If words reflect their cultures, then Malcolm White suggests, we need some new words to reflect the reality of the current marketing communications culture. It is time to rename the chemistry meeting.
To my shame, I speak only one language. I mention this as a disclaimer because I’m about to drop into this column some words that are completely foreign to me but will be native expressions to some of you.
You know that involuntary stretch that some people do in the morning when they wake up? What do you call that? Well, if English is your only language, you’d probably call it ‘the involuntary stretch in the morning', but if you were a Hindi speaker, you would choose the word ungdayee, apparently.
If we Anglophones are struggling to find words to describe the crispy rice, almost burnt but not quite, that remains at the bottom of the pan, an Ecuadorian Spanish speaker could step in and save the day – and perhaps the rice – with their concolon.
Although I’m not a linguist, I’d hazard a guess that the reason these words exist in other languages and not in English is because those cultures required them, whereas ours didn’t. It seems plausible that just the right word for a morning stretch would come from the birthplace of yoga (Southeast Asia), and that one consequence of Ecuador’s rice-heavy diet would be a specific word to describe almost burning it.
So I don’t have to spell out what it says about our culture that we have adopted the German word for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune (schadenfreude), but we don’t have an English word for taking pleasure in someone else’s success, although there is one out there (it’s firgun – a Hebrew word, apparently).
If words reflect their cultures, then I’d like to suggest we need some new words to reflect the reality of the current marketing communications culture that we work in, and that also includes borrowing from the German.
I’m not talking about adopting UK Borough Council Tunbridge Wells’ astonishing idea to replace the word ‘brainstorm’ with ‘thought shower’ on the grounds that the former might be offensive to epileptics, because even mental health charities branded that as overcautious and political correctness gone too far. But I would include renaming the meeting that brings communications agencies and prospective clients together for the first time in the competitive pitch tendering process. These meetings are called, euphemistically I’d argue, ‘chemistry meetings’.
The problem is that in all the hundreds of ‘chemistry’ meetings I’ve attended, ‘chemistry’ isn’t what is being evaluated, or at least not in the sense of measuring ‘the emotion that two people get when they share a special connection’ (definition of ‘chemistry’ from Wikipedia). The ‘chemistry’ meeting is never as reciprocal as it sounds; in fact, it’s always a one-sided demonstration of client power.
In 30 years, I can’t remember one chemistry meeting in which the agency participating decided not to proceed even when they felt absolutely no chemistry whatsoever with the client. Maybe I’ve just worked at spineless agencies, but I don’t think so. On the other hand, being told that unfortunately you’re not through to the pitch because the client felt no chemistry with your agency isn’t a rare occurrence.
It would be more accurate to call these meetings pre-pitch interviews or assessments or appraisals or inspections or even, and more vividly, ‘The Dragon’s Den’ in homage to the television format, and in recognition of where the power in these meetings obviously resides.
For the agency that negotiates the obstacles of the chemistry meeting and successfully pitches for the business, there are still challenges to come, of course. Ideas that are pitched rarely run and so the agency has to start again. Then there are often multiple stages of consumer research to endure, sometimes more research and more feedback to respond to, then rounds of stakeholder input and only then approval to run the work, if you’re lucky. This all takes time – a lot of it.
The English words ‘stamina’ or ‘endurance’ aren’t sufficient to describe the characteristics required to survive, let alone prosper, in this environment because too much momentum is implied in both. Instead, I think we need to borrow the excellent German compound word sitzfleisch to capture them.
Sitzfleisch literally means ‘bottom flesh’ but its figurative meaning is something like ‘the capacity a person has for sitting still on his/ her butt for the hours and hours and hours of time that it takes to get important work done’.
Unfortunately, these days, creativity without sitzfleisch literally goes nowhere. For great work to see the light of day, it really does take a surplus of sitzfleisch. So, instead of only talking about the right or the left side of the brain when it comes to creativity, let’s not forget the buttocks.