a need for some well-trained specialists, but that need will only last as long as their jobs continue to exist in their current form.

Regrettably for them, today's job market is highly volatile. New types of jobs that didn't even exist a year ago are popping up and old ones are disappearing because they're no longer needed or have been taken over by robots or other forms of automation.

Today's college graduates are increasingly unlikely to follow a well-defined career path from graduation to retirement. Most will probably have to re-train and transition through three, four, or more distinct "careers" before they retire. And, they'll have to be fast on their feet and highly adaptable to keep up. In short, they'll need to be versatilists.

If you don't like the term "versatilist," perhaps you'll like the alternative suggested by Joe Santana, director of training for Siemans Business Services. His clever and fun way of expressing the same notion was to say: "People need to become less like specialty tools and more like Swiss Army knives."

How many blades do you have, and are they well-honed?

Read the full version of this article.     

Would you like to change partners
for your next dance?

There are lots of ways to think and talk about looking for a new job. One that's not used very often is changing dance partners. However, it's very appropriate for someone who wants to move into a different industry or market environment.

Among the questions they need to ask themselves are: How much of what I now know and previously did will be relevant to my new job? How much credibility will I have? -- Will I be viewed as an experienced professional or a newbie who has to build a new reputation from scratch?

The questions apply, although not necessarily be to the same degree, whether they're moving to a new employer or transferring from one department to another within the same organization. In either case, their success could hinge on their versatility.

Here are some suggestions from 5 Tips for Communication Professionals Jumping Into a New Subject Area posted on the IABC website in April 2020.

Arti Bedi Pullins is the founder and CEO of Pundit Consultanz, a healthcare innovation and creative services design consultancy based in Chicago. Her recommendation is "start by reading publications and journals in the area where you want to specialize ... you have to understand the bridge that connects what you (now) do to your new area."

Next she suggests making arrangements to shadow someone who's already doing the kind of work you're interested in. "Ask if you can meet, talk, and gain knowledge of their day-to-day operations."

By doing that, she feels you will be better able to "identify the areas of connection and commonality between the two sectors," the one you're now in and the one you want to move into, and build that "bridge" you hopefully found in your reading.

It won't be quick, and it won't be a smooth forward progression.

Pullins described it as: "Doing a cha-cha with your career." You take a step back, pause to shift your weight, then take three quick shuffle-steps ahead angled to the side, keeping in time with your partner and the music.

Miss a step, and you look like a jerk. Do it right, and you wow everyone and have a wonderful time.

Read the "5 Tips" article in its entirety.

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Last revised: 1/14/2022