Rapaport Magazine

Lacking clarity

Why do mining companies seem to have such trouble speaking in terms the average person can understand?

By Joshua Freedman

A bizarre press release from Alrosa landed in the Rapaport News inbox in early October, purporting to relay positive results from the “washing season of 2018” at one of its subsidiaries. What exactly occurs during the Almazy Anabara washing season, which “lasted from the twenties of May to the 24th of September”? That much was a mystery. Since the text seemed to be about mining and production, we presumed Alrosa was describing something more critical to its business than how well its cleaners had mopped the floors, or whether the Russian executives’ shirts had dried efficiently in the summer sun. So we carried on reading.

“Such results were achieved due to, without limitation, the advanced diamond-bearing sand processing technology,” clarified Pavel Marinychev, CEO of Almazy Anabara, in the next sentence. “In particular, we have upgraded the X-ray luminescent separation line to decrease workload of dense-media separation units at the Bolshaya Kuonamka deposit and to increase capacity of grading units.”

At this point, the only thing clear to us was that we didn’t understand what this news item was trying to say, and neither would our readers. So we decided not to cover it. Alrosa’s subsequent mention of expansions to “tank parks of fuel and lubricant materials” only left us more baffled, and even less likely to run the story.

The quest for plain language

This is a common problem in the diamond industry, especially among miners — and not just those like Alrosa, where English is a second language. When journalists receive an unclear press release, they either republish it without a thought — which is bad practice and unhelpful for the reader — or disregard it altogether.

We can guess why this kind of opaqueness happens. Many people are involved in producing corporate communications for a company, and they all have interests and preferences. The media teams — who just want good press coverage — find themselves bowing to the technical staff who can’t bear to see their “load haul dumpers” described merely as “trucks.”

“People along the way — those technical people, financial experts — aren’t trained in plain-language techniques, and they’re not really trained in how to communicate to the average consumer,” says Jeff Greer, a director at the Richmond, Virginia-based Center for Plain Language. Even companies that have writing guidelines often ignore them when there is pressure to publish something fast, he adds.

Striking a balance

Among the other miners having such difficulties, apparently, are small-scale producers Diamcor and Trans Hex. Rapaport Magazine contacted them after attempting to process their jargon (see box), but did not receive responses by press time.

Alrosa, for its part, is often trying to strike a balance between plain language and jargon, says Evgeniya Kozenko, the miner’s head of communications (whose follow-up explanations of Alrosa press releases are always far more coherent than the original texts). While the company is working to make its writing clearer and more interesting, she says, it also needs to use terms that have meaning for specialists.

“The core of the problem — if we can call it a problem — is that our industry is very complicated and targeted to different audiences,” Kozenko notes.

Words of hope

Yet some companies do manage to communicate clearly. While many miners publish long and complicated income statements, De Beers condenses its key data into short, meaningful summaries and publishes press releases that say exactly what the company needs to say, in no more words than necessary.

In fact, De Beers’ internal guidelines require it to do so. The people who write and release external communications take content from around the company and turn it into comprehensible English, explains David Johnson, De Beers’ senior manager for media and commercial communications.

“As none of us in the group communications team are immersed in any specific part of the business, we can often use our own level of understanding as a guide for when something is unlikely to make sense externally,” Johnson explains.

“With a growing expectation from society at large for more insight into how companies operate and why they should be trusted, we think it’s important to try to be clear about what we do,” he adds.

Hopefully, those in the trade who haven’t yet grasped this principle will start to follow suit.

Man’s search for meaningCan you interpret these sentences? Rapaport gives it a try.


Their words: “The Company plans to increase production at the deposits of Ebelyakh group by 1 million carats next year. According to Marinychev, some preliminary work has been carried out for this purpose — the tank parks of fuel and lubricant materials have been expanded, new special-purpose equipment has been ordered, rotation camps are being developed.”

What we think it means: “The company plans to increase production at the Ebelyakh group’s deposits by 1 million carats next year. To achieve this, we have upgraded our equipment and ordered some new items.”

Trans Hex

Their words: “Post year-end, Trans Hex Operations (Pty) Ltd (‘THO’), a wholly owned subsidiary of Trans Hex, entered into an agreement with Lower Orange River Diamonds (Pty) Ltd (‘LOR Diamonds’), in terms of which THO has agreed to, inter alia, dispose of the business conducted by THO, as a going concern, relating to and in connection with the exploration, prospecting, mining for, recovery, treatment, production and disposal of diamonds in respect of the LOR operations, consisting of certain assets, liabilities and the transfer of employees; and cede and transfer the mining right associated with the LOR operations, to LOR Diamonds, for a total cash consideration of R72 million.”

What we think it means: “Following the end of the financial year, our subsidiary, Trans Hex Operations (THO), agreed to sell its entire business to Lower Orange River Diamonds for ZAR 72 million.”


Their words: “The initial modifications completed on the Company’s In-field dry-screening plant were focused on improving the crushing of larger material to reduce the amount of fine kimberlitic clay material reporting to the Company’s Main Treatment Plant, and by doing so, reduce the previously announced water recovery issues being caused by these kimberlitic clays.”

What we think it means: “We upgraded the machine that sorts ore. Somehow.”

Image: Trans Hex

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2018. To subscribe click here.

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