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Some horrible PR clichés

27th May 2016


The spectre of modern marketing cliché is creeping over us. With outstretched claws it seeks to strip away the creativity of language, leaving behind an empty, emotionless husk. Okay, that might be stretching the metaphor. Jargon is rife in PR, though. We’re all guilty of an occasional cliché (how often have you pitched ‘win-win’ into a meeting?). But there’s no excuse for lazy content or speech that falls back on tired phrases and technical argot.

Some slips are not so heinous (phrases used only once every 10 meetings); some are high crimes and misdemeanours (10 appearances in every meeting). Here are my current bullshit bingo favourites:

  1. Digital transformation. A few years ago, all brands wanted to discuss was big data, which eventually became small data and ultimately (I kid you not) thin data. Today it’s digital transformation. Every client organisation wants to achieve it, whilst the UK’s 25,000-odd marketing agencies could build an England-sized farm with the number of internal silos they claim to have removed. This is where terminology becomes an industrial fad. Like its penchant for social media, business must take care not to transform for the sake of it.
  2. Soup to nuts. ‘Lean in’, ‘b2b2c’ and the like made regular appearances when I was in-house PR manager at a US-run business. Yet even that company couldn’t compete with the current phrase of the day. When it first floated across the pond it sounded a bit seedy. Apparently it means an end-to-end service, but just seems a lazy way of describing a system that’d make much more sense if someone took time to explain it.
  3. Content is (still) king. Admittedly my agency is climbing on the content chariot (also known as jumping on the bandwagon). In this climate, however, anything could be deemed content. Susan in corporate’s tweet sharing a news story without any added personal observation. The video Nick in consumer took of Susan’s team doing the chair Olympics, posted on the Facebook page to show what a great place they work in. That’s fine, but let’s not kid ourselves that all content is meaningful content.
  4. To your point, to his point, to her point. What is the bloody point? Generally spoken rather than written, an empty phrase that people think makes them sound intelligent. It’s also a great way of going round in circles. Like meetings about meetings, it prolongs the agony of a conversation that no one really understands but everyone feels they have to contribute to. The Victorians were on to something with their “speak when it’s meaningful” culture.
  5. Can we diary that? No, you can’t; you can’t diarise it, either. If the goal of jargon is to elide enough words to save a few seconds of conversation, this phrase scores every time. (See also the recent commentary affectation in which winning athletes ‘medal’.)

So don’t rely on nonsensical language that hurts the tongue and snaps the pencil. PR has made an asset of pushing back on client demands. Let’s all agree to can their cliché and junk their jargon.

Written by Ian McCawley, managing director at agency Acuity PR



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