The State of Visibility
- On May 4, 2016
I just edited a bunch of case histories for a public relations firm. Most of the results cited increased visibility, which wasn’t surprising. Many companies strive for higher profiles and hire PR firms to help them do it. What was surprising is how fuzzy the word visibility sounded—not a good thing for a term that is used to talk about the state of being seen. For example, I had to read the following two sentences a few times before I could fully latch on to their meaning: The result was a meaningful rise in the organization’s visibility among social media and The company’s visibility helped generate a spike in awareness for their work and motivated others to give.
In both cases, I thought profile and prominence could be used instead: The result was a meaningful rise in the company’s profile in social media and The company’s newfound prominence led to greater awareness of its work and an increase in donors.
Visibility isn’t wrong, but it’s tricky because it relates both to the ability to see, as in Bad weather caused poor visibility on the roads as well as to being seen, as in the examples above. So when you can replace it with another word for that second meaning—like I did with profile or prominence—do it.
Visibility is also used to talk about having an accurate view of a financial situation. Sometimes it gets butchered as it did in the following comment by a company that was spinning off its Chinese operations into a separate company: This will provide a clear investment thesis and visibility to attract a long-term investor base suited to each business.
I had to consult a finance guy to understand that. I liked his overall take on the term vis-à-vis its financial meaning, as well as his explanation of the confusing sentence. Here’s what he said:
“Visibility is used all the time by public companies referring to future results. It’s a useful term for conveying the ability to forecast business results like sales earnings and margins, for example, We don’t have much visibility on 2016 income for that division or Next year we should be able to maintain our margins, but beyond that, we don’t have much visibility.
In the sentence about the spin-off the term visibility comes off as jargon, so the sentence does not clearly convey the company’s message. What they probably meant was the spin-off would allow investors to forecast with more confidence the future results of each division.”
The finance guy is my kid brother. He knows a thing or two. Thank you, Peter.