How a Certain Translation Agency’s Marketing Strategy Reeks of BS

NO BS

An agency (which shall have to remain nameless to spare myself the burden of dealing with fellow lawyers) claims, in what is by far one of the dumbest marketing strategies I have ever seen, to have 6 solutions to 3 common problems that clients face when seeking translation services. Their document, which reads like an infomercial nightmare, claims the 3 “problems” are: price (notice, they are conceiving payment for work as a “problem”), time, and inconveniences. Though their failed marketing whatever-the-heck-it-is does not seem to be under copyright, they did include a pseudo disclaimer. So just to be on the safe side, I won’t quote them directly, but I will give you the gist of their quasi logic.

1. Price

Because the agency cannot differentiate a problem from a solution (not sure if their problem is linguistic or analytical, but either way, I would not trust them with any translation work that involves any kind of thinking skills whatsoever), “solution” #1 goes something like this:

Translators are terrible at explaining what the translation process involves. Translation entails a bunch of steps, some of which you may not need (like editing, because if you keep it in company, it doesn’t really have to be accurate).  Thus, the solution consists of asking translators to break down every part of their process and its price. That way, if there is a part you don’t need, you can just get it taken off the price.

Awesome solution! Provided you are a widget factory. I will never support any strategy that drags down price. Translation is a professional intellectual service and should be paid as such. The end. That said, when reading their document, I could not help but wonder how exactly one “breaks down” an intellectual process to a point that makes any real impact on price. And how many parts can you break it into? Suppose the process is already somewhat poor and consists only of three parts: translation, editing, and final proofreading. Are they seriously suggesting just one step to make it cheaper? Are they encouraging translators to deliver first drafts with no revision whatsoever? Have they SEEN first drafts? And what about spell check or other silly nuances? Maybe we can do without those too while we’re at it. Who cares if things are misspelled and illegible if we can bump a whole buck or two off the final price, right? This seems “iffy,” at best.

Ask your translator to drop their price by using machine translation.

I am not anti-machine, but translation technologies should be used in benefit of translators to make our work easier and more efficient and in benefit of clients to ensure faster delivery times (to a reasonable extent) and higher quality (provided such technologies are used wisely); using translation technology as a cheap strategy to artificially equate the product of our intellectual service to a commodity good is ultimately bad business for everyone. If these people had a better understanding of market economics, they would know how detrimental their strategy is when you look at the business of translation as a whole and in the long run. Now, I admit that in their little strategy, it’s not clear what sort of machine translation they are encouraging. So for the sake of not repeating myself over and over again on the potential ethical implications of some (not all) uses of MT, I recommend reading a prior post on the issue. Comments to my post by Shai Navé are extremely insightful and well worth the read. That being said, there’s another little issue in their PDF: in their first “solution” they suggested cutting out what quality-oriented professionals will argue is a key part of the process (yes, I mean editing!); now they’re encouraging MT in what can easily be read as human edited machine pseudo-translation. If that interpretation is correct, then wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage editing in both solutions? Need these people be reminded of the ontological principle of contradiction?

2. Time

Have a project manager communicate with you at all parts of the process to make sure you’re updated regularly and the project is on track.

Ok, this one actually makes sense. I’ve really oversimplified it, but it’s not a bad solution, except for one thing: it only contemplates project managers, as if translators didn’t exist. Regardless of how much not-even-human-edited-machine-translated-bull-poop this agency is planning on delivering to its “customers,” how strategic is it  to cut translators out the translation process in your marketing strategy?

Then they blab on about how client reviews can hold up processes, and proceed to give clients several directions as to what mechanisms they (clients) will need to have in place for quickly reviewing the final document(s).

Again, this one is pretty reasonable. However, my first observation is that the “solution” reads like a set of orders and seems a bit condescending. Then they go on to add that some translation companies fail to alert clients of the need for client review and, immediately after that, they move on to a painfully convoluted description of the review process that would probably scare off any potential client. This brings me to my second observation, I understand that someone in their marketing department probably read some post somewhere that said that differentiating yourself from your competitors is a good marketing strategy, but making things seems excessively complicated is not! Also, negativity has been shown in several studies to be a terrible selling technique. If you want to differentiate yourself, you need to focus on what you do right, not on what other people do wrong, and you need to do it in way that is easy to understand. I’ve been in the business for over a decade, and even I found their description confusing. Imagine how clients would feel with such complicated explanations, provided they did not get bored and stop reading altogether. It is, after all, a very long, wordy, and reader unfriendly document.

3. Too many inconveniences 

Most issues that hold up or affect translation can be predicted and your service provider should be able to see these coming and prepare accordingly.

Perfectly reasonable. However, through advice on multiple file versions and terminology, they again make the whole process read like a hassle. Then they ask clients to hand over terminologies, if applicable, opening a whole Pandora’s box of potential issues that make you wonder how on Earth anyone thought this complicated document could constitute a selling solution at all. In addition, at this point they reveal way too much information about what market segment they cater too in a way that is absolutely inconsistent with what they advertise on their site, proving once again their difficulty in grasping the principle of contradiction.

Lastly they move on to claim that if surprises are found during the client review part, it might be because certain parts of the process failed. They blame it on terminology and try to sell terminology set up (at an additional cost) as something that ultimately saves clients money.

 

So what they are basically telling clients is that if they don’t set up terminology for an additional cost, they (agency) will probably mess up the translation and delivery low quality work. Really smart! Especially considering that only five solutions ago they told clients to ask for a breakdown of each and every step of the process to see where costs could be cut…

My Beef

I tried to be as fair as possible when analyzing this little strategy, but could not help concluding it’s a load of BS. Low price directly leads to low quality in translation, and if you read the agency’s strategy carefully enough, you’ll see that’s exactly what they are accidentally telling their clients. Firstly, they offer a breakdown of the process to see where they can help the client “save money” without explaining that, unlike widget manufacturing, translation is an intellectual service. Secondly, they suggest cutting out fundamental quality-assuring parts of the process (like editing). Thirdly, they admit that many mishaps and mistakes will occur and that the client will have to dedicate a lot of time and resources into fixing them. Lastly, they try to sell “terminology set up” as an independent service to prevent and/or fix all the mistakes and inconsistencies that will arise because they cut out editing, reviewing, and/or quality control in the first place. Now, wouldn’t it be much simpler for clients to just hire a quality-driven professional translator, highly specialized boutique agency, and/or specialized team in the first place? You know, the kind who may cost a little more but will not stick the client with inefficient processes or mess up their translation to begin with… just saying! 

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22 thoughts on “How a Certain Translation Agency’s Marketing Strategy Reeks of BS

  1. I agree with everything you said. I was however looking at the picture above and it appears to me more like a donkey than a bull. So shouldn’t the agency marketing strategy reek of DS? 😉

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      • The question is: what is the likelihood of that company of suing you? What would be the charges? Libel? Defamation? Malicious or injurious claims? I would side with you if we were talking about, say, the Argentine government, which has a history of going after press adversaries, but it’s not the only government doing that: Turkey, Venezuela, etc.

        Since the quoted texts are not quotations, I find them a bit dishonest. A quotation is either a verbatim fragment of what someone said or wrote, or it isn’t.

        I don’t blame you for taking precautions to avoid costly consequences, but I invite you to look at it my way, for the sake of argument.

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  2. ¡Hola, Mario!

    I hadn’t realized who I was talking to until your second comment. Some clarifications:

    First, I specified in my post that they are not quotes and that I would simply describe the gist of their message. So I think I was pretty honest and open. The blogquote format is the only design feature in WordPress that I know of that is easy to use and helps me visually separate the two different parts of my post: gist vs. my personal comments/opinions. So, if you want to accuse me of not being computer savvy, that’s fine, but “dishonest”… well, that kinda hurts!

    Second, as you know, we lawyers are trained not to take unnecessary chances. In answer to your question, this would not likely be framed in my jurisdiction as free speech, libel, defamation, or slander. If it were any of those, I wouldn’t just name names and quote verbatim, I’d link directly to their campaign! Free speech has not been restricted or penalized by the Supreme Court here in Argentina since the return of democracy in 1983. However, verbatim quotes could easily be a potential intellectual property issue in this particular case on the basis of the agency’s disclaimer, which prohibits any form of derivative work. That’s why I decided to play it safe this time. It’s simply not worth the hassle.

    Third, I think the agency is irrelevant. The point is simply to point out issues that come up in a lot of marketing campaigns and which are, in my opinion, shortsighted and detrimental to the profession: price, human edited machine pseudo translation, and what sort of BS agencies generally feed clients. I believe there’s a bigger picture here and in light of that bigger picture I don’t think it really matters which agency is using these selling strategies, since so many of them are doing the same thing. But what does matter is that clients would be better off not falling for it.

    Though I can’t say I appreciate being accused of ranting or dishonesty, I’m always open to feedback and value your opinion.

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  3. Mercedes Guhl says:

    Great post, Paula! I really enjoy following your arguments and reasons all through the text. In other terms, you show how your brains function, and that is fascinating to me.
    Besides that, I grew curious about the agency. Have you checked in the ATA directory to find if it is an ATA member or not? I have been thinking lately that having professionals and companies in the same association, as members, is weird, as we know that translation agencies can be the No. 1 exploiters of translators.

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    • Gracias, Mercedes! It hadn’t occurred to me to check the ATA directly to see if they are members. Now I’m curious… 😉

      I share your concern regarding translators and agencies in ATA. If allowing agencies is somehow beneficial to ATA, then at least they should be held to minimum standards like a code of ethics. Bar Associations do it with law firms and I think it’s pretty helpful to individual lawyers with smaller practices.

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  4. Hi Paula:

    I agree with your strategy of never, or almost never, naming translation agencies when I am analyzing the depths of their dishonest, stinky BS on my blog, in order to reduce the risk of being sued.

    Also, I wish more people would realize that you can easily see which agency I am talking about if you simply plug a quote into Google or another search engine, even if it is not an exact quote.

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    • Thank you, Steve! You’re absolutely right. It is pretty easy to figure out which agency I’m talking about and even to find the campaign in question. It’s been all over social media for weeks.

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  5. Great read, although I really don’t understand why should you be afraid of lawyers for speaking your opinion. In fact, and unlike other comments suggest, I believe the name of the agency should be very explicit herein in order to warn fellow colleagues about this agency’s ‘Of nonsense’ exercise. I for one don’t have a clue about what agency you are talking about, so I’m guessing plenty others don’t either. Anyway, everything this agency says lack arguments and is fully client oriented, except it’s not – I’m sure that any serious professional that considers the services of this agency will decline any offer, no matter if they propose cost reductions or otherwise.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Joao! In one of the comments above, Mario also asked the same question as to why not share the agency’s info. As I replied to him as well, it has more to do with the agency’s disclaimer and with potential intellectual property issues than with the agency’s identity. That’s also why I explained the gist of their text and did not quote verbatim.

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      • Undisclosed commenter ;) says:

        I have the PDF and I am sure it says “*All information is the property of” XXX “and may not be reused, rewritten or copied in any way”. My limited understanding of legalese tell me that this does not include reproduction or distribution, but only prevents you from creating derivative works. That is, you would not be violating any rights if you put the entire PDF online for anyone else to see. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

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      • Thanks for your comment! If I were to quote them verbatim, my blog post could be construed as constituting derivative work. Their disclaimer is pretty lame and deficient, but I’d still rather play it safe. As I explained in other comments, there really seems to be no need to name or quote them directly, given that the focus of the post is not the agency itself, but rather a certain tendency to attempt to capture translation clients with deficient logic. Therefore, which agency said it this time or what exact words they used makes no difference: a bunch of agencies try to sell the same BS to clients every day and that’s the real point of my post.

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  6. Sometimes the comments after the blog are more entertaining than the blog. I’m convinced that most translators have an agressive OCD gene. The obsession this time is the name of the agency. You should call the company ACME Inc. and the company rep is Wile E. Coyote.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brilliant Paula.

    What I find particularly amusing in this marketing brochure is how that agency is actually making itself redundant by placing all the decision making responsibility, project management expertise, and accountability at the hands of the clients. If this is the case, what the clients need the agency for? After-all, the main reason to hire an agency in the first place is arguably for their alleged (the operative word here) project management expertise (in the true sense of the term project management and not in the sense of acting as an email forwarding service) that the clients lack, or think they are lacking.

    Buying translation services can get confusing for most translation buyers because the market is fragmented and noisy. Everyone, at almost every price point, is promising basically the same – and clients are usually not even in a position to judge the quality of service they get, This is very confusing and probably why so many buyers fall into the hands and traps of all sorts of unscrupulous players and snake-oil vendors operating in the market while abusing this “information asymmetry” to their benefit. (And as a side note, this is where the professional strata of translation professionals fails miserably at helping translation buyers make educated decision and find the right service providers.)
    So on the one hand this marketing brochure promises to offer solutions to 3 contrived problems (Yes, who wouldn’t want everything to be cheaper, quicker, and take care of itself?), but then follows by leaving the potential buyers even with even more questions and uncertainty. And one of the problems this was set out to solve was inconvenience.

    And by the way, I suspect their disclaimer was intended mainly to deter people from discussing this openly on blogs and social media.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your comment, Shai! Insightful as always!

    It hadn’t really occurred to me to what extent the agency is making itself redundant by placing so much responsibility on the client, but I think you’re absolutely right. All I could focus on when reading their brochure were the contradictions and how complicated and confusing it must be for non-translators to understand so much messy information, provided they read all the way to the end.

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