Public Relations Tactics

Escape from Jargon Land: Creative tactics for “providing solutions”

July 29, 2010

When looking for new content for a speech on jargon to a tech industry group, my agency conducted research to see how all of the industry “leaders” were providing seamless, end-to-end, next generation, turnkey solutions to whatever niche they served.

Amazingly, the results mirror those from our first survey on the topic in 1999 and five subsequent tracking surveys.

Today, every other release posted on newswires comes from a “leader,” and most of them are selling solutions, rather than specific products or well-defined services.  Are companies, their staffs and outside counsel simply practicing copy-cut-and-paste communications — where all releases and marketing materials in a niche sound alike?

Effective public relations builds substantial images and reputations for the long term, which requires clear differentiation, personality and style. It also requires telling stories that present a company, technology, products or service in compelling and exciting ways for multiple audiences.

Think about the great corporate spokespeople. Steve Jobs doesn’t talk about solutions. He creates stories about how new Apple products work and what he thinks users will see and enjoy.  When launching the iPad, he didn’t waste time on superlatives. Instead, he connected potential users to the benefits — what the product could do today plus the vision of future applications.

Compare this storytelling approach to news releases and presentations about most new product introductions.

Whether it’s laziness, deadline pressure or mimicking their peers, most technology companies issue releases with no sharp edges.  They are packed with words that most major media hate including: solutions, leading, seamless, cutting edge, best-of-breed, robust, end-to-end, first mover, customer-centric, mission critical, turnkey, world class, next generation and unique (unattainable).

Beyond the use of empty buzzwords, most releases offer no validation of their claims of leadership or what problem they will actually solve.  A few true leaders did provide market share and revenue data for evidence. Here are quick samples of empty, throwaway claims or vague descriptions:

  • Creates performance-driven, seamless solutions that add considerable value (but are never quantified)
  • (The company) goal is to be an end-to-end service provider to its customers by furnishing customized and integrated “turnkey” solutions (which are probably leading edge)
  • An industry-leading provider of end-to-end Web hosting services (they could be seamless, too!)
  • An impressive suite of proprietary products and services to create seamless solutions that meet each client’s highly specific needs (meeting unspecific needs wouldn’t work that well)
  • The leading provider of turnkey virtual communications and virtual office solutions (we could use some real solutions, perhaps including hardware, software and service)
  • A leading provider of hip-hop ring tones and mobile content (probably a crowded market where leadership is critical to success)

Is there a solution to this trend without end? 
The creative challenge is breaking through the clutter with positioning that can be clearly validated over time with what engineers and scientists call proof of principle. Envision a series of fact-filled, compelling stories that add evidence over time regarding the superiority of your product, service or technology.

As a starting point, here are three tools to help CEOs and others step out of Jargon Land and move toward story-telling prowess:

  1. Write the perfect headline as you would like it to appear in an important journal praising your company, product, service, etc., two years from now. In 20 words or less, summarize something to grab the attention of a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or editor (for example, fastest growing in the niche; breakthrough innovations take market by storm; highest satisfaction rating in the profession).
  2. Write the perfect testimonial. Would a happy customer tell you how pleased he or she is with your seamless solutions? Probably not. Read some of Walt Mossberg’s columns in The Wall Street Journal and note how he describes what each product delivers and to what benefit.
  3. Write the ultimate 60-second pitch. This includes a quick summation of your positioning, industry or business needs, vision of future success and short litany of attributes in support of the position — and also answers the “so what?” question.

After poring over the first drafts (writing short meaningful copy is difficult!), set each version aside for 24 hours.

Then read each one aloud to a trusted friend outside the organization. Did he or she laugh?  Gag? Say “wow?” Edit one more time, test with outside audiences and fine tune.

When completed, these three compelling pieces can be the starting point for all other creative endeavors — and gain the respect of media, staff, customers and audiences everywhere in the process.

Tom Gable, APR, Fellow PRSA
Tom Gable, APR, Fellow PRSA, is vice chair of Nuffer, Smith Tucker PR, San Diego, and previously founder and CEO of Gable PR. He has been in the PR profession for more than 40 years. A former financial journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee, he is author of “The PR Client Service Manual” and a frequent speaker at national conferences and teleseminars on jargon-free public relations, creativity, strategic reputation management and crisis communications. Contact:


randy Clark says:

Thank you. I am an impatient person. It is difficult to wait, but when I do apply the rule of 24, I am always rewarded. I have looked at my words, gagged, laughed, and said "wow." Again, no patience, but Nancy and Josh, it is always worth waiting for your edits!

Sept. 3, 2010

Bill Hornung says:

Tom, what a "breakthrough" article on the overuse of jargon (sorry, couldn't resist). Kidding aside... your article should be required reading for not only PR pros, but anybody in related marketing disciplines. I write many scripts for brief product training videos and find most product or brand managers can't answer "Why should a customer spend their precious time learning about this product? What proof can your provide the product is really all that special?" Rarely can they provide any differientiated position... just tired old features and benefits.

March 30, 2011

Dennis Regan says:

No matter how many years i practice my copy writing craft I am reminded that it is entirely possible to miss the mark - lose my way creatively, or even with the structure of a piece. Reading out loud is essential, even if it's only to one's self. Thanks Tom for the worthwhile article.

May 4, 2011

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