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lucy kellaway

The corporate promotion market knows only one phase: the bull phase. So it is no surprise that 2012 turned out to be yet another a bumper year for guff, cliché, euphemism and verbal stupidity.

There are so many prizes to award in my latest Golden Flannel Awards that I am axing my usual preamble and getting straight down to the business of giving out the gongs.

The big news is that I've decided to supplement the prizes for bull with an award for COC. This stands for Chief Obfuscation Champion, and is open to big-name chief executives. When I conceived this award a few months ago, I promised it to Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts for writing in her annual report: "In the wholesale channel, Burberry exited doors not aligned with brand status and invested in presentation through both enhanced assortments and dedicated, customized real estate in key doors."

Now, alas, I'm forced to take it away from her and give it to Cisco CEO John Chambers instead. Last month he sent out an e-mail to Cisco employees beginning "Team," and ending: "We'll wake the world up and move the planet a little closer to the future." Mr. Chambers beats Ms. Ahrendts because he has created a concoction of sublime arrogance and cheesiness out of short, household words. He is a well-deserving COC.

I realize this will be disappointing to the Burberry boss, so I'm putting her in for another new award: The Door Gong. I was certain she would win this for her outstanding effort in pretending her company sells doors when really it makes super-pricey raincoats. But in the closing days of the year I found a company called Record , which actually makes folding aluminium doors but has elected to describe itself as a supplier of "entrance solutions."

Staying with solutions, the next prize is the Martin Lukes Creovation Cup for combining two words to make something less effective than either. This was a crowded field as there was "solutioneering" from Yanmar , "innovalue" from the Taiwanese government and "sustainagility" from Atos Origin . All are truly creovative, but I'm giving the Cup to Momentum UK , for claiming we live in a "phygital™" world. I particularly admire the use of the trademark.

From complex words to simple ones, comes the Preposition Award. There are two contenders here. The first was shown to advantage recently in a statement from Lloyds: "We have made substantial progress against our strategic objectives," which suggests the bank is moving in the wrong direction. But the winner is the innocuous word "to" as increasingly heard in presentations: "I've got some slides to talk to" – the unfortunate implication being that the speaker has to talk to the slides because no one else is listening.

The next award, Most Extravagant Job Title, is always hotly contested, but this year there is a clear winner: Dr. Amantha Imber is Head Inventiologist at Inventium. Her job description: "to turn people into innovation dynamos."

Now on to Best Euphemism For Firing People. Lots of companies sacked people last year by "consolidating leadership," but only Citibank deftly managed to hide the fact that it was axing 1,100 people in a press release that talked of "optimizing the customer footprint across geographies."

This makes the old sacking euphemism of "right-sizing" look rather respectable. Since then the word "right" has suffered much wrong, so much so I'm giving it a special prize. This goes to Oliver Wyman, which in a report on the Future of Asian Banking came up with not only "right-spacing" but the downright sinister "right-culturing."

One of my favourite awards is always for the negative-dressed-up-as-positive, and this year's prize-winner is one of the finest examples I've ever seen. An analyst at Religare heroically described a big drop in profits at United Spirits thus: "Ebitda de-grew by 23.3 per cent."

And finally, the mixed metaphor award. This was overheard in a project management meeting at a big company: "You have to appreciate that the milestones we have set in these swim lanes provide a road map for this flow chart. When we get to toll gates, we'll assess where you sit in the waterfall . . ."

All that now remains is to hand over the overall 2012 Golden Flannel Award. The runaway winner is Citigroup, which not only produced the best euphemism, it also wins a prize for jargon that actually clarifies matters. It declared from now on it would offer "client-centric advice." Which lets the cat out of the bag that the advice it used to offer was otherwise. Citi-centric, perhaps.

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