The plastic container sits on a shelf above the desk of Trish Wexler. It once held cashews from Costco. She cut a slit in the cap, printed a new label and gave it a second life as the “Jargon Jar.”
Wexler is Chief Communications Officer at Chase, the retail arm of JPMorgan Chase. Her team has a list of banned words. Align. Empower. Leverage. Optimize. Whenever one of these business-speak words slips into someone’s copy, the offender must deposit $1 in the jar.
“The more jargony your language is when communicating with people, the less they trust what you’re saying,” Wexler said. “You sound like a big, giant company. I wouldn’t tell my neighbor that we hope to empower our employees and customers by aligning and leveraging our resources. Those just aren’t words that come up when talking over the shrubs on a Saturday afternoon. That’s all blah-blah speak that’s not believable.”
At a time when surveys show a plunge in trust for institutions like government, the media and major brands, Wexler believes speaking in plain English is a subtle, but crucial element to earning the confidence of employees and customers. She shared ideas like that in her keynote address, “Building Trust in a Post-Truth World,” at the inaugural Summit by Dynamic Signal conference.
All communicators, Wexler said, know how difficult it can be getting the attention of people who increasingly question what they can and cannot believe.
In some ways, Wexler is an unlikely agent for change in how we communicate. Growing up, was far more enamored with numbers than words. Wexler loved that there was always an answer at the end of every problem.
A math major at the University of Richmond, Wexler thought she was bound for a career as an actuary for an insurance company. Then the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. She raised her head from those complex differential equations and saw a larger world. She switched majors to international studies, and after graduation lived in Japan for a time.
When she returned home to Washington, D.C., Wexler found her way into her true calling – public affairs. At bi-partisan agencies Powell Tate and VOX Global, she worked on regulatory and legislative campaigns for the financial services industry. Wexler has been working with banks ever since and five years ago joined JPMorgan Chase.
This year, she led an internal “war room” that was focused on modernizing internal communication at the company.
“We were looking at things like, ‘How do we make our communication more like what employees are accustomed to in their everyday lives?’” Wexler said. “That means making it more personalized, more mobile, more social in nature. The challenge companies always face is getting adoption. It’s just hard to get people to consume company news, period. So, we have to give them more reasons to pay attention.”
JPMorgan is incorporating technology that allows the company, for example, to target only relevant information to each employee and enable leaders to live-stream announcements by just holding up their smartphones and talking directly to employees. She’s also using tools to better measure the impact of that engagement – a nod to her data-driven roots.
That brings us back to the Jargon Jar.
Recently, there was only $4 at the bottom – and those lonely bills had been there for quite some time. Wexler said it’s proof that her team of about 80 is doing a better job of avoiding business buzzwords like . . .
“Utilize,” Wexler said. “Why don’t you just say use?”
OK, but what about omnichannel? Wexler paused and thought.
“That’s a good one,” she said. “I don’t know if I would allow that to go out in a press release.”
It sounds like another word could be heading to the list.
Chief Communications Officer at the Chase retail division of JPMorgan Chase
Summit Speaking Topic: “Building Trust in a Post-Truth World”
Family: Husband Ron; sons Alex (17) and Caleb (14)
Home: Rye, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Japanese from the University of Richmond
Career: Communication experience includes Global Director at Powell Tate, CEO of her own agency, Senior Vice President and Partner at VOX Global before joining JPMorgan Chase in 2013
Interests: Fan of the New York Giants, New York Yankees, and the Washington Capitals. (She’s still celebrating the Caps first-ever Stanley Cup title in June.)
Favorite Books: “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom
Favorite TV Shows: “Game of Thrones,” “This is Us”
Favorite Movie: While she likes the Star Wars films, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is her pick. “I cry every time.”
Fun Fact: She knows how to long snap a football. The Wexlers are a football family. Both of her sons play, and she has served as general manager of their youth teams. Her husband is a volunteer high school assistant coach.
What to Know about Trish: Don’t challenge her at Skee-Ball. “I grew up on the Jersey Shore, so I spent a good amount of time on the boardwalks in Point Pleasant.”
Follow: @wexlert on Twitter
Five Questions with Trish
What is the most significant communication challenge facing organizations today?
“The biggest thing we’re all dealing with is the ability to get people’s attention. There’s just so much information out there – both internally and externally. There’s such a volume of information coming at all of us. It’s a challenge to make sure your messages cut through that clutter. It’s a real challenge to do that. People do remember stories. But it has to be succinct. It has to be compelling.”
Where do you see Employee Communication and Engagement heading in the future?
“It’s going to look more like Facebook and less like a website where people go to learn information. Communication will be extraordinarily personalized and customized for every employee. You will see things in your news feed that are very relevant to your job and interests based on other things that you’ve read. And it will be mobile. You’ll be able to access it wherever you are. This means the channels that we use to communicate and how we write our communications all has to change.”
If you could share one piece of advice with communicators, what would it be?
“I’ve come to believe that you need to have a certain level of cynicism as a communicator. I think people undervalue this idea. Yes, it’s difficult to have that attitude when you’re a young person learning the job, and you have very senior people telling you to do something. But it’s important to ask questions and pull on threads to make sure you’re doing the right thing. You want to do that before you go out and speak on behalf of a company. You need to be fully confident in what you’re saying, and you’re just not saying it because somebody told you that it was true. After all, it’s your career and your company’s reputation.”
Why is it critical for communicators to be gathering now?
“In your day-to-day life as a communicator, there’s so much to accomplish. Often your schedule is not your own. Your calendar can blow up the minute you walk into the office. You don’t have time to reflect or think about how we can do things better. And our craft is changing so quickly. Putting a tactical pause on your day and going to a new environment allows your brain to start thinking differently. That’s where you’re going to find creativity and inspiration.”
Why are you most excited to be attending the Summit?
“I just love working with Dynamic Signal. It’s rare to work with a group that’s great at listening to a customer like us, learning from our experiences, and then taking that feedback to build out what we need. It’s great when you can have a real partnership.”