The Other Side of the Mirror: an inside look at a “translator-driven” corporate communications campaign

Translators who work on corporate content are often critical of the source-text material they are given to translate. Few of them, however, get a chance to do much about it: a company’s source-language communications content is generally more or less finalized by the time the translators see it.

Sure, there may still be errors in the source content, and a sharp-eyed translator who’s established a constructive communications channel with her end-clients can often get those errors corrected. And in some cases, an acknowledged field-specialist translator can even occasionally “talk her client off the ledge” when they’re about to include a bit of source-language content that’s counterproductive for reasons the client hasn’t thought of—but the field-specialist translator has. Interactions like these are important and valuable, not least because they underpin long-term relationships with existing clients and trigger referrals to new ones.

But spotting source-text errors —big and small— and getting them fixed isn’t the same as having an influence on the “Big Picture.” That source-content Big Picture includes the company’s fundamental voice principles, main messaging points, and even the visuals and overall graphic look and feel of their communications. David Jemielity, Head of Translations at Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (BCV), will tell us what it’s like when translators’ input is taken account of so far upstream in the communications process that they actually have a say in those issues. And since 2015, more than just “a say”: that year Dave was put in charge of BCV’s brand identity campaign as creative director and overall project lead across all languages (but especially French, BCV’s base language). He’s currently leading a project to evolve the campaign in 2019.

Dave will tell us about how that ad campaign was put together and the role his translation team played “on the other side of the mirror,” helping create French-language content that they then in some cases translated into English and German. He’ll provide the inside story on how a bank goes about tweaking its “corporate voice principles,” the importance of visuals and what it’s like to be a “word guy” who suddenly has to come to grips with that dimension of messaging, how it happened that a translator was put in charge of a multi-year source-language ad campaign, and what were the advantages and disadvantages of being a translator and a non-native speaker of French in such a situation. He’ll also talk about the strategy BCV’s in-house translation team has employed in order to position itself within the bank in such a way that its unique perspective on their company’s communications is recognized and valued —a strategy that can be of use to all translators looking to position themselves at the center of their company’s or clients’ communications. Ultimately, Dave will argue that there’s a real continuum in terms of both process and product between doing translation “right” and actually creating the source text.

The presentation will be in English and French.

David Jemielity is Senior English Translator and Head of Translations at Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (BCV) in Lausanne, Switzerland. BCV is a mid-sized bank with 2000 employees including 5-8 translators covering English, French, and German. Since 2012 he has also been a member of the bank’s comité editorial, a 6-person group that sets BCV’s communications policy across languages. He is currently creative director and project lead for the bank’s brand identity campaign, which won both the Prix du Jury and the Prix du Public at the 2014 Swiss Web Program Festival.

Dave is also a tenured faculty member of the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Translation and Interpretation, where he teaches in the graduate French>English track. His research centers on target-text effectiveness in financial translation and high-end translation process design and has been presented widely at conferences in Europe and North America and in print. He was a Distinguished Speaker at the 2010 American Translators Association Annual Conference. His latest publication is a chapter devoted to translation in business contexts in the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture (2018).

Dave studied English and philosophy at Amherst (USA) and Oxford (UK) and has been translating since the 1990s.