10 Words to Avoid in Your Press Releases

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Do you use the term “solutions” in your press releases? Be honest. It’s one of those words that seem to describe almost anything. It’s also a crutch that can cost PR pros and communicators dearly when trying to get their media pitches into the right hands.

Many a dead horse has been beaten because of the need for PR pros to produce jargon-free press releases. But the problem persists, as some communicators continue to build a monument to superlatives—and sabotage their efforts to get the message out.

Sure, old habits die hard. But in a hypercompetitive marketplace, with journalists tasked with doing more with less, PR pros can no longer afford to use words in their press releases that only alienate reporters and editors.

With that in mind, here are 10 words to avoid in your press releases, and why, compliments of Reg Rowe, founder of GrayHairPR.

1. Solutions. Without a doubt, the most overused word in news release headlines, copy and corporate boilerplate. Every company has a “synergistic, cutting-edge, value-added, outside-the-box, industry-leading, innovative, disruptive, world class, revolutionary solution to (fill in the blank).”

2. Synergy. The word means the combined entity is greater than the sum of its parts. In the corporate world, it most often refers to mergers. I can’t remember many mergers where "synergy" would describe the merged company.

3. Bleeding edge/Cutting edge. How many companies or products truly can claim such a lofty position? It’s getting pretty crowded out there on the edge.

4. Value-added. Shouldn’t the value you bring to your clients be intrinsic? Why are you adding it?

5. Outside the box. Where are all the boxes from which every company has escaped?

6. Industry-leading/Leader. Judging by the use of these phrases, every company distributing a news release today is a leader. How is the company judging leadership? International, national, regional, local? Technology, revenue, profit, number of employees, offices? If everybody is leading, who’s following?

7. Innovative. Even companies or products that win awards for innovation are rarely innovative.

8. Disruptive. Quick, name five disruptive products released in the past year. Sorry, time’s up. But judging from news releases, there are hundreds. Remember, disruption takes a long time.

9. World class. Most often found in corporate boilerplate, the phrase “world class” has no real meaning. Whom are you measuring against? St. Kitts & Nevis or China? And no one ever says American class or Canadian class. Don’t use it.

10. Revolutionary. One definition is “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.” Along with innovative and disruptive, it is highly unlikely your new product is truly revolutionary. It’s just the kind of hyperbole you should avoid.

What words would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

17 responses to “10 Words to Avoid in Your Press Releases

  1. Interesting article. A follow up can include suitable alternatives to use to the words mentioned.

  2. I’m guilty as charged on ‘solutions’. I would counter that charge by saying that the prime purpose of any press notice has to be highlighting what’s different or new about the offering. To achieve coverage for any newsworthy product, PRs must quickly answer the question ‘what problem does it solve?’ …. and that’s where ‘solution’ is effective. I agree with Shane – let’s have some alternatives!

    1. You and I view proper writing similarly, I’m sure. As a teacher reading and grading student papers, I say hooray; you have pegged careless writing. You have properly scorned unsupported, perhaps unsuppotable claims. Sadly, however, I’ve become accustomed to the fact of online writing. If one is writing to compete, to be read online, SEO beckons and ranks higher writing with some of the words on your list.

  3. What are your alternatives? When a client is literally at the front of the industry, what’s the most salient term that will get a reporter to want to report it?

    1. If you’ve got the metrics to prove it, describe your client in those specific terms. Qualify them with metrics, awards, sales. Not simply “Inudustry leader Widgets R Us announces X… ” but “Widgets R Us, the Widget Manufacturers of America 2013 sales leader, announces X…”

  4. This is nonsense. Context is important, not individual words. I also suggest you read an enghlish dictionary as you find what synergy really means.

  5. “iconic” – you missed that one, used to drive me crazy when I was on the other side of the fence! As for alternatives – why are people asking to be spoon fed? Alternatives involve using your intelligence as a communicator to explain the new product or service or invention using clear and clever words.
    Alternatives will also be based on a strong relationship with your client so that they don’t insist on the superfluous adjectives and corporate-approved descriptions. They need to trust you to speak the journalist’s language – not theirs.

  6. And if you have to tell us that something is ‘prestigious’, it probably isn’t

  7. Great list. Yes! “Best Practices and State of the Art” (which reminds me–also ease up on capitalization such as “The Company offers…”). Also: “we’re excited” (of course you are); “we made this deal with XYZ Co. because they share our values of exceptional customer service and excellence…” (you’re not THAT exceptional).

  8. “Thought leader.” What’s the deal with that ridiculous phrase? End it now.

  9. Good list, but I’d add “thrilled” or “excited” or anything else like that in a quote, where someone is announcing how happy he or she is to be part of a deal or be hired or hiring or anything else. In my very brief stint at Bloomberg News a while back, I absorbed The Bloomberg Way, and while much of it was a bit goofy, its admonition not to include that kind of well duh! sentiments from an announcement stuck. To paraphrase The Bloomberg Way, we can assume that the person is thrilled, excited, etc. So don’t put it in in the first place; find something meaningful for our person to say.

  10. Here’s something that can help a practitioner or press release writer pass the smell test: Does the word or term you intend to use smack of an individual, subjective value judgment? Ask the question “Says who?”

    Or has the word or term been quoted from an authoritative subject matter expert? If so, use the word or term as a quote and give attribution.

  11. Could we also please ban the word “utilize”? “Utilize” came from tech industry people who aren’t writers, and thought using “utilize” would make their writing “better.” It’s pompous and affected. Don’t do it, please. Use “use.”

  12. It all comes down to “show don’t tell.” You don’t need superlatives if you provide great examples.

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