In the past month, I have listened to a number of great speakers sharing their wisdom on the causes of and solutions for the challenging state our industry finds itself in today. Hans Fenstermacher, with a language industry career spanning three decades, touched on the topic at both the 18th Annual Conference of the Localisation Research Centre in Limerick and the ATC conference in London. Today the CEO of GALA, the world’s largest localisation association, one of Hans’ tasks is to promote the visibility of translation and localisation to the outside world. “To the corporate client”, he says, “localisation is always primarily a cost and that is how they continue to measure it.” This means that they treat it as a commodity; one product must surely be identical to any other product of the same size and can thus be purchased strictly on price. It seems to be this ignorance of and lack of experience with localisation on the client side that is driving the current commoditisation trend all LSPs struggle with.

One frequently proposed way out of the situation is to raise the profile of the industry as a whole. To effect any change in what motivates the commercial sector to localise, and to localise well, means proving to them that it makes a difference to their market share, customer base, or sometimes simply to their image. In his inspiring presentation at the ATC conference, Hans described language today as a craft, a profession, a technology, a business and a community, all coming together to form a language enterprise that consists of service companies, clients, freelance professionals, technology developers, educators, researchers and associations. As an enterprise, we have mutual interests. As an enterprise, we have an opportunity to create value, share knowledge and advocate our relevance collectively.

In this, the industry associations have a key role and it has been good to see the ATC, GALA and ELIA in particular considering cooperation and taking steps in the right direction. Perhaps over the coming year, the association heads should get together and compare notes on successful, creative marketing efforts from their respective member companies? Perhaps some of these innovative ideas could be transferred from local initiatives to national or even international ones? Perhaps at our conferences next year, we could do something truly newsworthy? Talk to Gisela Kooistra at Global textware in the Netherlands about her guerrilla tactics or Marek Gawrysiak at TextPartner in Poland about riding his bike for Translators Without Borders. What brought a small ROI to an individual company could do the same a hundredfold for the image of an industry.

Icebreaker, Icebreaker October 2013, Translation industry