Warning Sign for communication with Acronyms ahead

Talking business – Are you at risk of communication breakdown?

Are you risking communication breakdown through the use of *FTMA?

FTMA is a communication phenomenon that could be negatively affecting your business – both internally and externally.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a growing phenomenon we witness on a recurring basis – yet many businesses and organisations don’t realize their daily operations have been infiltrated by FTMA.

FTMA’s can often lead to a breakdown in communication and too often find management and staff confusing external customers through subliminal use of FTMA.

What exactly is FTMA – and what can you do to protect your business?

Well FTMA is an acronym for; * Far Too Many Acronyms.

How does this come about? How does the use (abuse?) of acronyms creep into our daily inter-office lexicon to the point where we start using FTA’s and OPI’s and FCBA’s when dealing with external parties who have no reasonable idea of what the heck you’re talking about?

Unchecked, this phenomenon gathers traction because, in many instances third parties feel either too embarrassed or are not wanting to demonstrate their (own) perceived ignorance by interrupting the conversation to ask; “Pardon me, you just mentioned PSU’s, can you explain what that stands for?”

Case in point. Many years ago I sat in a very well represented boardroom where the senior executives of the advertising agency were presenting to the owner of one of Australia’s biggest retail advertising budgets. He wasn’t the marketing director or the financial director but he was a self-made owner of a profitable national brand – that made him the most important and critical person in the room so far as the positive outcome for the agency was concerned.

The Agency Managing Director was going great guns and was dancing on his feet presenting all sorts of statistics on the whiteboard when the ‘Big Budget’ Owner interrupted: “Excuse me Lyle” he said, “that word you used a few minutes ago, what does that mean”? “What does what mean?” asked Lyle. “That word Tart you said before”. Lyle then went on to explain the meaning of TARP’s.

A brave and courageous question in front of a room full of power suits received its answer “Oh that means Target Audience Rating Points” explained Lyle. “Then why didn’t you say that?” said the Client.

You see, and we all should see, that in an attempt to either; shorten the  4 words into 1, or as an attempt to show how clever we are (shouldn’t everyone know the meaning of TARP?), we actually LOSE communication.

Using acronyms can of course have advantages, that’s the very reason we invented them.

They were created to save time by abbreviating the length of a phrase or group of words when discussing or writing to people who were familiar with the usage.

Some acronyms have become commonplace in our society when pronounced as a word ie; Scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) and Laser (light amplification by simulated emission of radiation).

For obvious reasons it would be difficult to invite a friend to join you for a weekend of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus diving! Or how about a night out watching a light amplification by simulated emission of radiation?

So obviously some acronyms have rightly earned their place in our daily lives and lexicon.

However, when it comes to business and commerce we increasingly see the emergence of what Wikipedia refers to as; pseudo acronyms.

These are acronyms that are simply contractions of words that are represented by the initials of each word, and when expressed have no apparent meaning (other than to those who know and understand the extracted version).

These are the FMNI’s, the UPT’s the CMRI’s and the list goes on and on and on.

But, as that rich retail mega budget client asked; “What does that mean?” and “why didn’t you say that?”

When used without definition, or the recipients understanding of the acronym, then we have no doubt that therein lies the beginning of a communication breakdown.

And a breakdown in communication is the start of a breakdown in building a relationship with your Client or Client.

How you can guard against the infiltration of FTMA’s in your business?

Firstly, over the next few weeks listen closely when in internal meetings and discussions amongst your team and staff.

And pay particular note to any letters and emails you may be cc’d on, especially those meetings, letters and emails that may involve or be directed to ‘external’ people.

Make a note and create a list – let’s call it your FTMA list – and we think you’ll be surprised at how often your staff are talking ‘company-talk’ – using acronyms that they may fully understand, but the customer or recipient may be left scratching their head.

In other words (literally) are your staff talking in their own language, rather than the language of their Customer or Client?

At BrandQuest when undertaking a brand audit for a Client, we assiduously advise them to rid their internal ‘tone and manner’ – everything from verbal discussions to letters, emails, whitepapers and especially their company website – of acronyms.

HINT: Like a ‘swear-jar’ you might consider the introduction of an ‘acronym-jar’ with the contents to be donated to your charity or corporate cause.


BrandQuest is a strategy and brand management consultancy that intrinsically believes that great brands are born of the founders and staff who work there. They are not the result of an outsourced creative endeavour but the cumulative knowledge that a company possesses.

Since 2007, BrandQuest has developed a process that within a 3 week time frame can extract and refine this inner knowledge into a powerful brand strategy.

Our clients work with us because they seek:

  1. Increased brand and business value
  2. Alignment, clarity and direction for their Branding
  3. Robust, authentic and fearless advice

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