Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doublespeak at Boston Scientific

"Deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language." That's how the dictionary defines the word doublespeak. I came across a good example of it today. Boston Scientific embarked upon a restructuring program in 2011. In the corporate world restructuring is a nice way of saying there will be layoffs. The point of restructuring is to cut expenses usually by consolidating operations, shutting down or selling underperforming businesses, and laying off people--sometimes a lot of people. That in itself is a euphemistic use of the word "restructuring." 

But Boston Scientific outdid itself today when it announced plans to expand this restructuring program. It said, "The company anticipates the reduction of 900 to 1,000 positions worldwide through a combination of employee attrition and targeted headcount reductions." So, if you are a corporate PR specialist and you want to come up with a nice and friendly word to describe this initiative, what would you choose? Well someone at Boston Scientific decided to call it an "Expansion." That's right. Even though the only thing being expanded are layoffs and cost cutting, Boston Scientific has officially dubbed this new initiative the Expansion, perhaps hoping that investors will conclude that business is booming.

Don't get me wrong. If management is convinced that this kind of restructuring is necessary for the well being of the corporation and its shareholders then I'm all for it. After all, I am a Boston Scientific shareholder. But I really do not appreciate this thinly veiled attempt to fool investors. By trying to make something bad sound good, the company is simply insulting the intelligence of the investment public. If a restructuring involves cutting costs by eliminating employees and underperforming businesses, even if there are plans to eventually invest the resulting savings into growth initiatives, it is hardly fair to call it an Expansion. This may be what the corporate PR people are paid to do, yet I wonder if the executives at Boston Scientific can actually say Expansion with a straight face. 

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