The official start of fall is upon us, and that means more than just colorful foliage or a new Google doodle.
We're also entering high season for sports clichés in business and communications. Football is underway, Major League Baseball is careening toward the playoffs, and the basketball and hockey seasons start within weeks.
That puts us at heightened risk for those buzzwords, catchphrases and other parasites that infest business communications and annoy us all, particularly when we slip up and use them ourselves.
Gail Sideman of Publiside, who works in sports PR, cites two hated sports clichés that have also crept into business use: "We're going to give it 110 percent," and, "We just take it one game at a time."
"There are so many," she says. "My big thing is not to be predictable. Say something that has substance."
Here are some other clichés, buzzwords and tired metaphors to watch for this time of the year:
Slam dunk. Oddly, this tends to mean something that's easy to accomplish, even though most of us couldn't possibly slam-dunk a ball. It's also terribly 1990s sounding, says my colleague Clare Lane, co-editor of PRDaily.com. "'This campaign is sure to be a slam dunk' just sounds so lame," she says.
We knocked it out of the park. Nothing is certain in business and PR, because there are many variables, says Lisette Paras, president of Gravitate PR. "You may think that you've wowed a prospect with your killer presentation," she says, "but that doesn't mean you've absolutely locked them in as a client thanks to budgets, timing and unexpected business issues that can be completely out of everyone's control."
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Keep your eye on the ball. "As opposed to not keeping your eye on the ball?" Paras says.
Related: "Don't drop the ball on this account," offers Clint Evans, chief executive of StandOut Authority. "Nobody plans to drop the ball," Evans says. "Nobody starts out intending to harm their own reputation or the company's brand. So this is a useless cliché."
Cinderella story. This can be appropriately used when referring to an underdog winning or an unexpected victor, Lane says. "Sadly, most of the time, it's overused jargon in lots of PR and marketing writing," she says. "If you can't use it correctly, don't use it at all."
This one is a home run. As a description of a campaign or press release, the phrase is overused, says Alison Krawczyk, director of public relations at Overit. "I also don't like this sports analogy, because it implies that everything else we've done hasn't been that great-like they were a foul ball or an out," she says.
Quarterback this project. This irks Jack Deschauer, a senior vice president at Levick Communications. Nor is he happy about "it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint."
Pick up the ball, and advance it down the field. This is one of a handful that have grown tiresome, says Steve Turner of Solomon Turner PR. Others that bug him:
- "They are a good competitor, but like us they put on their uniform one leg at a time."
- "We need to score a touchdown or two to keep the client."
- "Better tighten up the chin straps on this. It's going to be a long night to get the proposal together."
We're going for a Hail Mary on this. Jake Coburn of Beyond PR Group cannot stand when a client or publicist uses this. "A Hail Mary is a last-ditch desperation attempt to make something good happen," he says. "If you are doing PR correctly, there's no need for a 'Hail Mary.'"
It's basic blocking and tackling. If you hear this, you're being told, "How could you screw this up?" a story in Forbes suggests. Try a more direct approach if you want someone to avoid the same goof in the future.
Going the distance. Lane says the phrase is too vague to mean anything in marketing and can imply something totally different from one company to the next. "It's an instance of 'don't use a sports analogy because you think it sounds clever,'" she says. "Just say what you mean."
Pivot. Forbes quotes a source who declares that this phrase "is completely misused and abused as both a word and a concept."
Defense wins championships." Guess what. It doesn't," says Matthew Mercuri, digital marketing specialist with ERA Environmental Management Solutions. "Offense wins championships. The whole point of the match is to score more than your opponent."
Teamwork makes the dream work. "I've heard this cliché so many times it now rings hollow for me," says Evans. Also, when in his earshot, avoid enthusing that you want your customers to have "a Hall of Fame experience."
Touch base. This baseball metaphor "is strangely inept, given that in the sport, 'touching base' is a solitary, win-lose action: the runner and the fielder vie to touch base first," The Economist states.
Eat your own dog food. All right, this one has nothing to do with sports (unless we're talking about the Georgia Bulldogs), but I was so smitten by its awfulness, I had to include it. If that's your attitude, you might want to find a different line of work.
Don't deal in dog chow. Keep your eye on the ball. Make sure that customer of yours has a Hall of Fame experience. The ball's in your court.