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Why Buzzwords are devious

1st October 2018


I’ve always considered myself as a plain-speaking person. So, I was surprised to hear myself recently introduced as “an expert in constructing B2B narratives” and “a specialist in developing dynamic content that enables brands to establish themselves as industry thought leaders.”

Worse still, it was me saying it.

I’d fallen into one of the most insidious tricks in PR, one that gets us all eventually: buzzwords.

On an individual basis we can agree that we loathe these generic terms, but as an industry we seem to love them.

It’s a game-changer
We all tell each other that referring to every development, no matter how big or small, as an “innovation” makes our skin crawl – but within mere minutes we’ll find ourselves in a meeting or calling a journalist to discuss the latest “game-changing breakthrough”. And somehow, we manage to do both with a straight-face.

Buzzwords are devious things. Whilst they purport to describe something accurately, they do nothing of the sort. Buzzwords obfuscate and leave you more confused and further from understanding than you were before.

Why, for example, do we insist on referring to everything, whether it’s a product or a service, as a ‘solution’? 

Innovative breakthroughs
And how, in all seriousness, can we call every development ‘innovative’ and a ‘breakthrough’? Claims that can rarely survive even the most cursory of research.

Reading through some marketing missives can be an exercise in code-breaking that would drive even Alan Turing to madness.

The irony is that when everyone describes themselves and their ‘solutions’ as ‘ground-breaking’, ‘innovative’, ‘industry-leading’, ‘dynamic’ and ‘game-changing’, it becomes clear that they are, in fact, none of these things.

This isn’t to say that being innovative or industry-leading aren’t good values for your organisation to have – it’s just that you might want to rethink using them to describe yourself.

Show, don’t tell
As the old writer’s maxim goes: ‘show, don’t tell’. You wouldn’t walk into a party and describe yourself as ‘cool’ and ‘on-trend’ – but you might introduce yourself as a follower of fashion and someone interested in the latest catwalk trends. This then gives people the chance to make their own judgement.

Being forthright is great but telling someone that you’re an ‘innovator’ is far less effective than showing them why you’re innovative and letting them make that connection themselves.

More than anything, you should be concerned by anyone who describes your organisation with nothing more than a handful of generic phrases – how well do they really know it? Spending time to work out the best way of describing an organisation is an essential part of understanding it and being able to clearly communicate its role within the wider industry.

Say it as it is
The upside of plain-speaking is obvious: your organisation stands out and shares its key messages instantly. And as a bonus, journalists will undoubtedly thank you (though, I’d be remiss not to give credit to the press for its dedication to weeding out the most offensive marketing lingo).

Take my advice: cut the crap, ban the buzzwords and get back to saying exactly what you mean, not what you think people expect to hear.

Written by Joe McDermott senior account director at agency M&C Saatchi PR.



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