A free PR critique: Flush the buzzwords

Columnist David Pogue picks apart a jargon-filled email from a PR pro and offers a rewrite.

If you’re a tech writer, you hear from a lot of public relations people pitching their clients’ wares. Usually, if I’m not interested in what they’re pitching, I just delete them. (The pitches, not the people.)

Today, though, my Inbox encountered a particularly persistent PR woman. She hadn’t gotten the hint. She followed up twice to ask why I hadn’t replied.

“Not to bug you,” she wrote, “but just wanted to get your thoughts on the last email. If you’re in—cool. If not, please give me some feedback.”

Feedback? She wants feedback? I’ve got some feedback for her. In fact, I’m prepared to offer her a complete critique, complete with some insight into the life of a tech writer. No charge. Here’s her pitch—with my notes interspersed.

Hi David. Wanted to chat with you about a shift in eBooks—digital publishing mobile apps such as [her client’s name], which is at the forefront of what we like to call the content convergence trend.

Wow. “Digital publishing mobile apps?” “Content convergence trend?” So far, we have one sentence and seven buzzwords. And no mention of her product.

Rule No. 1 for PR folks: Know your target. If she knew anything about me, she’d know that buzzwords are my pet peeve. (Actually, if she knew anything about any tech writers, she’d know that buzzwords are a universal pet peeve.)

All right, going on:

Convergence tech and the “single screen” lifestyle have brought a rise of digital content platforms displaying a wide array of media, usually a massive library of digital content (Netflix, Xbox, Kindle, eBook) – but what’s next? As our media grows closer, the lines begin to blur and the once passive audience is now becoming participants in their media through interactive content.

Observation No. 1: Your prose is so filled with buzzwords (boldface added), I have no idea what you’re saying.

Observation No. 2: Two paragraphs in, and I still don’t know what the heck you’re pitching.

There are a ton of companies who are digitizing e-books, but not the way that [my client] is. For example, [rival company] may have what they call “interactivity,” tapping a screen to switch pages, but [my client] takes interactivity to a deeper level – choose your own ending stories, point and shoot games, sound and visual effects when touched – that’s the next level of interactivity [my client] is pushing. In this way, [my client] is laying the groundwork for opportunity – we are on the forefront of the trend.

Oh, good! She’s switched from buzzwords to clichés.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. We’re back to empty buzzwords:

In addition, the platform itself serves as a discoverability hub that tackles a different and underserviced set of media – mobile games, interactive comics, graphic novels and lifestyle content. The crossroads for all four of these companies is “original content” – [my client] was founded on a platform of original content, while the others started as a distribution platform for existing content that are now beginning to see the merits of originally created content. As an original entity from day one, [my client] is taking on the digital publishing space with a multiple tiered approach that combines the innovation of new content, licensed content from premiere partners, as well as inviting independent content creators at to create and share their work.

As thought leaders in the original content space, we have some big plans and aspirations and would love to keep you updated along the way!

Would love to hear your thoughts on this and possibly work together on a feature.

Six paragraphs in, and I still don’t know what she’s pitching. What’s the product? How much does it cost? What machine does it run on? Is it out yet?

I’d be surprised if she got a single feature article out of her pitch, even from no-name bloggers.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe she’s fresh out of college, and this is her first summer in PR. Maybe she doesn’t know how busy newspaper writers are.

Maybe, to be fair, the client directed her to incorporate such opaque, nebulous prose, perhaps over her strenuous objections. (I happen to know that that happens.)

So maybe it would be kinder simply to rewrite her pitch in a way that would be much more effective.

Here’s my rewrite:

Hi, David:

E-books are great and all, but they’re still just words on a screen. We make something more ambitious: multimedia comic books. As you read, you can tap the screen to trigger animations, play little games and even change the story line.

Our first title, “Superhamster,” is a $1 app for iPad. It’s been in the App Store’s top 20 e-book downloads for six weeks, with an average user review of 4.8 stars. If you’re interested in a review copy, say the word; we think your readers would love it.

Now, if she had sent me that pitch—well, I’d probably still have deleted it.

But that product, and that PR rep, would have caught my attention. She would have had more success getting other reviewers interested. And in my heart, I’d have thanked her for her clarity, brevity, and intelligence.

So there’s your free advice, PR folks. Write your message in English—or risk being flushed right down the discoverability hub.

A version of this article originally appeared on David Pogue’s Tumblr.

(Image via)


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