Avoiding words that the media hate

February 1, 2012

During a media relations summit several years ago in New York City, a panel of editors from The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and other publications noted that many news releases had a sad sameness to the language.

The editors joked that they could take many of the releases that they received and conduct a global search-and-replace of one company’s name with that of a competitor — and that no one would know the difference. Whew.

How to avoid sounding alike? Think solid differentiation, positioning, compelling ideas, supporting evidence, data and outside validation.

Crime sprees against clear writing often start with a minor assault — automatically dropping words such as solutions and leading into news releases. Lazy writers sprinkle their releases with additional jargon rather than striving to develop well-crafted stories that capture the personality of the company, its points of differentiation and defining factors.  This can cause damage to the reputation of the individual, the firm and even the profession.

This leads to words to shun in advancing your writing skills — the Lazy Writer’s Lexicon. The sources: Gable PR media research going back to 1999 and ongoing studies by Inc., David Meerman Scott, Ragan, Lake Superior State University and others.

The top (or bottom) lexicon choices: best-of-breed, customer-centric, cutting edge, end-to-end, epic, excited, first mover, flexible, innovate, leader, leading edge, leading provider, leverage, market leading, mission critical, new and improved, new paradigm, next generation, outside the box, robust, scalable, seamless, solutions, state-of-the-art, synergy, thrilled, turnkey, unique, value-add, well-positioned and, of course, world class.

For a quick example of how this might work for the lazy writer:

XYZ Corp., the leading provider of best-of-breed, seamless solutions in the lug nut industry, announced the introduction of a new and improved version of its next generation hexagonal wrench today.

“We are excited to be the first mover in the introduction of this unique, cutting edge, customer centric tool in this robust global market,” said Alonzo McSchwartz, CEO. “We are thrilled about our epic achievement and the out-of-the box thinking from our world class engineering team that led to this new paradigm in high-tech closure management solutions.”

If one worked from a fact-based, creative and strategic approach, then the release might look something like this:

XYZ Corp., with more than 100 years experience in lug nut research, development and manufacturing, introduced a new hexagonal wrench for the automotive industry today, with the highest tensile strength yet recorded for any similar product.

“Our engineers interviewed line workers in four different U.S. automobile plants to determine needs, then launched the design and development process,” said Alonzo McSchwartz, CEO. “The result is a customized alloy of high carbon steel, nickel, molybdenum, and neodymium, which Wikipedia notes is the second-strongest metal ever developed. Workers reported improved productivity using the new wrench in beta testing. Financial analysts believe the wrench will significantly reduce replacement costs for the current lines of wrenches, which have low tensile strength and high failure rates. We are looking forward to ongoing tracking of results to ensure the new XYZ High-Tensile Wrench meets our customers’ expectations.”

These examples show how you can turn even a somewhat dull topic into a more interesting story with strategic thinking in mind. It sets the stage for follow-up stories highlighting results, submitting the wrench for industrial design awards and pitching technical and manufacturing publications.

The creative, strategic PR approach requires a constant flow of supporting evidence to earn media coverage and build social media and other metrics. Our profession should own content development for building brands and reputations from initial creative concepts to news releases, website copy and communications tools of all shapes, sizes and importance — digital or otherwise. We drive reputation and image as part of corporate strategy by telling real stories throughout the years, with compelling insights, intriguing facts and differentiating details — not with vague words.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Clients (and bosses) appreciate the creativity and strategic thinking.
  • You create real, credible stories and tell them with passion.
  • You build your own reputation and credibility with the media for the hype-free, news-based approach.
  • The media credibility gives you the added imprimatur for providing authentic counsel to your CEO or client, and telling them why the ordinary and hackneyed isn’t good enough.
  • You drive perceptions in the desired direction, to the ultimate benefit of image, reputation and even achievement of desired business and marketing goals.
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: tg@nstpr.com.


Bill Spaniel, ABC says:

Tom Gable claims to show how to turn a release written by a lazy writer into one that demonstrates creativity and a strategic approach. While his "improved" release is much better than the original, in my opinion, it is still a lazy effort. Why? Its lede focuses on the organization, not the reader. The true lede of the revised piece is in the third paragraph. There the fictional CEO notes the improved productivity and reduced replacement costs of the wrench under discussion. I would recommend a new lede along the following lines: A new wrench that improves worker productivity and likely will reduce replacement costs may soon help build automobiles. Developed by XYZ Corp., the wrench features the highest tensile strength yet recorded for any similar product. (And so on.) In her article in the same issue of Tactics, Marie Overfors advises that writers of news releases should think in terms of audience benefits. I agree. I believe my revision of Gable's revision focuses on audience benefits. I think it also is more likely to grab media attention.

Feb. 16, 2012

C. Lucas says:

Focusing on audience benefits have got to be the main goal. My concept is connecting people to the right the people or product to meet their needs. Audience benefits, what a novel thought. It's a must if you're going big.

Oct. 17, 2014

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