The problem with acronyms

My Google alerts for MIPAA reveals one of the problems with acronyms – they are rarely exclusive.  Despite celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2008, “my” MIPAA (motor industry public affairs association) is not organising the 9th Global Conference on Ageing

This has been organised by the International Federation on Ageing to reflect the priorities set out in the UN’s Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing aka MIPAA. 

Fortunately for those looking to develop their careers in motor industry PR, we have top spot in a Google search. 

We have considered changing the name to MIPRA given that public affairs is largely considered a subset of public relations today.  In fact, the organisation was once called Motoring Public Relations Association, but public affairs was considered to be more strategic by a former committee.

Given the extensive debate about the value of the term “public relations” (see PR Conversations for various opinions), some might feel we should not make the switch back.

Should we opt for the popular corporate communications phrase – MICCA (motor industry corporate communications association)?  Or what about reflecting PR’s link to reputation management?  I fear MIRMA (motor industry reputation management association) sounds like an onerous responsibility.

Personally, I like public relations – the function manages (or at least facilitates the management of) relations with an organisation’s publics.  That includes listening or two-way communications, as well as other strategic aspects, rather than just one-way transmission of corporate messages or media relations.

I appreciate PR has a lot of baggage, and as Ivan noted on a recent post:

A study of the use of the term Public Relations in the news media in 1998 by Julie Henderson showed that less than 5 percent of the citings were judged to use the term correctly; 37 percent were negative, and only 17 percent were positive.

A new name for PR is unlikely to remove the negative (mis)perceptions as with seeking to rebrand anything controversial (Sellafield/Windscale anyone?).  Much better that we stand up for what real PR means and challenge those who use the term incorrectly. 

We should use “media relations” for this sub-set activity (interestingly that doesn’t seem to carry the negative connotations, despite being the main area of criticism of PR professionals).

Let’s use publicity and publicists when that is what we actually mean for those who are seeking to generate media coverage, word of mouth, or other outputs for marketing purposes.

Similarly, spin and propaganda need to be seen as distinct to, rather than synonymous with, public relations.  I’d like to say we should dissociate from these terms also, but one person’s community relations activity is another’s propaganda (see Scotsman article and discussion – registration required). 

Another benefit of switching to MIPRA would be that it is clearer to spell – we generally say mipper and, not surprisingly, find even our members often type MIPPA, which isn’t helpful.

Some members have suggested we need a grander name which would carry weight when they mention the organisation to their bosses and colleagues.  But what could such a title be?  Originally, the body was affectionately called “Spoke ‘n’ Wheel” – which definitely sounds very casual. 

Today we are officially viewed as a “learned society”, so maybe we need to reflect that purpose.  Our remit is currently defined as helping communicators within the motor industry work more effectively by providing training, workshops, events and opportunities for networking.

If you’ve any suggestions or thoughts on a name change – or the problems caused by acronyms, please let me know.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “The problem with acronyms”

  1. Once on a deadline in a medical publishing house I was working in, I telephoned a jolly man asking him a question about what I thought was the British Heart Association. I was in fact through to the British Hospitality Association. He chuckled and said it happened all the time.

    BEES have a medical service but so entwined is Google with huge amounts of information about bee keepers, I couldn’t find BEES and had to rake around in my desk to find their phone number. Their excellent service might sink without a trace if relying in part on word of mouth internet searches.

    When I was a trustee with the Professional Drivers’ Association we called ourselves this hoping our name would help give more credence to truckers as professional drivers. It provided us with a patform to air our voices through online discussion forums and magazine articles showing how we train our drivers right through to teaching young school kids about the large blind spots around truck units.

  2. Should have commented on this earlier;I do like all your reasoning.I hope you will put it forward to the MIPAA committees.
    The earlier acronyms always seemed at the time to reflect the Association’s
    raison d’etre.
    I hated MIPPA although mippa was not too irritating in thr right context
    G

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