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PR Buzzwords That Should Be Banned

As a PR professional and secret Zillow enthusiast, I can appreciate real estate euphemisms. We’ve all seen flowery descriptions describing homes for sale as “cozy” (read: tiny); with a “low-maintenance yard” (probably concrete); or “partial water view” (maybe a dried stream bed). A recent tweet about a “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cabin” made me think about the jargon that clutters press releases and business memos in our own business.

There are far too many tired, empty words used in news announcements and other content prepared by PR agencies or their clients. In some cases it’s understandable, or even necessary. When it comes to business software, customers may expect to hear about “end-to-end solutions” or a “suite of scaleable offerings.”  Advertising Week just wrapped up here in New York, and with it, a festival of jargon. In the adtech sector, buzzwords like “monetization” and “engagement” are unavoidable, and terms like “transparency” and “visibility” have a special meaning. (Even worse are the acronyms. If you don’t know what GDPR is and why it’s important to a DMP, then you’re lost.)

But even allowing for vocabulary that is specific to certain sectors – and technology is the worst — PR-speak can be lazy, uninspired, and clogged with meaningless descriptors. Here are some of the terms that, when used in press materials, can undermine the typical PR team’s message. There are three main categories of bad PR-speak: hyperbole, buzzwords, and hopeless clichés.

Building buzz without the buzzwords: ban these terms

“leading” – This one’s everywhere, usually in the first line of a press release or company boilerplate. That’s because it’s an easy way to imply leadership status without making a claim that might be disputable. The same goes for weasel-words “market-leading” and “leading-edge.” Without information that supports the claim, they have no power. But those aren’t as bad as “bleeding edge,” which I first heard in 1996 and never want to hear again.

“excited” – My pet peeve is the news release about a partnership or deal where the company spokesperson is quoted as being “thrilled,” “delighted,” or “excited” about the transaction. While these descriptors may be accurate, they add nothing to the story. No journalist will use them. Why not say something about how the partnership will advance business goals? Or, skip the quote and post a real executive comment on social media.

“groundbreaking” – Another overused PR buzzword that has lost all meaning.

“curated” – This is one of many words that are unnecessarily pretentious versions of simpler ones. Why call something “curated” if it’s clearer to say it’s “carefully chosen” or “hand-picked”? The same goes for “bespoke” and many nouns used as verbs, like “mainstreaming” and (the worst) “architecting,” as in “architecting a new plan.” Ugh.

“lean in” – With due respect to Sheryl Sandberg, this term has been appropriated by so many different entities and in too many situations that the original meaning has evaporated, and it’s now a cliché.

“incredibly” – Hyperbolic and meaningless.

“leverage” as a verb – I’m reconciled to seeing this word throughout PR proposals, but it should never appear in a press release.

“game-changing” – If a product has truly changed the game, then explain how. Otherwise, this is another empty hyperbole.

For more PR buzzwords that deserve to be busted, check out PRbuzzsaw. You can try its “automated jargon removal tool” to assess your press release, or just have a laugh. And if you’re still in need of inspiration, I have a charming, bespoke cottage with lots of character that you might want to check out.

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