The Epic List of Useless Words and Phrases (Continued)

UselessThere are many reasons people use clichés, catchphrases and trendy words of the day: it’s a communications shortcut, and for the most part it’s not illegal. Those are the only reasons I can think of. So, as in years past I present to you the Epic List of Useless Words, Sayings and Retorts. This is a working list that I edit as I live my days – I’ve removed many contributions from the last year (we’ve made progress!) but have added many new phrases (let’s not get cocky!). The list also includes contributions from PR News blog readers because we’re in this together.

While the list below may smell to you of sarcasm, it’s meant to be a fresh look at communication gone bad. It’s directional and subjective, honest and yet disposable. There are a few items in this list that could actually get you in trouble, depending on the time, place and your body language. For the most part, though, it’s just a reminder that as communicators we can always aim higher.

Feel free to make additions to the list – I’m sure this is not complete:


“To be honest with you” (Now I don’t believe you)

During a conference call awaiting a response: “Sorry! I had you on mute.” (pay attention!)

During a meeting: “Can I interrupt?” (what if you said No?)

“I think we can definitely do that.” (this response does not inspire confidence)

“Oh, Millennials!” (blame it on an entire generation)

I’m literally _________ (just remove the word literally)

“Hashtag No Way” or “Hashtag First World Problem” (cute if you’re in high school, but, um, grow up!)

“I am sooo busy!” (aren’t you special? No one else is busy!)

In a press release: “the leading solution provider…” (no reporter believes this about your company)

During a brainstorming session: “We tried that last year and it didn’t work.” (second time can really be a charm)

“It is what it is.”  (It is annoying)

“I personally feel.”  (redundant, redundant)

“You need to be more passionate.” (You can’t make people feel passionate)

The word “social” as a noun, as in, “Acme does social really well.”  (Being social means having friends, not selling product.)

“I’m a ____________ junkie.”  (Since when is addiction a virtue?)

“I’m just doing what I’m doing.”  (Redundancy will be the death of me.)

“We need to own social media.” (Um, the public owns social media. What you really mean is you need to tie your social media efforts to a bottom line, be it financial, social good or reputation.)

Guru (unless you are a spiritual leader or are the best of the best at something, find another descriptor)

“Going forward”  (Meaning “from now on” as if you could also dictate past behavior)

“No offense”  (Which means “I am about to offend you.”)

“I’m confused”  (Which means “You’re confused and I am going to set you straight.”)


“Circle back”  (Which means to bring your Conestoga wagon back into a circle.)

“True that.”

“With all due respect…”  (Hearing that phrase, buckle-up: The words that follow will certainly bear no relation to “respect” or any recognized synonym.)

“At any rate…”  (It is so seldom used in connection with a literal rate of any sort.)

“To make a long story short” (already makes your story six words longer.)

“I don’t hate that idea.”  (Otherwise known as “let’s think about that more.”)

“We want to be in high-profile media”  (…said everyone on earth that wants to be in any media.)

“How should we spin this?”  (this is why PR’s reputation sometimes suffers)

“We need to be strategic.” (“Strategy” and “strategic” are so overused; no one explains what they mean by this, what the plan of action is or the tactics we’ll use to achieve the goal.)

“Let’s take a step back.” (It’s an early indicator that you are dealing with a conservative organization where innovation is outside their comfort zone.)

Irregardless (what’s wrong with “regardless”?)

Anyways (not a word)

“Don’t take this the wrong way/personally …” (well, now I am taking it that way)

“Out-of-the-box thinking”  (cringe!)

“If you will” (No, I won’t)

“Open the kimono” (creepy)

“Drink the Kool-Aid”  (just like those in Jonestown in 1978? I don’t think so!)

“Let’s talk offline”  (but I’ll call you on your line after this meeting)

“Boil the ocean” (clever by half)


Awesome! (with or without !, better to not utter as a grown-up)

Ramp up. Tee up. Synch up. (Throw up.)


Synergy (don’t use in press releases, unless it’s the name of your company)

“Run it up the flagpole and see how it flies.”

“Skin in the game”

“Ping me.” (check with HR first)

“I’ve got a hard stop at _________” (When is your soft stop?)

“We have a horse in this race.” (Less painful than one’s own skin the game, but same principle.)

“Kill two birds with one stone.” (poor birds)

“Give 110%”  (What is wrong with your math?)

Net-net (why both nets?)

“Put on your big girl panties.”  (for so many reasons, best to not say this)

Utilizing (try “using”)

Transparency  (Those who use this term are anything but transparent.)

From an agency exec to a client: “Of course, we can do all of that!” (sounds fishy, I don’t believe you; be specific on what you can do and what you might not be able to do. )

From a client to an agency rep: “I need a dashboard” (can you be more specific? Everyone’s asking for a dashboard and there are Mercedes dashboards and Pinto dashboards – which do you want?)

From an employee to her employer: “Where is my career going here?” (you should know, bring a plan to get there; don’t let your employer tell you who you should be)

From a CEO to his PR team: “Get us some good press.” And the PR exec’s response: “Consider it done.”


– Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

A Yearly List That Can Help You Communicate with Millennials

Signs of the times:

These examples of well-established people and companies accepting change led me to think how some of our PR colleagues continue to have to evangelize about the utility of social media to senior executives. I had that experience a few years ago, during a brief break from journalism—and I worked at a well-known technology company.

This ruminating about peoples’ horizons, technological and cultural, led me to the yearly Mindset List that three Beloit College professors publish about the incoming freshman class. While it’s meant to help older professors relate better to college students, it also can be helpful to communications professionals, who may have to reach a younger market and/or work with millennial colleagues.

'What, I Have to Tweet? Alabama's Nick Saban

‘What, I Have to Tweet?’ Alabama’s Nick Saban

This year’s full list can be found here, but I’ll share a few examples. One of the most shocking for me is this guidance: “Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.” Can that math be correct?

Each item on the list proper begins with “Since they have been on the planet” and then adds something that those not of the millennial generation might  have failed to realize. So, since they have been on the planet…”Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.” Some others: “Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.” “Color photos have always adorned the front page of The New York Times.” “The Airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.” “Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.” “Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.” “If you say ‘around the turn of the century,’ they may well ask you, ‘which one?’” And one of my favorites: “Their parents have gone from encouraging them to use the Internet to begging them to get off it.”

The point? Clear communications includes remembering that millennials, and others, might not understand your cultural references. That means we probably need to think at least twice while crafting our messages. Look, if Coach Saban can make adjustments to communicate better, we can, too.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News.



We Need to Dispel These 5 PR Myths

mythsSearch the term “hires a PR firm” on any given day and you’ll find a fresh news story about a company hiring a PR firm to handle a crisis. Shocking news! Stop the presses! How dare they revert to PR!

Why is it still newsworthy when PR is called to the rescue or joins a strategic team?  “Pet Company Hires PR Firm to Clone Calico Cats” or “PR Counselor Recommends to C-Suite” – now those would be worth writing about. To wit: there is still a jaundiced view of PR. To utilize PR is  sometimes akin to admitting you’ve reached The Last Resort.

Part of the reason for this mentality is the media’s view of PR – the same journalists creating a news story out of a non-story are the journalists whose respect for PR is wavering at best. Surely there are outstanding relationships between PR pro and journalist. Enough rotten apples and we become spoiled, in a bad way.

Another reason PR is not yet elevated within an organization is a lack of strong and ongoing advocacy for PR. PR professionals are the go-to storytellers, writers, advisors, counselors, organizers, implementers and strategists — right?

Some heavy lifting is needed. We might start by dispelling these 5 myths about PR:

PR is nice to have but not need to have. The truth is that the strongest brands and reputations deploy smart public relations tactics that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission and culture.

PR people suck at math and finance. PR execs need to add metrics and measurement to the business conversations and hold PR accountable in front of senior management. We talk about measurement among ourselves – time to apply what you know to the conversations you have with the C-suite and marketing colleagues.

PR should not be seen — and needs to stay behind the scenes. Of course not. You have the advantage of context and clarity – there’s no reason you can’t be the spokesperson and certainly no reason why an organization shouldn’t be proud to have a smart PR counselor backing its reputation.

PR’s main role is media relations. Media relations is a subset of PR and not the end-all, be-all. While strong relationships with journalists are critical for many PR people, the Public in Public Relations includes those hanging out on social media, the employees in your organization and the people on Wall Street and Main Street. Change the conversation from positive media coverage to positive coverage.

What other myths would you add to the mix, and what are your suggestions for busting them?

– Diane Schwartz

Let’s follow each other on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

How to Prep the Boss For a Major Presentation

As the GOP prepares to hold its first presidential debate in Cleveland Thursday night, many PR pros are probably asking: How would I advise the 10 White House wannabes participating in the debate?

Civilians most likely will watch the debate to see, for example, if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sticks his foot firmly in his mouth or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as is his want, threatens to punch one of his opponents in the nose.

Executives who reside in PR precincts will watch the debate with a more jaundiced eye. In the spirit of conjecture, they might wonder why Senator Rand Paul is getting stuck in the policy weeds and failing to display his (salty) personality or why former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who was supposed to run away with the GOP nomination—comes off as a big stiff.

The debate begs PR pros to locate their inner media trainer. Sure, your boss may not be running for the highest office in the land. But, whether it’s a speech before an important group of shareholders or a joint press conference with a partner to talk about a new product, communicators are responsible for making sure senior managers appear in the best possible light and reflect well on their brand or organization.

With that in mind, here are a few essential tips on prepping the boss for a major appearance/debate/presentation:

> Have a sense of humor. If people relate to one thing in life, it’s humor. Serious subject matter aside, the boss has to show that he or she is quick to laugh and, when appropriate, can make light of a situation. That’ll win more converts than forever taking an unsmiling, somber approach to the discussion/debate/forum.

> Maintain eye contact and pay close attention to body language. There’s nothing creepier than when the boss is holding court with the media and/or other constituents and his eyes are darting around the room. Perception is reality, of course, and failing to maintain eye contact may suggest ulterior motives, or worse. For similar reasons, it’s crucial that communicators tutor the boss to pay close attention to body language and make sure that certain facial expressions or physical stances may send the wrong message without uttering a word.

> Say, ‘I don’t know.’ It wasn’t that long ago that a top executive responding to a media question by saying, “I don’t know,” was considered the kiss of death. No more. In an increasingly complex world, saying, “I don’t know,” shows a certain humility and frankness that people appreciate. It helps the cause if an “I don’t know” is quickly followed by, “We are working very fast to get you an answer, which we’ll put up on our website as soon as we get the most accurate information.” Don’t stoop to give a false impression.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1



PR is Sales is Marketing is Advertising

Silo-bustingThe lines are blurry. As a communicator you are usually selling something – an idea, a story, an interview to the media, a budget, a campaign. To close on that effort – to get the story, win the account, score a larger budget – is a similar feeling your Marketing counterpart has when her campaign idea is approved or when a customer buys the product based on her messaging. And the salesperson down the hall from you? He is always prospecting, aims to be in front of clients or at least on the phone with them, understanding their pain points and their spending limits.

These three levers of Communications – PR, Marketing, Sales — are at their best when they’re working together, not separately. Most practitioners and strategists agree with the premise, but the underlying pain points, frustrations, budgetary constraints, conflicting goals may stop the three from even wanting to work together.  I’ve posed the question in a previous post, Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day? A lot of you responded and as a whole we’re in favor of this matrimony. But how about we go on a few dates first?

The best communicators will be the ones who have a firm grasp on Marketing, who partner with Sales to help close business, and who are pushing for consistent messaging across this spectrum. If you shy away from Sales or snub your nose at Marketing (that department that steals some of your budget), then you will be OK, possibly. That is to say, you can get by. But to be an extraordinary communications executive you need to spend some time in their shoes. Here are three easy things you can do in the next 30 days to narrow the gap and broaden your organization’s (and your own) opportunities:

Lead a Sales Call: Try to sell something to a client: ask your sales dept if you can sell your company’s service or product to one prospect. Set up the appointment, do your research, lead the meeting, close the business, send out the proposal, wait for the signature. Sometimes you’ll be waiting longer than expected for a signed contract and that’s part of the process and why the rewards taste so sweet.

Be a Marketer: Sit in on Marketing meetings and listen without your PR hat on. Understand how they measure success and manage budgets. Ask to work on a campaign in which you need to partner with the PR team.  It’s not always easy to collaborate and see the other side. As a marketer, you may want to spend more on b-to-c advertising while PR is pushing for a media relations push with the trade press. Find common ground and share in the hits and misses.

Break Bread & Barriers: Set up monthly Integrated Communications Breakfasts. An early morning meeting of the minds where you are fresh and prepared could work wonders. Share current initiatives, report on performance of campaigns, ask for help and guidance. This will increase transparency and lead to more collaboration.

There’s nothing like coffee and bagels to smear away the friction that exists when three departments are used to eating alone.

– Diane Schwartz





This One Simple Question Can Transform Your Business Relationships

The moving company that assisted with our house move last week sent us a hard-working crew. Hauling boxes and furniture to and fro, they didn’t spend much time chatting, but when they did they usually framed it in a question: “How am I doing?”

When Danny, the head mover, first asked me that question I thought he was asking how I was doing. After all, moving out of a house is stressful! Then I realized he wanted to know if he and his crew were meeting my expectations. Were they careful, efficient, polite? Danny wanted this feedback. He stood in my kitchen holding a big box labeled “Dishes,” and looked me in the eyes as he awaited my reply.

“How am I doing?”

After hearing from me that he was doing a great job, he and his crew continued the laborious task ahead of them. A few hours later, Danny asked me the same question and this time I thought harder about it and provided some specific feedback having to do with not scratching a certain wall. Over the course of this 10-hour whirlwind round-trip relationship we had with our movers, “How am I doing” was asked at least a handful of times.

In the course of a week, a month, a year, how often do you check in, one on one, with your customers, business partners, clients, journalists, colleagues and stakeholders and as them “How am I doing”? We are more accustomed to asking “How are you?” then we are “How am I doing?” It seems the former is more about them and the latter can appear self-serving or insecure. But what you’re really asking is “Are you satisfied and can I do better for you?” Of course, you have to be prepared to heed the feedback, which is sometimes not what you expected. That’s the point – and it’s well worth the heavy lifting afterwards.

 – Diane Schwartz



Would You Like Ice Cream with Your Omelette? How to Surprise, Delight and Build Loyalty

It’s not every day that you get a free scoop of ice cream with your bacon and eggs, unless you’re eating breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s. The iconic Chicago diner has been surprising first-time customers and delighting return diners with this extra touch. When the waitress handed me the check, then asked if I wanted some ice cream, I looked around as if I had won the lottery. The last thing I really wanted was ice cream after a hearty breakfast but I didn’t realize how much I loved being surprised by the offer.

Surprise: it’s surprisingly powerful!

When was the last time you offered your brand’s version of ice cream with breakfast? When you provided an unexpected benefit or show of appreciation for your stakeholders, be it a customer, a reporter, an employee, an investor, a client? Even the most beloved brands shouldn’t assume they are good to go with their customers, who are just a click or step away from turning their attention to your competitor. MasterCard is just one of many smart brands employing “surprise and delight” to build customer loyalty. Through its “Priceless Surprises” campaigns, cardholders have randomly received a gift, such as a meeting with Justin Timberlake, and are encouraged to send surprise gifts to friends and family (using MasterCard).

When Tania Luna, co-author of “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” keynoted our PR News Digital PR Conference earlier this month in Miami, attendees expected her to talk about how to communicate via surprise tactics given the name of her new book. What the audience didn’t expect was to be handed a pack of Pop Rocks and asked to place the fizzy crystals in their mouth and create a symphonic sound with fellow attendees, with Luna as the conductor. “At the count of 3, this side of the room should start swirling their Pop Rocks in their mouth,” Luna instructed. Amazingly, the attendees exploded with glee and there was a communal sense of pleasant surprise at the activity, the nostalgic quality of Pop Rocks and the silliness they found themselves in. They weren’t expecting this activity at a PR conference. Surprise!

In a recent interview with PR News’ Steve Goldstein, Luna offered 9 surprise tactics and implored communicators to remember that acting human is different than being human. She suggests that communicators “scriptease” to build trust with stakeholders, especially with the media. Put your scripted pitch aside and just have a conversation with the reporter like you would with a friend.

And never stop surprising and delighting: To wit, if you’re waiting in the long line at Lou Mitchell’s or as you’re leaving the restaurant, there’s an endless bowl of fresh donut holes for the taking. Just another way for this brand to sweeten the experience.

- Diane Schwartz


PR Lessons from David Letterman

It’s the end of an era. Early Thursday morning David Letterman signs off as host of CBS’ “Late Show” after a 33-year-run on late night TV  (including 10 years as host of “Late Night With David Letterman” on NBC).

Whether introducing America to “Stupid Pet Tricks,” swimming in a large vat of breakfast cereal or having Larry “Bud” Melman promote Toast-on-a-stick (“Bread’s answer to the popsicle!”), Letterman is a testament to original content.

Creating original content—often with an anarchic quality—is a lesson communicators can take from Letterman. In homage to Letterman’s “Top 10” lists, here are the Top 5 PR lessons from the soon-departed late night king.

Make conversation an art. Amid an increasingly social media age—where 140 characters qualifies as communication—Letterman was a strong long-form interviewer, where the goal was to inform, educate and entertain, rather than simply push product and generate yuks.

Show off your personality, warts-and-all. Letterman could hardly be accused of pretense. Often, he could be cranky and/or ornery, with and without his guests. He didn’t try to hide those facets of his personality, but played them up because they were an authentic part of his brand.

Diverse guests bring diverse audiences. Not so much in the last several years—in which A-list celebrities predominated—but certainly during his NBC tenure Letterman didn’t think twice about featuring peripheral yet impossibly interesting guests, such as surrealist Brother Theodore and musician/painter Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). And we’re forever indebted to Letterman for launching the career of Chris Elliot. Musicians credit Letterman with his eclectic taste, which has helped boost a variety of musical genres, including Americana. The takeaway for communicators: look beyond the usual suspects when trying to cultivate new relationships and partnerships. And don’t judge a book by its cover.

Tonality is everything.  The remarks Letterman made about the 9/11 attacks during his first show back after the crisis became one of his finest hours. His comments were humbling and sincere for a city and nation that had suffered incalculable loss. The comments were made “on the other side of the glass,” of course, but it was as if Letterman was sitting right next to you, providing comfort and kind words. He knew his audience; he knew the situation and acted accordingly.

Make your audience cringe (if only a little).  Letterman and his writers were masters at creating scenarios that were slightly uncomfortable, but always compelling. Case in point: A 1983 split-screen interview with actor Charles Grodin that Letterman conducted remotely, with Grodin sitting alone in the studio. PR News dares you to watch the video and look away. Bet you can’t. Same with PR marketing campaigns.  Nuke the ‘same old, same old’ and create strategies and tactics that are a little edgy, but not off-putting.

So long, Dave. It’s been real.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Ten Lines from Mad Men You (Hopefully) Won’t Be Hearing at Work Today

mad-men-2The series finale of ‘Mad Men’ left it up to us to decide if Don Draper took on a new, third identity or whether California bliss and an inspired retreat experience led him back to the advertising life and to create the iconic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial.”

After 92 hours of great storytelling by show creator Matthew Weiner, we say goodbye to Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan, Pete, and the iconic, misogynistic and inappropriate ’60s workplace. So one cliffhanger from the show which may frustrate communicators is: Where was the HR director at Sterling Cooper & Partners? Today, that HR dept. would be working overtime to deal with the goings-on among its troops.

To wit, I recap wonderfully horrible lines from ‘Mad Men’ over the years that hopefully you don’t hear in the workplace anymore:

“Give me more ideas to reject.”  – Don Draper

“Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people’s names before I fire them.” – Roger Sterling

“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.” – Roger Sterling

“I’m Peggy Olson and I wanna smoke some marijuana.”

“Say yes with your voice not just your eyes.”  – Pete

“I’m not a solution to your problem. I’m another problem.” – Joan

“Remember when God closes a door he opens a dress.” – Roger Sterling

“I know you’re ashamed of your body. Or you should be at least.” – Stan [to Peggy]

“Although things are precarious financially, it’s been a magnificent year.” – Lane

“Could you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” – Don Draper

‘Mad Men‘ is arguably one of TV’s best written stories and will be fondly remembered for years to come. The workplace culture and the dialogue that accompanied it? It’s good to know we’ve progressed, or as one ’60s advertising slogan noted, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

– Diane Schwartz


Blue Bell Creameries Tries to Get in Front of a Crisis

When an organization is hit with a crisis, the response will often determine how long the crisis will last, in terms of negative media coverage, as well as any long-term erosion in brand reputation or lead revenue.

That’s why PR execs need to keep a close eye on how the crisis now engulfing Blue Bell Creameries plays out. On Monday the company announced that it is voluntarily recalling all of its ice cream products, because of listeria concerns, following a succession of smaller recalls.

Blue Bell realized its initial assumption that the bacteria was isolated to one machine in one room was “wrong,” after an additional half gallon of contaminated ice cream was found in its Brenham, Texas facility, according to a statement from Paul Kruse, the company’s president-CEO.

Blue Bell is trying to get in front of the crisis, which, considering the severity of the situation, may cause further damage to the 108-year-old brand. In a little more than a month, three deaths and several illnesses in Kansas and possibly Texas have been linked to the company’s products.

For communicators, the major takeaway from Blue Bell’s initial response is that however fast PR attacks a problem, it’s probably not fast enough.

In a digital age, the window for responding to a crisis keeps getting smaller.

“When there’s a recall and somebody does something quickly and when they handle it properly, we forgive it,” Phil Lempert, food industry analyst for, told The New York Times. “When it’s the entire product line or the entire company, people are very concerned.”

Blue Bell, which sells ice cream in 20 states, in no way is downplaying those concerns.

In a video apology (get used to it) posted on the company’s website and Facebook page, Kruse said: “We’re heartbroken over the situation and apologize to all of our Blue Bell fans and customers. Ice cream is a joy and pleasure to eat. It certainly is for me, and I do it every day. And it should never be a concern. For that, we apologize, and we’re going to get it right.”

Kruse hits the right tone, but, for the sake of transparency, he probably should have mentioned the deaths that have been linked to the company products and how the company intends to compensate the victims’ families.

Blue Bell reportedly has contracted both Burson Marsteller and kglobal for crisis management.

Now comes the heavy PR lifting. How will Blue Bell use both traditional media channels and digital venues to communicate how it’s fixing the problem? A FAQ post on its website—and linked on its Facebook page—is a good start.

Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this is the sort of crisis in which digital needs to be subordinate to the human touch. Blue Bell’s senior executives should visit the communities that have been affected by the recall and tell consumers how things are being corrected. And it has to be a multi-pronged conversation.


Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

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