Lost and Found in Translation: How to Guide Meaning in PR

Lost and Found in Translation: How to Guide Meaning in PR

By Maria-Nicole Ikonomou

In translation, words are not independently defined. The task of a translator is to convey a writer’s intent from one language to another. This can be challenging when entire texts are translated and is largely why Google Translate fails to correctly render an intended meaning. With every translated phrase, there is a level of subjectivity and interpretation.

Language often fails to deliver sentiment across tongues. This is a common experience, whether someone speaks more than one language or not. There are even certain words that remain untranslatable, such as deja vu, a meaning so difficult to succinctly convey in English that the original word is adopted.

The media plays a large role in guiding translation. The publications a person reads often align with the language he or she speaks. As publicity and media experts, this makes our jobs all the more important. At LaunchSquad, our clients rely on us to tell their story accurately, authentically, and in a way that their intended audience will understand. Our clients offer pieces of the narrative (who they are, their company’s mission, and the work they are doing) but it’s our job to guide their stories to their audiences. When we’re writing messaging documents and pitches, or introducing a client in a briefing, it is our responsibility to translate their intent in a way that will hit home with the targeted audience.

In my work with client Coursera, the first piece of information I share is a brief company description: “Coursera is an online education platform with more than 23 million learners,” which already poses a problem. Learners is a term used almost exclusively in the edtech space, and our team is required to bridge that gap. A learner is someone who is utilizing the online platform to take college courses. This is something we must also remind our clients. We can never assume that our readers, users, or reporters understand what we’re saying.

When we prepare clients for briefings, we do a great deal of research. We read a reporter’s previous work and outline how our client should explain their company or project in a way that will resonate with that reporter. If a Coursera spokesperson was to talk to a reporter from InformationWeek, a publication that specializes in computer learning, then he or she could use highly technical language to dive into the nitty gritty of the technical platform. If the same spokesperson were to speak to Marie Claire, a consumer publication with a large female counterpart, that same spokesperson is more likely to speak to the impact of the technology within the context of larger, global trends.  

With every company, announcement, briefing, pitch, or phone call, we are translators. Sometimes we dive so far into our work that when we do come up for air, it’s challenging to explain that work to someone outside of the field, whether that be online education, self-driving technology, or virtual reality. Our clients and our internal teams rely on us to pull fragments of language together to lift intention from one text or spoken word to another, and write stories that not only ring true, but are accessible and authentic to audiences everywhere.

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