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
At PR News’ upcoming Measurement Conference in Chicago, Kirstie Foster, director of corporate and brand communications for General Mills, is going to present a case study looking at a new measurement program she just rolled out for brands such as Cheerios, Yoplait and Pillsbury. Historically, there’s been a lack of consistent PR measurement across General Mills’ brands, according to Kirstie, and there hasn’t been formal integration of the Barcelona Principles until now.
We’re talking about a complete rethinking of PR’s role at one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the U.S. It’s a full-scale attempt to make sure that PR is held accountable for its efforts from the point of view of management, and to make sure that management sees clearly just how vital the communications function is to a company’s business success.
One thing’s for certain about what Kirstie’s doing at General Mills—the measurement overhaul was proactive in the extreme. From what Kirstie tells me, it’s all-encompassing. We’re not just talking about the integration of social media measurement with more traditional PR metrics—we’re talking about well-thought-out training for the staff, both internal staffers and those with her agency partners.
Before our Measurement Conferences we send out surveys to attendees and ask them what questions they want presenters to address. The most common questions run along these lines:
“What’s the most widely used metric for measurement being used today?”
“What’s the single most effective way to communicate the value of PR?”
“What’s the best tool for measuring social media engagement?
It’s a human trait to want black-and-white answers to difficult questions. Solving questions about PR measurement might not be in the same realm as solving problems associated with climate change, immigration and violent fanaticism, but as with those dilemmas, there’s no simple solution, no silver bullet.
“What’s the best metric for measuring PR?” is probably not the most fruitful question to ask. If you suspect you might need the same kind of overhaul as the one led by Kirstie Foster, a more existential question might be a better starting place, such as, “What can I do to help my organization succeed?”
Proceed from there with your measurement overhaul.
—Steve Goldstein, PR News @SGoldsteinAI
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
We’ve reached the point in summer when the accumulation of heat and humidity slows the reflexes and thought processes. This is when stories about shark attacks dominate news cycles. Calculated, outrageous statements by politicians running for national office barely raise an eyebrow.
As professional communicators know, it always takes a lot to cut through. In midsummer, it seems, unless you’ve got a video of a great white shark chomping on a surfer’s leg, you’re better off waiting until just after Labor Day to launch a campaign or pitch journalists.
You may not have that privilege, though. If you’re on the clock, your job is to get coverage for your organization, attract new customers to your brand or donors to your nonprofit, protect and enhance corporate reputation—despite the season and capacity of living creatures to assimilate anything new in consistent 91 degree heat.
So, how to cut through with your brand messages when sluggishness reigns? A few suggestions:
1. Use yourself as a test case. Unless you live in San Francisco, where it’s currently a foggy 61 degrees (and my old hometown and destination on Aug. 5-6 for PR News’ Google Boot Camp and Big 4 Social Media Conference), you’re either dragging your knuckles on the melting sidewalks outside or shivering inside as your sweat freezes from the blast of office air conditioning. What kind of content—aside from anything NSFW—is catching your eye on social, in your email inbox, on any kind of screen or printed material? This being summer, it’s likely that anything to do with vacations, time off, food, cold beverages and socializing with friends are the best lures. Try to find ways to connect your communications and business goals with where people’s desires are, if not their physical selves.
2. Find an excuse to use pictures of animals. I can’t tell you how many speakers at PR News conferences have closed their presentations by saying “and if all else fails try this,” and then shown a shot of a cute puppy, kitten or marmot. They’re only half-joking. Pictures of animals will always cut through. It’s no accident that Cecil the lion has shoved aside Donald Trump as the number one news story here at the end of July. Someone in your organization has a new kitten or puppy. Now is the time to put that critter to work.
3. Follow my example and make sure you include “shark” in any headline and “shark attacks” in any opening paragraph.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
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
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 News’ millennial advisory board members were pretty emphatic when they told us Twitter is the social networking platform they use the most in their work lives. Nothing else comes close. These dozen or so PR pros at b2c and b2b companies, nonprofits and agencies rely mostly on Twitter to communicate brand messages on social and to stay on top of news and trends.
Nevertheless, judging by recent events, Twitter’s future is bleak. Current CEO Dick Costolo has one foot out the door, Google may or may not be looking to acquire the company (“absorb, digest and atomize” might be more appropriate than “acquire”) and, to add to the air of doom, Snoop Dogg has offered himself up as the new CEO.
The problem in a nutshell: Twitter isn’t that good at being profitable.
So it may be time to start imagining your life without Twitter. I know, it’s not exactly like imagining your life without easy access to clean drinking water, but it would be a severe rupture in your daily routine just the same. If you’re at an agency, what kind of billable time would fill the hole left by Twitter? If you’re at a brand or nonprofit and 90% of your communications on social are on Twitter, to which alternate platform would you try to migrate your community?
Better to ask these questions now, before Snoop calls his first board meeting.
Follow Steve Goldstein (while you can): @SGoldsteinAI
In-house PR practitioners don’t have it easy, in general. Sometimes they have to deal with a lack of understanding and appreciation for the work they do. (Did I say sometimes?) Sometimes they get recognized internally only when something goes wrong that needs to get fixed, now. Sometimes they’re asked to wear so many hats and expected to be masters at media pitching, crisis management, Facebook, Twitter, speech writing, SEO and measurement dashboards that they run to webinars and conferences to boost their skills, only to be frozen by anxiety when they see how much they have to learn.
Sometimes these in-house PR practitioners—and their senior leaders—need to enlist a PR agency to combat and defeat all of this fatigue and anxiety. What an agency offers is not the brand and reputation of the agency itself—that’s beside the point. It’s the unique mix of skills and experience that an individual agency practitioner can offer that really matters.
In a recent issue of PR News’ premium newsletter, Catherine Frymark, SVP, corporate communications for Discovery Communications, reflected on her time spent working for agencies before joining Discovery. “I don’t regret one minute of starting my career in the agencies,” said Frymark, who was honored as one PR News’ Top Women in PR at a luncheon in New York in February. “In fact, when I am hiring I give a lot of weight to candidates with agency experience. I know they have the fundamentals. They can multitask and serve the client.”
Frymark pointed out that working on a portfolio of brands keeps agency pros fresh. And that’s the key selling point for brands and organizations that may be considering working with PR agencies. Agency pros are like the proverbial shark that Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer discusses in “Annie Hall.” Alvy says that “a relationship is like a shark—it has to constantly move forward or it dies.” If you work at a PR agency, to survive and grow you have no choice but to keep moving forward, from client to client, from skill to skill.
This brings to the in-house team—which may live their brand but may be lacking the outsider’s perspective—a freshness that’s very difficult to achieve inside the brand.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI