PR Insight

PR Jargon Buster - The 12 most hated PR phrases

Date: 10 February 2011 10:46

Many believe that the most annoying abbreviation in PR is AVE (advertising value equivalent), but that is more about what AVE stands for, a poor way of measuring success, than the actual acronym itself. So we asked for the expressions that particularly annoy you in your pr jobs.

Before we start, Ian Whiteling, director of online agency Three-Sixty, points out that the term “public relations” is rather baffling itself. He adds: “It has to be the biggest jargon – what does it really mean?”. While you’re working that one out, here are a few other turns of phrase that you may have heard lately.

PRmoment’s glossary of favourite, and hated, PR terms:

1. Boiler plate: This is the term that some PROs use for the notes to editors short piece that gives a brief background to a company. Jill Hawkins, director at agency Aniseed PR gives her view: “I hate the term! Where on earth did it come from and does anyone still use it.”

2. Blue-sky thinking: What is wrong with the word “creative”? Other annoying terms in this ilk include “thinking out of the box” and coming up with “leftfield ideas“.

3. Cross pollination/cross fertilisation: These terms, along with “low-hanging fruit” (for easy pickings), certainly make Julie Thompson Dredge, senior consultant at agency Cherish PR, cross.

4. Digital native, digital immigrant: Claire Bridges, founder of PR agency Agency4Agencies describes these terms, which were first coined by Mark Prensky a writer and futurist in 2001. She says: “Think four year olds using iphones to watch Dora the Explorer versus your gran and the internet. Prensky said that a digital native is a person born during or after the introduction of digital technology and is comfortable using it (like a native speaker of a language) whereas an immigrant is someone born before the advent of digital and finds it harder to adapt to it. It's become shorthand for talking about people and their attitude to digital technology and campaigns.”

5. Grey beard: This is used to describe the wise corporate head in the room. Can be worrying if that wise person happens to be a woman.

6. Heads up: Journalists often ask for this. It is rather overused in some PROs’ opinions. So if you want to have advance notice (not that this is ever likely), perhaps find another way to ask for it.

7. Holding the ring: This means taking responsibility for, as in “I will hold the ring on that project”. The first time that Alex Hunter, managing director of PR agency Pavilion, heard it, he says: “I felt a little queezy”.

8. Moving forward: If you do have to carry on, why go on about it? Natasha Stone, account executive at Golley Slater says “these are by far the most annoying two words used by PROs”.

9. Quick and dirty: This usually means that the activity is going to be cheap too, and is used in relation to just about anything, often surveys.

10. Reach out: This is the personal bugbear of Beth Carroll, head of social media at PR agency Threepipe: She wonders why it is so popular, when there are much better alternatives, she offers three: “Approach, talk to, or contact worked just as well for many years.”

11. Seed, share and amplify: It might be relevant to have a term that means spreading the word effectively now that social media is doing just that, but this phrase is getting tired now.

12. Touch base: If someone asks you to contact them this way, try not to scream.

This is an introduction to a few of the phrases that may drop from the lips of PROs. If you want to find terminology that is even more baffling, then freelance PR consultant Katharina Winkler offers this advice: “Just look at most agencies' websites. I guarantee you that many prospective clients wouldn't understand the PR waffle and self-important terminology. “ 

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    When I was APM running the PMO on HMS Astute DDFoC the RN MOD and BAES loved TLAs. At PWC as an AMC it was worse. Eew I feel so dirty writing all that. Incidentally I like boiler plate (it has a sense of antiquity) heads up (it evokes a sense of living your eyes away from the screen) and touch base (as per basebal it can imply a super-brief chat to prove your existence). Incidentally one manager years ago once said 'rape the natives' to mean gouging the client for all they were worth. Now THAT is horrifying.

    Name: David Lurie
    Date: 10 Feb 2011 07:11 PM

    I know you work in PR but why don't you get a few more agency name checks in there? God it's like reading a PR Week bin-destined insert, except more cliched

    Name: Toby Larone

    Date: 11 Feb 2011 08:39 AM

    Here's some blue-sky thinking: moving forward, grey beards and digital natives alike should hold the ring on some quick and dirty reaching out in order to seed, share and amplify publicity. Then touch base about their cross-pollination. That's my heads-up. Stick that in your boilerplate. Yes, I know, an orgy of PR foulness.

    Name: Steve Earl
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 09:09 AM

    Personally, I hate 'take off line' and 'bespoke solutions' or 'square the circle' - each of which when said by a slightly twitchy digital guru or grey beard make me really quite nauseous! Speak English, it isn't hard and presumably if you live in the UK, you use it quite often.

    Name: Lee Blackwell
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 09:39 AM

    'Media outreach' - YUK!

    Name: Mary Whitehouse
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 10:10 AM

    Not typical to PR, but to generally woeful marketing types in general is the quite ghastly: 'In terms of moving forward', a totally unnecessary and unjustifiable prefix to the words that follow. There's times it is fortunate I don't have a machine gun in certain all-agency meetings.

    Name: Mark Perkins
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 10:18 AM

    'Long grassing' is bad enough. But 'flagging up' makes me violent...

    Name: Liz Cartwright
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 11:14 AM

    Here are some of my pet hates: - co-creation - flatlining - leverage

    Name: Joey
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 12:16 PM

    I love that Toby Larone has commented. I think the phrases I hate don't just apply to the PR industry but 'Suck it and see' is the worst - it's just wrong. The traditional 'thinking outside the box' and 'run it up the flagpole' also make me cringe. 'In terms of' and 'it's a case of' are terribly overused. And since when did 'I'll ping it over to you' mean 'I'll send you an email'?!

    Name: Rachel Knight
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 12:23 PM

    Boilerplate is nice, I think - here's the etymology: "newspaper (and now information technology) slang for "unit of writing that can be used over and over without change," 1893, from a literal meaning (1840) "metal rolled in large, flat plates for use in making steam boilers." The connecting notion is probably of sturdiness or reusability. From 1890s to 1950s it was literal: publicity items were cast or stamped in metal ready for the printing press and distributed to newspapers as filler. The largest supplier was Western Newspaper Union." Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

    Name: Sophie Everett

    Date: 11 Feb 2011 12:37 PM

    "Engage" - it has such a superficial, meaningless tone to it. It is a word loved by PR and Communications people. There are even "Directors of Stakeholder Engagement" out there. What hope is there for their communities? Cascade that down darlings...

    Name: Jeni Beattie
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 12:51 PM

    Just written an email headed - Just a heads-up. I feel slightly ashamed, nay dirty. Going forward is one that irks as, according to the current laws of physics, there is no other way for time to move. What about run it up the flagpole - does anyone still say that?

    Name: Nigel Charlesworth
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 01:18 PM

    Just a 'heads-up' but as I'm 'holding the ring', 'moving forward' I'm going to 'reach out' and 'touch base' with the 'digital native' client after some 'blue-sky thinking' with 'digital immigrant' 'grey beard' about the 'quick and dirty' 'cross pollination' of their 'boiler plate' to better 'seed share and amplify'. Anyone feeling queasy?

    Name: Ed Tallents
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 01:46 PM

    In one meeting I had someone said, 'if we look at this from the other end of the telescope..." What!!!??? I also find 'Lets get all our ducks in a row' quite appalling.

    Name: JC

    Date: 11 Feb 2011 03:14 PM

    "let's get in bed with..." - that's *got* to be high on everyone's list? Quite frankly, it makes me feel mucky every time I hear it!

    Name: Amanda Wheeler
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 05:11 PM

    ONO! I'm guilty of 11 out of the 12.

    Name: Sherrilynne Starkie
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 05:28 PM

    Every industry has its jargon. In law firms boilerplate is used to describe the standard bits of a contract and there's a similar usage in computer programming (spot the tech PR...). That doesn't give us - as professional writers - an excuse to get away with tropes or wordy, poor style. But as Sherrilynne says, we're all guilty. So, going forward, let's leverage some blue sky thinking to skyrocket our prose!

    Name: James Stockbridge
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 06:02 PM

    A lot of this is general management speak that's not specific to PR. I guess there's a tipping point when something that sounds authentic and contemporary starts to become hackneyed - but clearly not everyone agrees when that is :).

    Name: Oliver Lawrence
    Date: 11 Feb 2011 08:30 PM

    Some others for the list; smoke and mirrors (we're lying to you basically, albeit in a nice way - maybe), Hit the ground running and on the same page. I agree with Oliver though - many of these could be seen as generic management/business speak. Whatever the context/profession is though they should be banned!

    Name: Brooke Nolan
    Date: 14 Feb 2011 01:41 PM

    Nice list - touch base is terrible but we seem to say it quite a bit. I don't think I have ever heard the expression "Hold the Ring" but I will look out for that one.

    Name: Chris Norton
    Date: 14 Feb 2011 04:21 PM

    Sit down with. As in - "Can we sit down later today and thrash out an email" or "Going forward, let's sit down about this client on a weekly basis". I also think the way 'k' has become the norm on IM instead of 'ok' is pretty amusing. As if typing one more letter is going to save you time.

    Name: Eleanor Giles
    Date: 14 Feb 2011 04:28 PM

    "'Its not on the radar", as in i haven't heard about it yet. This could be general management speak, but i've heard it used by clients after a press release has been sent.

    Name: Denis Butler
    Date: 15 Feb 2011 12:48 PM

    "Talking to..." as in, "I'll just talk to this chart". Call me old-fashioned but aren't you talking about it?

    Name: Ian Thomas
    Date: 16 Feb 2011 08:18 AM

    Love this "raft of" grim examples. "Boil the ocean" doesn't "tick the right box" for me, either. Plain speaking is what matters.

    Name: Mike Ritchie
    Date: 16 Feb 2011 04:39 PM

    Hate when anyone uses the expression '24/7'. Really? You can't just say 'we're contactable anytime'? Oh and don't get me started on 'moving forward'. Oh and thanks for the 'purge'.

    Name: Bec Derrington
    Date: 17 Feb 2011 01:55 AM

    Totally agree about 'moving forward' as if anyone chooses to go backwards! While we're on that tack, why does everything today have to be driven? Almost every company spokesman says 'we are driving growth' or 'driving customer satisfaction'.

    Name: vicky banham

    Date: 17 Feb 2011 03:53 PM

    Whoops, I am guilty of two of them!

    Date: 10 May 2012 11:01 AM

    A boss spoke of 'holding the pen' everytime we wrote versions of a press release once i.e. "who's holding the pen on this one" etc. Also, one that gets me is that everything is 'in good shape'. So that's all good then!

    Name: Nigel Charlesworth
    Date: 10 May 2012 11:54 AM

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