As a Zillow enthusiast, I appreciate real estate euphemisms. PR buzzwords are another story.
We’ve all seen flowery descriptions describing homes for sale as “cozy” (read: tiny); with a “low-maintenance yard” (probably concrete); or “partial water view” (maybe a dried stream bed). A recent tweet about a “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cabin” made me think about the jargon that clutters press releases and business memos in our own business.
As for public relations, far too many tired, empty words are used in news announcements and other content prepared by agencies or their clients. In some cases it’s understandable, perhaps even necessary. When it comes to business software, customers might expect to hear about “end-to-end solutions” or a “suite of scaleable offerings.”
Advertising Week wrapped up recently in New York and, with it, a festival of jargon. In the adtech sector, buzzwords like “monetization” and “engagement” are unavoidable, and terms such as “transparency” and “visibility” have special meaning. (Even worse are the acronyms. If you don’t know what GDPR is and why it’s important to a DMP, then you’re lost.)
Even allowing for vocabulary specific to certain sectors, PR-speak can be uninspired and clogged with meaningless descriptors.
There are three main categories of bad PR-speak (with some overlaps): hyperbole, buzzwords and hopeless clichés. These are the worst of the worst:
- Leading. This one’s everywhere, usually in the first line of a press release or company boilerplate. It implies leadership status without making a claim that could be disputed or corroborated. The same goes for weasel words market-leading and leading-edge. Without information that supports the claim, they have no power. Those still aren’t as bad as bleeding edge,which I first heard in 1996 and never want to hear again.
- Excited. My pet peeve is the news release about a partnership or deal where the company spokesperson is quoted as being thrilled,delighted or excited about the transaction. Though these descriptors might be accurate, they add nothing to the story—and no journalist will use them. Why not explain how the partnership will advance business goals? You might even skip the quote and post a real executive comment on social media.
- Groundbreaking. Another bit of hyperbole that has lost all meaning.
- Curated. This is an unnecessarily pretentious version of a simpler term. Why call something curated if it’s clearer to say it’s carefully chosen or hand-picked? The same goes for bespoke and many nouns used as verbs, such as mainstreaming and (the worst) architecting, as in “architecting a new plan.” Ugh.
- Lean in. With due respect to Sheryl Sandberg, this term has been appropriated by so many different entities and in so many situations that the original meaning has evaporated, and now it’s cliché.
- Incredibly. Hyperbolic and meaningless.
- Leverage (as a verb). I’m reconciled to seeing this world peppering PR proposals, but it should never appear in a press release.
- Game-changing. If a product has truly changed the game, then explain how. Otherwise, discard this empty hyperbole.
For more PR buzzwords that deserve to be busted, check out PRbuzzsaw. You can try its “automated jargon removal tool” to assess your press release or just have a laugh. If you’re still in need of inspiration, I have a charming, bespoke cottage with lots of character that you might want to check out.