Not so long ago, using the f-word in business was anathema. But somewhere between Twitter’s @ShitMyDadSays and Vice-President Joe Biden’s hot-mike “big f-ing deal” moment, it appears that profanity protocol has changed in some places. More people are increasingly comfortable dropping the f-bomb in their offices, client meetings, and even in their marketing. Here, some of the people who put it to work for them share why they love it so.
It qualifies prospects. In 2008, Fort Worth, Texas-based firm business-to-business marketing firm The Starr Conspiracy self-published 5,000 copies of a book called, Try Not to Fuck This Up: But If You Do, Call Us. It was distributed as a marketing tool and the cheeky style and bold language got attention and publicity for the firm. Partner Dan McCarron says the book “was our number-one best asset in marketing – no one could have predicted the mileage we got.” Using the grandmother of all cuss-words right in the title ensured that firms who called them were a good fit culturally and wouldn’t be offended by the language the firm members use in everyday parlance.
It’s versatile. Phoenix, Ariz., attorney Ruth Carter, founder of Carter Law Firm, always aspired to “work somewhere where it would be totally normal to say something like, ‘You've got to be f-ing kidding me,’” she says. The f-bomb is a flexible word that can add color, express passion or outrage, or even add humor. While she uses it with clients, while teaching continuing education courses, and even on her company blog, she says there are some circumstances where she won’t, such as if she goes to court. “That would be totally inappropriate, but you play by the rules of the sandbox you’re in,” she says.
It can build rapport. The word still has a bit of a forbidden feeling sometimes, McCarron says. Once you’ve established that you come to the table with the same language, that can be a strong bonding moment and give you a connection with customers, he adds. Of course, even in that situation, overuse or gratuitous use is frowned upon. But if someone gets a little overzealous with profanity, he says that’s easily corrected through a bit of teasing, like “easy there, potty-mouth.”
It can be powerful means of expression. Boulder, Colorado, writer, consultant and performer Erika Napoletano, founder of RHW Media, uses the word in her speeches, blog and everyday interaction. She makes the distinction between using the right words and using the best words. Sometimes, the word, or one of its many variations, is the best word when you’re using it in an authentic way and not for shock value, she maintains.
“A lot of people want you to use the ‘right’ words, which are edited, PC, polished and pretty. The thing the right words can’t do is be honest or make you feel anything. Using the best words – and sometimes, that’s the f-bomb – it’s coming from your gut and it’s telling the story the only way you know how,” she says. “You shouldn’t want to edit someone else’s words because you’re not comfortable with them.”