Paradigm Snuff

Every industry has its buzzwords. But Internet businesses and their public relations/marketing mavens have taken that concept to new highs – or lows, depending on whom you ask. In a recent public relations writing class Emily taught, a student was at odds with a client who insisted on using the phrase “marketplace enabling solutions” to describe what they do.

Emily insisted that the student’s job – the reason the company pays for her counsel – is to help them craft a clearer message. But her apprehension about sticking up to a client and telling him he’s wrong was clearly stressing her out.

Public relations newbies, fresh out of college, have no idea how cynical and tired reporters can be. They often believe reporters simply can’t wait for their next breathtaking installment on a series of press releases that have no news. They simply do not believe reporters are so tired of deciphering such Internet commerce gibberish they no longer bother – press releases with too many buzzwords or unclear messages get dumped without consideration.

PR’s Core Incompetencies

So reporters continue to face bombardment from press releases and pitch letters full of our favorites: solutions, robust, scalable, value-added, seamless and monetize, to name a few. The theory among reporters is that the more a PR flack uses these buzzwords, the less he has to say. In other words, there is an inverse relationship between more paradigm shifts and next-generations and the news value in a document.

Now reporters have a tool they can use to help filter those email press releases that flood their inboxes. The Buzz Saw Filter System, the invention of two journalists from major business magazines that begin with the letter F, is a beleaguered reporter’s savior.

The filter system searches the press release for words such as leverage, offline and turnkey. If the system identifies an offensive number of such buzzwords, it bounces a message back to the sender that reads, “The Buzz Saw Filter System has rejected your email for unacceptable buzzword levels (i.e., turnkey, solutions, best of breed). If you think you’ve received this automated message in error, please visit for more information.”

You’ve Got E-Trash

What’s interesting is how buzzwords have changed over the last few years. Early on, everything was prefaced by the word cyber. Cybercash. Cybervision. Cybermania. Now you can spot a novice a mile away by the use of this hackneyed buzzword.

Now the letter “e” has taken hold in the Internet vernacular. Wall Street seems to love all things “e” – E-Trade, eToys, e-commerce, e-healthcare, even our famous eChicken.

So the developers of the Buzz Saw Filter System have to stay on top of the ever-changing buzzwords of marketers and flacks so the system remains effective.

How can a public relations practitioner avoid the sharp blades of a reporter’s Buzz Saw, not to mention the subsequent professional embarrassment and reduced credibility among reporters?

First, it helps if the writer of the press release or pitch letter actually understands the company or the product. A PR professional should ramp up the writing process with a basic understanding of the subject matter she’s covering. She has to be convinced before she can convince others – or gain others’ mindshare.

Second, empower the public relations staff to write and communicate in plain English. If you’re a client working with a PR or marketing firm, let them do their jobs by simplifying your message. You hired them because you don’t have that expertise. Step aside and let the professionals handle it.

If you work with an agency, learn how to be a true communications counselor by advising clients on the best strategy for getting the message across. You’re hired for your expertise; make their investment worth it.

Third, edit, edit, edit. Red flag all the buzzwords or phrases that say nothing and change them. So synergy goes back to the physics lab where it belongs. Associatesbecome employees again. Mindshare becomes attention. Functionality loses its useless extra letters and becomes, simply, function.

We’ll never rid ourselves completely of buzzwords. There are two compelling reasons why they continue – they sometimes explain complex ideas in single words or phrases, and they give people who have nothing to say something to say. But the more we professional communicators can do to protect basic English and clear communications, the less we annoy reporters and more easily we get our message to our target audiences.

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