Posted by: Ian Ross | May 9, 2008

Parsing Cuts Through The Crap

I’ve become a big fan of parsing lately — thanks to Jack Flack’s Spin Blog in Conde Nast’s

jackflack.jpegWhat is it? Well, parsing is technically a computer science term for “analyzing a sequence of tokens to determine grammatical structure.”

But Jack has adopted it as a PR assessment tool. For him, parsing is cutting through the doublespeak and buzzwords that fill corporate media releases and press statements. And he does it with wit and brutal honesty that makes it gold-level reading.

As PR professionals, it is our duty to communicate with our publics about issues and events using plain language. No deception. No hiding from the truth.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. That’s why we need to parse ourselves (that almost sounds dirty). After we write something and get a zillion edits and approvals, we need to look at the draft and ask ourselves if some parsing is needed before we go public. Obviously, we need to take a serious approach on parsing, while Jack’s assessments are focused on humour.

Cause if we don’t, Jack or someone else may do the parsing for us. Here is a sample of him dissecting a Microsoft media release:

Microsoft: Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) today issued the following statement in response to the announcement by Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) that its Board of Directors has rejected Microsoft’s previously announced proposal to acquire Yahoo!:

JF Translation: Hear ye the words of the Emperor!

Microsoft: It is unfortunate that Yahoo!…

JF Translation: We are speaking in the passive voice to avoid castigating those we are still hoping to woo… at least for a few more days.

Microsoft:…has not embraced our full and fair proposal…

JF Translation: They’ve decided to be greedy, rejecting an offer that should be well within the lower range of acceptable valuations. Why aren’t they listening to Goldman?

Microsoft:…to combine our companies.

JF Translation: This isn’t really a takeover. It’s a “combination.” In fact, we’re just forming a really profitable commune.

Microsoft: Based on conversations with stakeholders of both companies, we are confident that moving forward promptly to consummate a transaction is in the best interests of all parties.

JF Translation: We’ve talked to Yahoo’s biggest institutional holders — who just happen to also own our stock — and we all agree that $36 would be optimal.

Microsoft: We are offering shareholders superior value and the opportunity to participate in the upside of the combined company.

JF Translation: If this deal doesn’t happen, any other offer will come from a weaker partner bringing less cash. And if you don’t get another deal, you will watch your investment shrivel to nothing in just a couple of short years…



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