There 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:
THE EPIC LIST
“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.)
“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
Signs of the times:
- Jeb Bush goes on the offensive, attacking Donald Trump, but does so with a video on the Internet. Trump returns serve via Twitter and Instagram.
- Blue Bell Creameries, founded in 1907, goes all-out on social media to hail the return of Blue Bell Ice Cream to shelves in select markets after a nationwide recall in April due to listeria. For several weeks leading up to the August 31 resumption of deliveries, Blue Bell has been whetting fans’ desire on social media with photos of its ice cream and details about the company’s progress.
- One of the nation’s top college football coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban, begrudgingly admitted that he’d have to begin tweeting. He called it “a sign of the times” in fact. “I don’t really want to [tweet], but I’m probably going to have to,” Saban told ESPN’s Paul Finebaum in an interview that the sports leader has been teasing in anticipation of its weekend airing (talk about a company that knows how to re-purpose content). A few years ago Saban vowed never to use social media. His shift likely is a reaction to NCAA rule changes that allow increased contact between coaches and recruits via Twitter direct messages. (Yes, I know, Saban is unlikely to tweet himself; he’ll have a staffer or student do it for him. He can afford such luxuries on his $7 million per year salary.)
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.
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.
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 AshleyMadison.com 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
The 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
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
The story about the little engine that could is a familiar and heart-warming one, a tale of a determined underdog fulfilling a difficult task against all odds. “I think I can, I think I can” is a commonly used refrain at challenging moments.
Sometimes, though, we might be stronger to think we can’t. To admit, “I think I can’t. I think I can’t” and to seek help.
This idea was brought to light last week during PR News’ Top Women in PR Awards ceremony when keynoter JJ Ramberg, host of MSBNC’s Your Business, reminded an audience of high achievers to ask for help without the fear of reprisal or embarrassment. The women who make up our 2015 class of top female communicators are a determined group that can relate to the little engine that took on the challenge of taking a stranded train over the hill while the bigger, more able locomotives refused.
I’m fairly certain that leaders of either gender know they can’t do everything well and will seek assistance every now and then. Aside from having mentors to guide us, it’s imperative that we as communicators are also able to communicate our (momentary) weaknesses and our need for assistance. To occasionally ask for help from colleagues, peers, friends and new-found business connections is to acknowledge our limits, to learn from the assistance we receive and to pay it forward.
The next time you think you’re the little engine that could or the big engine that should, consider your options. Could you use a little help?
– Diane Schwartz
This year’s Super Bowl lived up to its hype, and it was one of the first times in recent memory that I found the game to be more exciting than the commercials. This year’s array of $4.5m spots struck a more somber and heart-warming note than years past. Considering what’s happening on the world stage and within the NFL itself, it wasn’t such a bad idea for brands to get behind life-affirming messaging. Even Mexican Avocados looked cute! And beyond the touchdowns, interceptions and curious calls were lessons that might resonate with you as you kick off your work week, and as we count down to Super Bowl 50:
Pull the heart strings, repeatedly: The Budweiser Clydesdale/lost puppy commercial was among the most memorable ads of the night. The Budweiser commercial was rather familiar to most fans since it was viewed millions of times before it officially aired. It was a sequel to last year’s crazily popular “Puppy Love” tear-fest. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Brian Perkins, vice president, Budweiser, told USA Today.
There’s a fine line between getting consumers’ attention and turning them off: Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” commercial was an unwelcome surprise and quite the downer for many as we watched a “dead” boy narrate all the things he missed out on. ” Tweeters took sides, mostly against the ad. Noted one tweeter: “Nice one Nationwide. That was pretty fun to watch a commercial about dead kids with my kids. #makesafehappen more like#scaremykids.” But people are talking about it — and the connection between your child’s safety and insurance — so I’m betting Nationwide considers it a success. In a statement defending the ad, Nationwide said: “While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”
Play through the crisis: The case of the deflated footballs (Deflategate) still in play, the Patriots astutely fielded, or rather deflected, media questions before and after the game and proved their ability to not let a crisis disappoint fans, otherwise known as a 28-24 win.
Own up to poor decisions: Sports analysts and Monday morning quarterbacks are calling it one of the “dumbest calls ever,” and it just might be up there. But it was encouraging to hear Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson take responsibility (and not shift the blame) for the game-ending intercepted 1-yard-line slant pass. Not a rookie mistake; rather a rookie miracle that’s catnip to the media. Which leads to my last observation:
Don’t underestimate the rookies: there’s speculation that Wilson threw the pass in the direction of a less experienced player, clearly underestimating Malcolm Butler’s determination and skill. “I just read the play and made the play,” Butler said post-game. A lesson for us all.
– Diane Schwartz
We’ve seen the video and we’ve read countless articles about Ray Rice’s behavior back in February of this year at an Atlantic City casino when he was caught on tape assaulting his fiancee Janay Palmer and then dragging her limp body out of the elevator. We’ve read with fascination the NFL’s multiple reactions to the assault and we’ve watched Janay stand by Ray, marry him and even apologize for her behavior.
Fast forward to now and we get to watch an incredible media plan at play. Opinions aside about domestic abuse, whether the former Baltimore Raven should be reinstated or how abhorrent his behavior was (or is). The way Janay and her PR team are handling the media is a lesson for communicators in crises.
You may or may not agree with Janay’s decision to stand by her husband, but for the sake of this post, let’s say that’s beside the point. Her control of the message over the past week was impeccable. It was neat and clear. It was consistent and had emotion. It was well-timed and facilitated the broader purpose of getting her husband back on the field.
Hiltzik Strategies was among the advisors that screened more than a dozen media outlets before choosing ESPN and The Today Show. Specifically Jemele Hill at ESPN and Matt Lauer at Today. In both interviews she portrayed her relationship as not that different from most couples: we argue but we love each other, we have weakness but we have strengths. There was no real bridging of the message away from assault or domestic abuse because she controlled the pace and tone.
While the interviews took place in early November, their release was timed to go live after an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate Rice to the NFL.
She told Lauer: “Everybody makes mistakes. After this whole situation, you would think we lived in a country full of people who never made a mistake.”
For the ESPN interview which took place (not coincidentally) at Ray Rice’s mother’s home in New Rochelle, NY, Janay negotiated the byline, with the video interview positioned “By Janay Rice as told to Jemele Hill.” In the Nov. 5 interview she spoke of how she met Ray, the Baltimore Ravens’ “knee-jerk” reaction to the assault and all the lessons learned since the incident. “I hope when people read this they realize that we’re real. I want people to know how much we love each other and how far we’ve come. Everyone has their own story, this is mine.”
If you find yourself, your brand, or a member of your team in hot water, it wouldn’t hurt to turn to the Janay Rice crisis management playbook:
> Take time to formulate a strong response that is aligned with the end goal: Janay waited seven months to speak to the media.
> Choose your interviewers, not just the media outlet: vet the journalists who are going to interview you and limit the number of interviews you grant.
> Time it well: The Rices waited until the arbitrator ruling to get their message out. It helped that the ruling favored Ray over the NFL, but either way it was the right timing.
While Ray Rice’s behavior back in February is condoned by no one, the narrative is now about rehabilitation and forgiveness. In many circles, Ray Rice is still vilified. But when the very woman that he assaults is asking the public to forgive and move on, and she does so with grace and compassion, it is difficult to turn away.
– Diane Schwartz
Inevitably the question arises when you’re in a room full of communicators: how do we break down the silos between PR and Marketing? I recently moderated a panel with Andrew Bowins of Mastercard and Jay Bartlett of Pitney Bowes on the topic of marketing-PR collaboration, or lack thereof in many organizations. We agreed that a path toward “togetherness” – as we’re all in this together – could mean better performance for your organization.
Both Jay and Andrew agreed that the departments need to not only talk to one another more often, but force collaboration into the culture until it becomes the culture. A few audience members shared how their organizations are literally breaking down the cubicles and re-engineering work spaces so that marketing and PR colleagues are sitting side by side.
There are a few elephants in the room when it comes to PR-Marketing collaboration and these animals are filling the space: budget and org chart. Most organizations have separate PR and marketing budgets and there’s an inherent competition between the two to get a larger slice of a smaller pie. Then there’s the organization chart which is dusted off every now and then and tweaked, not transformed. Who reports to whom and who ultimately has the CEO’s ear is inextricably linked to budget, performance and outcomes. Understanding the new skills needed to accelerate growth may mean rethinking job titles, responsibilities and organizational structure.
At PR News’ Social Media Summit last week there was a consensus that marketing and PR need to partner more regularly and in particular when it comes to the rapid pace of social media communications. Who owns social media is not so much the question when both departments agree that their audience owns it.
PR and Marketing may get married one day – perhaps by necessity. But for the marriage to last it needs to do what most successful couples do: spend a lot of time together, move in and get to know how each other lives (my mother would disagree on this) and then get engaged. Work out the money issues and day to day responsibilities. Stick together in sickness and in health. You’re going to need each other.
– Diane Schwartz
PS: Check out the PR News Webinar on April 23 on this topic: Breaking Down the Silos Between PR & Marketing
Take a look at your “Meet the Team” and “About Us” pages on your web site. Do these pages reflect a multifaceted workforce? Do the photos of your team and their bios underscore an understanding of your many stakeholders? In other words, can visitors relate to you? You might not think these questions are worth asking until a reporter clicks on Meet the Team and asks just that.
That’s what happened late last month when Common Ground Public Relations was hired by the City of Ferguson, MO, to handle calls from the media following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb. As if the media didn’t have enough angles with which to cover the Ferguson story, it was handed one on a white porcelain platter. The PR firm that was hired to take all media calls following the crisis, as Talking Points Media noted, “appears to be staffed entirely by white people.” Noted Daily Kos in its headline about the firm’s hiring: “City of Ferguson PR Firm Has Something In Common with Its Police Force.”
The PR industry has been slowly working on its diversity problem, recognizing that less than 15% of PR professionals in the US are of African-American, Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is a real problem that needs a more aggressive push by our industry associations, PR leaders and hiring managers in communications departments and at PR firms. PRSA’s Diversity Tool Kit is a nice-to-have resource, along with its Diversity Committee, but is it enough? Ironically, the press hasn’t mentioned that Common Ground’s team supposedly includes just one male among the seven pictured. Diversity comes in all colors, races and genders.
I agree with Denise Bentele, president and CEO of Common Ground Public Relations, when she told Odwyer’s that “the color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.” It appears the firm is doing a decent job helping the City of Ferguson communicate not only to its residents but to a world that’s watching the investigation and public unrest.
There was nothing Common Ground could have done in the time that it was solicited by the City of Ferguson and the hours that it took for the media to click on Meet the Team and see a sea of white faces. To have quickly added some diversity to that page would surely have been snuffed out and would have positioned the firm as disingenuous. (That doesn’t stop Common Ground, however, from exploring diversity in its hiring practices.)
The knock on the City of Ferguson for hiring an “all white” firm amid a race-infused crisis is fair, and such obvious bait for reporters that it’s already a non-story. For the PR industry, the bigger problem is why more people with diverse backgrounds do not want to make PR their career. Here’s to a future where Meet the Team is not met with scrutiny.
- Diane Schwartz
Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz