Gini Dietrich

Survey Says: PR Pros Use too Many Buzzwords

By: Gini Dietrich | January 15, 2013 | 

We used to play this game in the office that didn’t really have a name. I suppose you could call it Corporate BINGO, except we didn’t fill out cards or have winners.

We had a six foot whiteboard in the kitchen and, every time someone said (what we considered) some dumb corporate language, we’d write it down on the board.

Soon, things such as “at the end of the day,” “with all due respect,” “frankly,” and “win win” were listed (we had a client who said “frankly” so much, we never believed she was actually telling the truth).

In fact, we filled that thing up and then added big sheets of poster paper on either side to keep the game going.

A Little Story

I was reminded of it while I stood in line at security in Atlanta right before the holidays and overheard a man talking to one of his female colleagues.

The conversation went like this:

Him: Hi Allison. I was hoping you can help me.

Her: (I assume she said something like, “Sure!”)

Him: I have an on-site client meeting tomorrow with 10 people and I need to order lunch.

Her: (Um, okay?)

Him: I know it’s not your job, but I have no visibility into how to order lunch. Could I send you the menus and have you help?

Her: (I don’t know what she said, but I was about to kick him in the shins. I wanted to say to him, “Have you ever ordered pizza? Then you have visibility into how to order lunch.” And, as if, because she’s female, she does have “visibility” into ordering lunch? But alas. I kept my mouth shut.)

“I have no visibility into how to order lunch.”

He really said that. And, of course, I posted it to Facebook. It also would have gone on our whiteboard as soon as I got back to the office (if we still had an office and weren’t virtual).

Survey Says

But, it turns out MBAs and wannabe executives aren’t the only professionals who speak another language.

According to a report by twelve thirty eight (which Tony Dowling so kindly sent to me a couple of weeks ago), PR professionals are the worst at using buzzwords that have no real meaning.

Each year they survey 500 journalists to find out which buzzwords, jargon, and terms PR pros use when working with them.

PR Buzzwords

Words such as “awesome” and “super excited.” In fact, I have a journalist friend who is fed up with “amazing” (which, of course, makes me use it every other word when I email her).

Following is a list of the top 20 buzzwords compiled in the survey. The words or phrases in parenthesis is an attempt to define the meaning.

  1. Issues (problems)
  2. Dynamic (likely not to be)
  3. Paradigm (a ‘silk purse’ word)
  4. Elite (i.e. you wouldn’t normally get to attend)
  5. Hotly anticipated (i.e. never heard of it)
  6. End-user (‘customer’)
  7. Influencer (probably not)
  8. Evangelist (a tendency to tweet with loads of hashtags)
  9. Deliverables (‘tasks’)
  10. Icon/iconic (‘use before 01.01.01 or never’)
  11. Rocketed (‘made modest progress’)
  12. “An astonishing x per cent” (it rarely is astonishing)
  13. Marquee event/marquee client (probably ‘very local’)
  14. Going forward (‘in the future’)
  15. Ongoing (‘a bit behind schedule’)
  16. Optimized (‘changed by consultants then changed back’)
  17. Horizontal, vertical, etc (two words in lieu of a strategy)
  18. Phygital (easy to press or swipe, we guess)
  19. SoLoMo (no idea)
  20. Well-positioned (‘hopeful but a bit scared’)

And one of my very favorites:

I loathe it when a business is described as “providing solutions.” We see this time and again and it tells us nothing.

You can download the survey and take a look yourself. Some of the examples the journalists use are downright hysterical. And some, you’ll be sad to notice, you’ve used (but, I’m willing to bet, never to use again).

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Oh, Gini, I’m really thrilled we could connect on this topic. I hope your blog post creates some synergy in the working world around moving in unison to dynamically alter corporate language, so as to create transformational excellence in customer-focused and business-to-business communication. So long as we all keep sharply focused and on the bleeding edge, I think we’ll be able to innovate for customers and deliver radically comprehensible communication experiences!

    • @jelenawoehr You win the Internets today.

      • @jasonkonopinski Woo! Now what am I supposed to do for the REST of the day?

    • @jelenawoehr I am in complete awe at how you wrote that brilliant comment at 5:30 in the morning.

      • @ginidietrich I could do this in my sleep. And should be. Because it’s now 6:07 in the morning. Is this your fault? Are you contagious with your early rising? WHY AM I UP?

    • burgessct

      @jelenawoehr Tho we have not met, you are now the go to person for all corporate plain speak – well played!

      • @burgessct If only that were a business model I could apply… I’d  totally translate normal, sensical communications into incomprehensible jargon and back for a living.

  • belllindsay

    SoLoMo – Social Local Mobile.
    One other buzzword that drives me nuts: snackable, usually referring to content (dumb, short and easily digested). Snackable….!!??? ARRGGHH!!

    • @belllindsay Social Local Mobile? WTH? Wow. I also hate “consume” as in “consume media.” You don’t consume it. You read it.

      • @ginidietrich  @belllindsay Consume is the catch-all: read, listen, watch. That one doesn’t bother that much, mostly because I’ve used it in blog posts before. 🙂 
        The iPad has often been called a content consumption device as opposed to a content creation one.

        • @jasonkonopinski  You’re still not consuming it. That means to eat. Are you eating podcasts? Books? Articles? I’ve used it too, because I can’t think of a better catch-all word, but it drives me nuts.

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski Let’s not get too ‘Nazi’ about words though – words evolve. ‘Consume’ is similar to saying one can ‘digest’ an article. Well, obviously you haven’t *eaten* it so you’re not digesting it…but you ARE thinking about it, mulling it over, considering opposite arguments, coming to an understanding about it, breaking it down…in effect, digesting it. I don’t see consume as a buzzword, per se, Not in the way some of these other words are.

        • @belllindsay  @ginidietrich Darn you and your logic.

        • @belllindsay  @jasonkonopinski Oh see…I see digest the same way. You can’t digest an article, either. Why can’t you say, “That article really made me think” or “I am thinking more about that article”? Rather than digest…

        • @ginidietrich  @belllindsay Economy of words, yo. Don’t be hatin’.

        • belllindsay

          @jasonkonopinski  @ginidietrich What Jason said. You can’t strip all the magic out of language. Out of writing. Words are beautiful things. They so simply and easily convey a message. It’s when they are bastardized that things start getting out of hand.

        • @ginidietrich  @belllindsay  @jasonkonopinski Gini, I think you need to take your copy of Mrs. FluffyStuffy’s guide to proper Victorian English and burn it. Just my thoughts, but I’ve consumed a lot of media this morning and am feeling a bit full.

      • @ginidietrich  @belllindsay I consume. I dive in headfirst and shut out all distractions and consume. Sorry to disagree, boss. 😉

        • @allenmireles  @ginidietrich  @belllindsay MUTINY!

        • @allenmireles  @belllindsay You can disagree. I just hate the word. A lot. Doesn’t mean you have to hate it, too.

  • Deliverables? Yeah, I use that one a lot. Off to sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.

    • @jasonkonopinski Ha! And today is a writing day for you, which means I’ve now created an obsession you’ll feel about your words.

      • @ginidietrich You’re going to give me a complex. Congrats, you jerk. xoxo

        • @jasonkonopinski Love yooooou!

        • @ginidietrich Harumph.

        • belllindsay

          @jasonkonopinski  @ginidietrich I still use deliverables. It was a TV term thing. Ugh. Hard to break those habits.

  • burgessct

    Back in the day (that would be Shakespeare’s’ day) we called it,
    “The art of gilding the Lilly”

    • @burgessct Kinda like polishing a turd? 😉

      • @jasonkonopinski  @burgessct Putting lipstick on a pig?

        • burgessct

          @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski Dang it Gini I was typing – its 0445 here so you are ahead of me in the future and beat me to it….

        • @burgessct  Between you and @jelenawoehr commenting so early, you have my morning hours beat!

        • burgessct

          @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski in seriousness – when the benefits of whatever you are sharing are put up front the can stand on their own – and do they really need fluff words for support – i.e., that layer of glitter?

        • @ginidietrich  @burgessct Maybe something told us you were going to make a fun post.

  • Um, yes. Though, I’m really surprised “synergy” didn’t make the list. That one always grosses me out.
    And, acronyms should also go into the list of big no-nos. When I worked in government, you needed a freakin’ decoder to figure out what every ABC and XYZ meant. Use your words, people!

    • @lauraclick We have a client that has written a dictionary for new employees to read so they understand the lingo. We’ve tried to change that and get them to speak in normal English, but there are some battles you just can’t win.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich  @lauraclick A dictionary….???? *stabby stabby stabby*

    • @lauraclick But it’s just sooooooo hard to type out those three extra letters.

    • belllindsay

      @lauraclick Omigod. Government is the WORST!!

      • I was in a meeting with my government client yesterday and someone kept rattling off acronyms. It sounded like they took a handful of refrigerator alphabet magnets and just tossed them on the table.

        • @teamccloud I wish I’d been in that meeting. It would have ended in giggles.

    • @lauraclick @ginidietrich can attest to this statement: I HATE ACRONYMS!!!!! Some of them are fine, but mostly, I just dislike them.

      • @yvettepistorio  @lauraclick  @ginidietrich ROFLTTYLBBQ

        • @jasonkonopinski  @lauraclick  @ginidietrich rolling on floor laughing talking to yvette later about bbq?!

  • “With all due respect” (NSFW)

    • @Adam | Customer Experience OMG! LOL! It doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want!

  • I can safely say I don’t use any of these. 😀

    • @DebraCaplick I can safely say you just set yourself up for all of us calling you out when you do.

  • Ah, but this hits me where I live, @ginidietrich . I am guilty of #8 (hashtag overuse = evangelist) haunted by #9 (deliverables), and convicted by both #15 (ongoing) and #20 (well-positioned), lol. How alarming. Time to shopping for new verbiage. Yay! Another task to add to the list. 😉

    • @allenmireles Or perhaps…time to shop for new words? 🙂

  • rdopping

    Love the list. The Architecture industry has its own language as well. That game is going on our intranet today.
    I have to challenge you on 10 though. Deliverables are the output of tasks.

    • @rdopping You’re not really challenging me. It’s what the journalists said they hated about the words PR pros use. I guess they’d prefer you say “tasks”?

  • I’m guilty of influencer and optimized, but since I use them sparingly (if I can’t thing of a better word) am I off the hook?! Or should I go sit in the corner with @jasonkonopinski ?

    • @yvettepistorio  @jasonkonopinski Go sit in the corner!

      • @ginidietrich  @yvettepistorio We have more fun anyway.

  • This is hilarious. I have been in so many circumstances where I have had to take a second to think about what I am saying, writing or hearing especially with the crossover of PR jargon and health care.  The use of jargon creates havoc for instance in mentioning deliverables in a maternity setting or the colonoscopy clinic where end-result/end-user or working from the bottom-up can get pretty sticky. Is the intoxicated patient an influencer or the gynecologist well-positioned?
    When you add all the acronyms of health care, government, marketing and public relations the message intent can be so easily misconstrued, funny sure, if you have a sense of humor, but dangerous if you are a patient consumer.   I do  know that  when I am with my male OBGYN, the last thing I want to hear him talking about is integrating or engaging with me or that he is achieving optimization. 
    One thing for sure is that you better know your audience, their understanding of words (jargon) and write your messages for that targeted niche if you want to appropriately measure outcomes, otherwise it might be the thought of as sh_t!

    • @annelizhannan I won’t even use CRM or SEO or CMS when talking with our client’s marketing teams. I’m always surprised at, for those of us who spend a lot of time online, know what that stuff means, but the rest of the world does not. So I’m with you – I always stop and think about the words I’m using.

      • @ginidietrich Exactly, if you were speaking to a healthcare client and started talking about CMS they would immediately think of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (the largest funding agency in health!)

  • Hilarious! And true. Taking note so as to keep my speech and communication fresh and notable by standing out from the crowd.
    Wait, I am not the only one on a crusade against “amazing”?  I feel so relieved!!! Please tell her she is not alone!!!

    • @dwaynealicie She posted that on Facebook and then, for a week, I sent her emails full of amazing things amazing like this amazing whatever. She got really mad at me.

  • RobinHardmanCom

    Awesome, amazing post. It’s really optimized my approach to communications; I’m now well-positioned to address any ongoing issue going forward.

  • editjules

    How ’bout getting rid of ‘branding’ and ‘guru’? I’ve said this before a bunch o’ times but you’re only a guru if you’re on an Ashram in India, and branding? Please–it’s A TITLE not a brand. Pshaw!

    • @editjules Now I feel like I should to to India and get on an Ashram so I can finally be a guru!

      • editjules

        @ginidietrich Hell..I just wanna go to India for the textiles and 22kt gold joo-ree!

  • “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
    Industry jargon a problem all around the board.

    • @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes You and I could probably create an entire list on our own: Utilize, impact, ruminate…

  • I have no visibility into why people use this lingo. Unless it is to obfuscate that which should be clear.

    • belllindsay

      @SteveWoodruff “Obfuscate” – great word!

      • @belllindsay @SteveWoodruff obfuscate is not jargon. It’s pure elegance in action.

      • @belllindsay  @SteveWoodruff “Obfuscate” IS a great word …almost as good as “twaddle.”

    • @SteveWoodruff I have no visibility into your clarity.

  • Sigh, words like those listed just make me zone out.  Others i loath are: guru, ninja, diva, front – end developer (dont get me started).

    • @sydcon_mktg Guru is the worse.

    • And maven…I loathe maven.

      • @DebraCaplick Yes, Maven should be at the very top of the list.

      • @DebraCaplick What about queen? I kind of like queen.

        • @ginidietrich Depends – would you be the Red Queen or the White Queen?

    • burgessct

      @sydcon_mktg guru – usually self-proclaimed

    • @sydcon_mktg What should front-end developer be instead?

  • Love this! Will add to the checklist for press release editing.

    • @jolynndeal I think I’m going to put it in our style guide!

  • HowieG

    I have said it here before jargon most go!

    • belllindsay


    • @HowieG Who are you?

  • KevinVandever

    This information is not net new to me, but I still find it a value add.

  • They missed my all time favorites:
    “Circle Back”
    “Client Ready”
    “Per our discussion”
    “Thought leader”
    “Tight turnaround”
    And the all time loathe of my work life, “get creative but  there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, even though there are a lot of moving parts.”

    • @stevenmcoyle Client ready?! As opposed to … ?

      • @ginidietrich Just the term “complete” works for me. My previous manager “client ready” for everything. We really she just meant for it to be complete.

  • EricSteckel

    I was merely excited by the title of this post, but then when I gained visibility into the list, I became super-excited. I am astonished by this fantastic bit of thought leadership. Going forward it will be an ongoing goal of mine to optimize my comments with well-positioned lingo from this marquee list. Elite influencers will hotly anticipate my dynamic opinions, rocketing this evangelist’s KLOUT rating an astonishing 100% or more. Brilliant!

    • @EricSteckel You just made me snort. Out loud.

  • remarkmarketing

    We need to determine the pivot points to identify the decision makers in the new paradigm in order to maximize coverage and accelerating throughput.  

    • belllindsay

      @remarkmarketing “Bacon” – hahahahaha!!!!

    • @remarkmarketing I think you’re right. Bacon.

  • SoLoMoCo is a Google term.  Social, mobile, local, commerce.  That’s where search is headed — according to Google’s vision.

    • @Frank_Strong We should tell the people who conducted the survey.

    • @Frank_Strong I hadn’t seen the addition to SoLoMo with Co. Is it different than the original as I thought commerce was understood.

      • @annelizhannan Head of mobile presented at a user conference last year. Bang up preso too. I was lukewarm on mobile until I saw this guy speak; very compelling. Gave me a lot to think about. Couple blog posts recapping the session and I’ll DM you a link if you want.

        • @Frank_Strong That would be great Frank, thank you.  I am a big fan of SoLoMo but just hadn’t heard or seen of SoLoMoCo anywhere. You are just so on top of things, thank heavens I follow you 😉

  • I’d like to “drill down” this list to see what else we might extrapolate. We use these big, fancy words because we want to sound important and knowledgeable, but all it does is confuse others and make us look silly. I wish we could all stop. 
    Having said that, I don’t think this is just a PR industry problem. Having sat through briefings for other fields I think each has its own buzzwords and expressions the rest of us don’t understand. The military lexicon is especially fraught with acronyms and expressions lay people don’t understand. I’ll never forget attending a lunch event with my husband to which all spouses were invited. The speaker started out by saying he didn’t expect the civilians in the audience (at least half of it) to understand and we’d have to deal with it. Imagine the reviews that event received!

    • @mdbarber Oh by no means do I think it’s a PR issue. I just thought the survey asking journalists what drove them crazy about PR people was hilarious.

      • @ginidietrich It amuses me when stones are thrown by journalists period. My grandmother used to say the people who live in glass houses should not thrown stones. That seems especially true in this case.

      • @ginidietrich  @mdbarber I think we should do the reverse: a survey of PR people asking what journos do that drive PR people nuts.

  • NancyCawleyJean

    Oh this is priceless. It seems that every year there’s another word that comes along that people think they have to use, while others are true classics and stand the test of time. Don’t forget “the big picture” too. You always have to look at the big picture.I LOVE the idea of the white board to track usage — must that an ongoing deliverable. because frankly, going forward and looking at the big picture, at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for all of us, with all due respect. 😉

    • NancyCawleyJean

      Ooops..must implement that as an ongoing deliverable is what I meant to say. But you get the bit picture.

    • @NancyCawleyJean HAHAHAHH! You’re terrible! LOL!

  • samanthamcgarry

    I agree; we are supposed to be wordsmiths yet we fall prey to these overused, misused and cliched words and phrases. We can do better! Some of the buzz words that you list – and several others are listed in my recent blog post Words to Retire in 2013 –
    p.s. SoMoLo = social mobile local

    • @samanthamcgarry You have Gangnam on there. LOL!!!

      • samanthamcgarry

        @ginidietrich I know!

  • That is classic-I have no visibility in to orderin food. I am going to use that.

  • Also-“onboarding”-really?!?

  • What I share for almost every buzzword bashapallooza – UnSuckit – Absotively hilarious – and spot on – some of these. FWIW.

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