The ‘Trojan Horse’ Title Game

Or alternatively “is your entitlement what your title meant?”

Occupational titles are a funny thing. Whenever our next run of business cards or signatures are due we inevitably discuss our titles. What do you want? What should we say? Most importantly… what have we earned. Because titles are something that, over time, are earned as a badge of honour. Or at least, that was how it used to be.

In recent years there has been a trend to do away with occupational titles within startup businesses. Opting instead to create new and fantastical titles that would sound just as at home in a Mario Bros. game as a professional industry.

Sometimes these can be funny. When done well, they can give an innate sense of character to the business. And then there are others that are… well, just plain deceptive.

Placing less importance on titles within industries has opened up a disturbing trend for self-appointed titles that can mislead and misrepresent the experience you offer. How many times have you heard job titles like these: “Social Media Evangelist”, “Trend Futurist”, “Chief Vocal Aggregator”. Can we all just take a deep breath and have a think about what that actually means?

Recently I read a great quote on Twitter by @LizHackett which stated “You are not a ‘Foodie’. You’re 24. You went to a restaurant”. After I’d picked myself back up off the floor I realised that this was no longer an absurdist statement. This was reality.

Take for instance a recent business card that read “Executive Creative Director”. Nothing wrong with that, right? Nothing overtly absurd or jingoistic on the surface? Not until you realise that the card belongs to a graphic designer working from their own bedroom while freelancing on the off-days. What’s wrong with the title “Graphic Designer” if that’s what you are? Be proud but don’t be deceptive. An “Executive Creative Director” by the very definition of the words indicates that you have:

  1. At least some experience as a CD or even Art Director.
  2. Have at least one other Creative Director that answers to you in your business.
  3. A team of designers that in turn process your ‘direction’.
  4. A ‘company’?

What it doesn’t do, is communicate to your clients that most of your work is conducted at home, in your underpants, with a bag of Frazzles in one hand and a TV Remote in the other.

These are the days of the ‘Trojan Horse titles’ and it has to stop.

A discussion I had recently with a friend uncovered that they had hired someone under the guise of ‘journalist’ when the word ‘occasional blogger’ would have sufficed. ‘Journalist’ had painted a gritty picture of years spent grafting on a national paper or editorial, scouring the streets looking for the juiciest exposés and working a bustling newsroom. The CV he received from them with  ‘journalist’ indicated someone that had been published. A writer with something to say. In reality he was hiring a junior blogger with a years experience and spent much of his evenings correcting grammatical mistakes. On the one hand we could argue that he should have looked deeper into the CV to pre-empt this. But should he? Or should trust play a factor when hiring the next ‘Global Head of Pontification’?

‘Manager’, ‘Co-ordinator’, ‘Accounts’, ‘Designer’, ‘Copywriter’, ‘Developer’ as an example, may not have the same lustre as ‘Chief Cashew Dispenser’… but they have something else. Honesty. Integrity. And a sense that you respect both the industry you work in and the people you want to work with.

So remember… next time you meet an ‘Executive Creative Director’, ask for a tour of the studio. You may end up doing more housework than you expected.