Corporate Communications – Make Dictionaries Mandatory

Opinion piece in PRWeek, issue dated November 13, by Robert Phillips, UK CEO of Edelman. He uses the word ‘mandate’ twice, both times incorrectly.

Is it just me, or is the word ‘mandate’ getting an increasing amount of use amongst communicators currently? Often, as far as I can see, being used to supplant the tried and tested ‘brief’ or ‘account’ or, heaven forbid, ‘service contract’.

Well – here’s the news. It’s an incorrect usage. Getting a mandate does not mean being contracted to provide a service (PR or otherwise) for money. Just a quick look at t’internet reveals the definition here reproduced:


n [ˈmændeɪt -dɪt]

1. an official or authoritative instruction or command

2. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) Politics the support or commission given to a government and its policies or an elected representative and his policies through an electoral victory

3. (Historical Terms) (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (often capital) Also called mandated territory (formerly) any of the territories under the trusteeship of the League of Nations administered by one of its member states

4. (Law)

a.  Roman law a contract by which one person commissions another to act for him gratuitously and the other accepts the commission

b.  Contract law a contract of bailment under which the party entrusted with goods undertakes to perform gratuitously some service in respect of such goods

c.  Scots law a contract by which a person is engaged to act in the management of the affairs of another

vb [ˈmændeɪt] (tr)

1. (Law) International law to assign (territory) to a nation under a mandate

2. to delegate authority to

3. Obsolete to give a command to

[from Latin mandātum something commanded, from mandāre to command, perhaps from manus hand + dāre to give]

mandator  n

Collins Essential English Dictionary, 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

Nowhere in the definition can I see the meaning that Phillips and others within the industry would attribute to the word mandate.

Doesn’t make us, as communicators, look very clever, does it.

And as for the rest of Phillips’ article – well, I’ll post some comments when I’m feeling slightly more objective.

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