Here at The Content Factory, we’re not perfect. We admit it. We accept it. And while we can’t turn back time and change out of those Hugo Boss denim coveralls or go back and burn all our anime, we can learn from our mistakes and thereby evolve into even more awesome versions of ourselves.
But as helpful as it is to learn from our own experiences, we’d much rather save ourselves the embarrassment and learn from the online PR mistakes of others instead. We’re always on the lookout for professional advice that can help, and this week we definitely found some. Our friends at PRNewser recently shared a list of words that journalists hate to see in digital PR pitches. These words came from the journalists themselves, from 500 reporters and journalists who participated in the annual buzzword report conducted by UK firm Twelve Thirty Eight. Here’s a small sampling of some of the most abhorred words and phrases:
1. Starting online PR pitches with “So…”: We realize that we do this with posts, but we’re a blog so we can get away with it. Communications folks should stay relatively formal while conveying their excitement about their client/firm’s latest project.
2.“Dear” is a little weird, but “Hi, Patrick” works just fine. (And we prefer “Hi” to “Hey” unless you actually know us, but that’s a personal thing.)
3. “Dynamic”: We know you’re excited, but maybe back off a bit and call it “interesting” or “intriguing” or even “unique.”
4. “Paradigm”: In most cases this means “the current state of things”, so that phrase will probably work. For example, “the current state of social media” or “today’s social media world” makes more sense than “the social media paradigm.”
5. “Elite”: “Exclusive” is OK here. We know you can’t say “expensive” or “available only to certain wealthy/famous people”, but we get it.
6. “Hotly Anticipated”: “Upcoming” or “soon to be announced” doesn’t sound quite as exciting, but it is usually just as accurate.
7. “End User”: Just write “user” or, even better, “customer” or “consumer”. We’ll get it.
8. “Influencer”: We understand that someone like, say, Richard Branson has a lot more LinkedIn followers than pretty much anyone else, but in most cases calling someone an “influencer” reads a little weird. “Popular LinkedIn personality” or “public speaker” makes the point.
9. “Evangelists”: This is just another word for “enthusiast” or “promoter”. And we hope it goes away soon.
10. “Deliverables”: Too vague. Be specific: do you mean “content”? You probably mean content.
11. “Icon/Iconic”: If you’re talking about Michael Jackson or the Coca-Cola logo, sure. In most other cases, “popular” or “longstanding” will work.
If you’ve ever put out a HARO query, you probably nodded along while reading this list. It’s crazy how often these words and phrases pop up in writing – and yet when it’s our turn at the keyboard, many of us are completely blind to the meaningless jargon that infiltrates our emails, our press pitches and even our copy writing.
But we came up with a handful of tricks that should help anyone sharpen their email voice. First, before you hit send on that pitch email, do a quick scan. If you were to read the email to your 13-year-old brother, would you have to define any of the words for him? If so, swap them out for easier ones.
Next, go over your message again. Try to spot nouns that feel professorial, dull or colorless – a lot of these are going to come straight out of business speak, and most will have Latin roots. Look for clichés (if you’re heard it before, it’s a cliché). Keep an eye out for weak verbs and passively voiced constructions. Are there more specific, concrete words you could use to help journalists get a clearer picture of the business or product you’re promoting? If so, work on those areas.
Buzzwords are weird animals. On the surface they can seem neat, but they can weaken the feeling of authorial presence, and by doing so they can create a kind of distance. In a certain way, they might even be rude, because instead of reaching out personally to a reporter, the writer of the buzzword-stuffed email hopes to trick the reader into jumping on the latest trend. But reporters aren’t dogs, you know. They’re not gonna play catch with you for a bone. Talk to the person instead, because saying what you actually mean to say has a bracing effect on both the reader and the writer. Clarity is how you seize attention – jargon just puts people to sleep.
If you have any creative fixes for killing jargon and winning the attention of journalists, tell us about them in a comment below.