30 Ways to Say Nothing

Our seasonal guide to hiding your poor holiday trading from the press …

It’s Christmas and I don’t feel like working. Sorry, what I meant to say was: I’m experiencing some softness around blog-posting during a challenging trading period.

Given current consumer behavior/s, this particular seasonal trading period may be a key tipping point for some retailers and their suppliers. Insofar as some may tip over from being in business into not being in business anymore.

In such a case, it’s imperative to find creative ways of talking about your performance.

Our generous sponsors Delevine Media are here to help with all corporate communication. So here’s our seasonal guide to burying your poor performance in weasel words.



1. Underlying profit n. The profit you would have made had you not made a loss. Visualize it as an imaginary profit, nestling underneath a nice soft loss.

2. Soft adj. Your financial results are never catastrophic. They are always soft.

3. Negative profitability n. Never make a loss. Always divot into negative profitability. It’s loss, but we’re still technically saying the word profit. (See also: negative growth.)

4. Continuing operations n. pl. Your result, minus the loss made on any rubbish operations you subsequently decided to discontinue.

5. Constant exchange rates n. pl. Your result, were the world an entirely different place. Eg: “Profits from continuing operations rose by 3.6% at constant exchange rates. Or by 0.1 % in real life.”

6. Percentage versus currency. Express growth as a year-on-year percentage. Express “negative growth” as a currency figure, eg: “Sales from international operations rose by 10.1% year on year while domestic sales reached € 350 million.” Don’t say they reached that figure by falling 79.8% year on year — chances are the journalist doesn’t know how to do the sum.

7. Like-for-likes n. pl. Your growth minus new stores. One of the great retail metrics. If you opened new stores but no one bought anything from them and the cost of adding them brought down profits as a whole, then emphasise the result from the same stores you had last year as positive growth. If, however, your existing stores are flat or tanking, you can leave out like-for-likes and open 50 new stores and claim that as growth. It’s a reporting win either way.

8. EBITDA n. pl. Earnings before all the things that reduce earnings, such as interest, tax, demons and accountants. Nominally quite good for comparing operational health, the metric comes into its own for hiding the interest payments of “highly-leveraged” companies.

9. Highly-leveraged adj. massively in debt. A highly-leveraged company sounds rather more impressive than it is. Similarly, when you increase “gearing” (debt to equity ratio) from 20% to 60%, that sounds like quite an achievement. It’s the way you tell ’em.

10. Component n. Introduces the idea that profit is only one possible component of a successful business. Never say: “We made a loss on our sales”. Always say: “Sales were extremely bullish, given the tough trading conditions, while aggressive promotional activity increased footfall and nudged the profitability component into single figures.” Mmm, nudged into softness … but don’t mention profits were in double figures last year.

11. Accretive adj. literally when something will contribute to growth. Best not to mention when this will happen. If pushed, say 2020. Unless the results are actually for the year 2020. Then say 2030.


Talking about the results to analysts and the press

Use the following words and phrases liberally to confuse your audience:

12. The 80-20 Rule n. Only available as part of MBA courses, Pareto’s Principle, or the 80-20 Rule, was originally used in business as a profitability model, eg: 80% of sales from 20% of stock. It has now become a universal rule across the “piece”, to the extent that there are now only two valid figures in any business analysis: 80 and 20. Because of the Rule, as long as you’re working with 80 and 20 somewhere, all should be fine. For example, costs of 80 million and sales of 20 million should probably be OK. Esp. if you are aggressively pursuing a highly-leveraged negative-proftablility model.

13. Optic n. as in “We don’t have an optic on that at this time,” esp. in response to the question: “When will you be back in the black?” By saying this, you make it sound like you have a deliberate strategy not to monitor that particular KPI and therefore it sounds better than “We have no idea”.

14. Fast-follower strategy n. a way to convince yourself, shareholders and analysts that watching your competitors and then copying them is a valid strategy for your business.

15. First-mover advantage n. what your rival has over you if you proactively adopt a fast-follower strategy.

16. Behaviors n. pl. behaviour. Never use in the singular, always in the plural. Eg: “consumer behaviors are trending south of buying on all shopping occasions”. Always spell without the “u” even if you are British.

17. The Triple Bottom Line n. The net result to (1) you and the shareholders, (2) your employees and “civil society” “stakeholders” and (3) “the planet” (ie Earth). Tip: focus on the triple bottom line when the single bottom line doesn’t bear close analysis.

18. Redundancy n. This word has a new meaning that is the opposite of the old meaning. A redundancy is no longer a firing for (nominally) economic reasons. It is now the name for the actual job to be downsized. This allows you to announce to the press in all transparency that there will be zero redundancies following the aggressively soft seasonal trading period. You are then free to fire all your staff from their “redundancies”.

19. Going forward prep. Never say, “at some imprecise time in the future”. Always say: “Going forward we have a ten-year roadmap to be carbon neutral by 2020”. Prevents journalists from reporting anything concrete.

20. 2020 n. Imaginary point in the future, at which time whoever replaces the guy who replaces you will be held to account over the promises you make today. Eg: “We are investing 2.3 billion in a bolt-on acquisition that we fully expect to become accretive by Q3 2020.”

21. Roadmap n. You don’t have a business plan. You don’t have a strategy. What you have is a roadmap. Bon voyage.

22. Paradigm change n. Any change. Eg: “Moving into positive profitability is a real paradigm change for us.”

23. Step change n. A paradigm change, but with Appalachian step-dancing.

24. Tipping point n. Originally a precise moment in epidemiology where viral growth hits “critical mass” (qv), made popular as a business term by Malcolm Gladwell. It now refers to any moment at all, eg: “When our chairman took us to watch An Inconvenient Truth that was a key personal tipping point for me in terms of driving core values around sustainability across the DNA of the organisation.”

25. Propco-opco adj. Separate your operational business from your property investment business and you will have driven a paradigm change to a propco-opco model. The benefit is that it sounds like a recognised strategy, rather than a dire folly foisted on you by activist investors. The challenge is not to implement it, but to say it with a straight face.

26. Transparent and ethical corporate governance n. something to which the Chairman, President and CEO of the company is fully committed, pending an internal inquiry into his financial interest in the company’s key walnut* supplier.

27. 3PL n. Never say “Parcelforce”. Always say Third-Party Logistics Provider, but always abbreviate that to 3PL in the plural, as in: “We’re vertical until the regional DC but we use 3PLs for the Last-Mile piece.” Somehow sounds better than saying, “we do it ourselves for a bit, and then we just we pop it in the post”.

28. Re-tool v. To effect any kind of change. Eg: “We retooled the business across the CEEMEA regional piece in line with the previously-stated negative profitability paradigm.”

29. Out of the box thinking. n. Originally a term for lateral problem-solving, it now means any kind of thinking, esp. rubbish thinking.

30. Darwin, misuse of  Always say: “Darwin once said, It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.” Say it early and often, but mistakenly attribute it to Darwin so we know you’ve never actually read Darwin. (It was actually Leon Megginson, an American professor of management who paraphrased Darwin.)

* Commodity chosen at random …


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