By Russell Working, PR Daily
Evil forces lurk among us, threatening to destroy our way of life. Only communicators stand between civilization and a new Dark Age. But your quest starts with a taboo: Never write the 20 words that will bring down a curse on you, your communications and all mankind. Or, well, at least you will doom your pitches, press releases and internal emails, according to two scribes who have spent years reading ancient scrolls and overhyped press releases. Michael Smart, principal for MichaelSMARTPR, said he and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue once drew up a list of “cursed words” and hype phrases that undermine your creditability. Here are the words:
- State of the art
- Best in class
“Lots of journalists tell me, ‘I immediately delete releases as soon as I see one buzzword or any hype,” said Smart, who has successfully landed stories in TIME.com, The New York Times, and many other venues. “The kinder ones say, ‘I just don’t read those words; I skim over them. It’s like they’re not even there. They don’t impress me. They don’t do anything.” Why not? Because reporters read these phrases 10, 20, even 100 times a day in press releases. These are the PR (and internal comms) equivalent of a guy sidling up to a woman at the bar and saying, “Hey, there, I’m the handsomest dude you’ll ever meet.”
Smart listed the banned words in a presentation last fall at Ragan’s “Breakthrough Strategies for Corporate Communicators” conference at the North Carolina headquarters of SAS, a business software firm. The video was just released on Ragan Training. Yes, I know; your product truly is revolutionary. But that won’t impress anyone on the receiving end of the 1,000th email about some earth-shaking new product.
“The reporters not only ignore these, they hold them up as points of mockery,” Smart said. “And if it’s only going internally, I’d say, ‘Well, if the media thinks that, what do you think our audience thinks? Do you think they really buy into the fact that this is a landmark turnkey solution?”
During Smart’s presentation, Ragan Communications CEO Mark Ragan threw in another dark phrase to avoid: Solutions provider. “I’m expecting McDonald’s to say that they’re the ‘lunchtime solutions provider,’” he said. Smart allows that it must have been awesome to be the first person to think of the phrase cutting-edge. But within a month it meant nothing, he says, so communicators adopted leading-edge, which likewise became a cliché in no time.
How to avoid the “cursed words”? Use specifics. If something’s cutting-edge or revolutionary, specify what’s new about it, Smart said. What does it do? How fast is it? Let nouns and verbs do the work of adjectives and adverbs, Smart said. Concrete images enliven your writing. He offered this comparison:
Johnson was hungry.
Johnson ordered a triple cheeseburger and a barbecue chicken sandwich.
Don’t send your poor press release to its doom. Avoid the curse.