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How to stop using words journalists hate in your press releases

By Lorraine Forrest-Turner

If you refer to your latest product launch as ‘pioneering’, ‘ground-breaking’, ‘innovative’ or ‘state-of-the-art’, you not only irritate journalists you also reduce your chances of getting decent coverage. How then do you swap the fluff for the facts?

Journalists are busy people. They receive hundreds of unsolicited press releases and sell-ins every day. They don’t have time to plough through pages of corporate bull to find the story. And they certainly won’t think a story is ‘exciting’ just because someone sticks the word ‘exciting’ in front of the noun.

What PR words do journalists hate? 

Pretty much any useless adjective (describing word) that doesn’t qualify or differentiate the thing it’s talking about.

For example, an ‘exciting’ workshop – useless. A ‘half-day’ workshop – useful. ‘Half-day’ differentiates the workshop from a one- or two-day workshop.

Adjectives that sound pompous and add nothing:

  • Pioneering, ground-breaking, revolutionary, innovative
  • Exciting, dynamic, iconic, stylish, sophisticated
  • State-of-the-art, ultra-modern, leading-edge, cutting-edge

You also need to avoid ambiguous nouns (names of things) that make things sound more interesting than they are.

For example, if you mean you’re opening a new office in Scunthorpe, say it. Don’t say you’re considering “satellite platforms to better enable enhanced customer journeys”.

Nouns that sound pompous and add nothing:

  • Platform, landscape, pathway, game-changer
  • Customer journeys, customer touchpoints, customer intimacy
  • core competencies, imbedded infrastructures, strategic positioning

Then there are the clichés, platitudes and Americanisms that make you sound weak, stupid or pretentious – or all three.

Words/hrases that irritate, confuse or add nothing:

  • We’re delighted/proud/excited/passionate
  • Going forward, reaching out, connecting, touching base
  • Leverage, synergy, turnkey, solution, omnichannel

Why do journalists hate them? 

At their best, these words are unclear. Faced with a constant onslaught of press releases, if journalists have to decipher the meaning first they’re likely to give up and go onto the next one.

At their worst, they hide what’s really going on. Whenever journalists see a press release or article that’s full of marketing jargon, they think “someone is trying so hard to make this sound good, it’s probably really dull” or “someone is trying so hard to make this sound good, I wonder what they’re not telling me”.

Why do we write these words if journalists hate them so much? 

Good question. I believe there are two main reasons.

One, new people entering PR tend to copy what their line managers do. So if you’ve been led to believe that this is how you’re supposed to write in marketing, you continue to perpetuate the myth when you become a manager.

Two, clients love them. They’re either genuinely “passionate and excited” about their latest “innovative turnkey solution” or they think their new me-too product/service won’t sound interesting enough without a bit of bolstering. We need to convince them that these empty words have the opposite effect.

How do you stop writing words journalists hate? 

1: Be professional. Clients hire you for your expertise so tell them that these words not only don’t help, they actually hinder their stories.

2: Be precise. Ask your clients to explain what makes their products or services ‘innovative’ or ‘pioneering’. What’s new? What’s different? What new problems do they solve? If they can’t prove they’re innovative, don’t say they are.

3: Be honest. If all you’ve really done is put your balsamic vinegar in a nice shaped bottle, say so. Don’t imply that it’s new, improved or life-saving. The world likes nice shaped bottles too.

Image courtesy of pixabay

Posted in Editor's Picks, Public Relations
3 comments on “How to stop using words journalists hate in your press releases
  1. Paul Matthews says:

    Wise words about avoiding description and getting to the heart of the matter, quickly and concisely.

  2. Fabio Figueiredo says:

    While I agree with most Lorraine has written, and can understand that using jargon only denigrates PR and Marketing professionals, as a newbie I think that some jargon is a necessary evil, not to the extent of adding words for sheer word count purposes (as Lorraine acknowledged those pompous, valueless hype inducing nouns and adjectives) but to aid the journalist and to the same extent the overall audience to instantly make the connection.
    In that sense it is only natural that practitioners take into their own hands to provide the most of the item without “blowing it out of proportion” (my apologies “that” had to be used).
    So, my main gripe with writing words journalists hate, would be the fine balance between writing for professionals (eg: B2B) and writing for enthusiasts, how would you address that difference?

  3. Rowland Davies says:

    I totally agree with what Lorraine writes. The rubbish jargon she highlights means that readers dismiss messages of this kind, wherever they appear, as ‘marketing hype’. It leads to the general public developing a low opinion of both the PR and the Marketing professions.

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