Making Sense of PR Speak – Part II

Last year, Alex wrote about the abundance of jargon that seems to find its way into considerable amounts of PR copy – with B2B PR being particularly afflicted by the jargon curse. With 2016 now firmly established, this is a good time to revisit the topic and have a look at some of the current phrases being ‘leveraged’ in the world of PR.

One of the biggest problems with using jargon and buzzwords is that it can completely ruin the tone of whatever you are writing. Surveys have found that jargon is an immediate irritant to a reader, and is something that people can even find intimidating. So even if the actual ‘thing’ your press release is announcing is interesting if it’s littered with jargon and buzzwords, readers (and that includes journalists) will instantly switch off. Here are a few more words to avoid:

  • Amplify: This is predicted by one language consultancy to be the biggest buzzword of 2016, instead of using much more sensible synonyms, such as increase, improve or grow.
  • Disrupt/Disruptive: In a similar way to the over use of ‘unique’, seemingly these days, everyone wants to be seen as doing something ‘disruptive’. If you genuinely think your technology or service is disruptive, then stand by it, but if it’s merely a product update or a new version of your software – how disruptive is it really?
  • Buy-in: This means agreeing with each other or gaining someone’s interest, but instead ‘buy-in’ sounds vaguely sinister and as if you’ve had to bribe someone to show their interest.
  • Robust (see also, resilient): I hold my hand up, I’ve been guilty of this one. ‘Robust’, often used to describe something like a software program, is one of those words that’s becoming so ubiquitous that’s it’s beginning to lose all meaning.
  • Granular: Used instead of simply saying, in detail. Granular actually means consisting of small grains or particles, i.e. sand. It does not mean doing something thoroughly or comprehensively.

A lot of modern technology is already complex enough; the role of tech PR is to make this complexity simple so that it can be communicated simply to a range of audiences. Ultimately, journalists are writing for readers whose understanding of a particular technology will vary from those who know it in-depth, to those who have never heard of it. So if today’s short-on-time journalists have to read a bylined article, press release or comment multiple times to try and decipher it, they simply won’t use it. So whatever you find yourself writing – from a sentence-long comment to a 900-word byline, ditch the jargon and keep it simple.

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Top tips for writing a winning press release

Writing is the bread and butter of PR. A normal week’s writing can range from drafting a quick quote, penning a 5,000 word whitepaper, jotting an opinion article, or of course, scribing a press release. The press release is certainly one of the most frequent writing tasks and is a much-maligned tool in the PR’s arsenal. However, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Every so often, the subject of the press release being ‘dead’ rears its head. Yet, clients still want them, and more importantly, so do journalists! So, PR agencies keep writing them, in their thousands. It’s high time, then, to recap some top tips for writing a press release – because they’re not going anywhere any time soon!

  • Mind your language – as Alex recently blogged, PR ‘speak’ can be littered with phrases that turn journalists off and actually add nothing to your content. Steer clear of any marketing jargon, stick to facts, and under no circumstances should you use the word ‘leverage’.
  • Don’t oversell – in a similar vein to the previous point, avoid telling people your product/service etc. is ‘unique’ or ‘innovative’ (Dominic also has some thoughts on this), because words such as these are so frequently overused that they reduce the power of your release.
  • Know your limits – some press releases are not going to get press attention, and that’s fine, but know your limits and know what you want to achieve with the release. A strong customer story is a coverage winner, a minor product update is a useful ‘FYI’ for prospects, customers, and some media, and will help boost SEO – rather than guarantee you coverage.
  • A picture says a thousand words – this tip applies to lots of other written content like case studies and by-lined articles, but sending images with a press release can save journalists a lot of time trying to find one to match, and can bring a story to life. Just make sure they are of a high resolution, or they will be useless.
  • We are delighted – that might be so, but so is every other company out there! Press release quotes that start with ‘we are delighted’ are a well-known menace in the world of PR and journalism. Try to think of another way to express your ‘delight’, and explain why your announcement is good for your customers, not just why it makes you happy.

The important thing to remember when writing a press release is to keep the journalist in mind. Think about what information the journalist needs in order to write a story, and ensure you are giving that information in a clear, concise way – no-one is going to read a 1,000 word press release, however beautifully crafted it is!

Top 5 Client PR Traits

In the previous post, we ran through some of the traits that successful tech PR pros need, but how about clients? The relationship between PR agency and client, be it a quick fling for a project or a marching down the aisle long-term retainer, is a two-way thing.

The best clients, and so those that are most successful, understand this and will work with their agencies to provide them with the knowledge they need to hit their shared objectives successfully. Here are five traits of top PR clients:

  • Don’t be a jack of all trades: And a master of none. You know your business and your customers better than anyone, the most successful clients know exactly what they arequalified to comment on and don’t try to comment on every passing trend.
  • Trust us: We’re not doctors, but we know what we are talking about. The best clients trust their PR advisors when they give them advice and don’t just go it alone.
  • Spend money: Now, we’re not just saying this, but PR is important – don’t neglect PR and invest in it where you can, the results will pay dividends down the line.
  • Content is king: Very often, clients produce lots of great content internally or for sales purposes that can be useful for external PR. And then they forget to share it with their agencies! Don’t forget to send us that whitepaper.
  • Think about what is important: Do you want to be in the channel press, do you want to be in the tech press, do you want to be in the business press? Having a few ideas about what outcomes you want from PR before you start is crucial.

The world of technology throws up lots of different types of clients, from small start-ups developing innovative solutions to established companies supporting customers with legacy technologies. Wherever you are on the spectrum, having or developing, these traits will ensure that the relationship you have with your PR agency is a fruitful one.

Top 5 Tech PR Traits

Public Relations is a changeable beast. It encompasses anything and everything from media relations to event management, to content production and far more in-between. It also spans every industry and imaginable niche. Nowhere is this truer than in tech PR; where conceivably, on a daily basis you can go from talking about big data in drug discovery to business intelligence dashboards in the NHS, to fin tech applications in the cloud.

Being able to juggle, understand and communicate such varied themes is a challenge. Here are some top tech PR traits that all PR pros need – from the very greenest graduate to the most frazzled flack.

  • Organisation: Without fail, the ability to organise oneself, manage your time, meet deadlines and handle several clients at once is crucial. They don’t call PR plate spinning for nothin’!
  • Liking technology: Incredibly, if you don’t like technology or you can’t tap into your inner geek, it’s pretty hard to find interesting things to say about it. If you prefer handbags to HPC, tech PR probably isn’t for you (handbag PR definitely is).
  • Put it in a nutshell: The ability to understand, digest and then communicate complex technical information in a few simple sentences cannot be underrated.
  • Project confidence: It’s a PR-eat-PR world out there, and you can be sure every other agency in the world is pitching for that national cloud feature. So being able to confidentlytell a journalist exactly why they should talk to your client is going to come in handy.
  • Be literate: Tech PRs very often find themselves writing about topics that could charitably be called ‘dry’, being able to inject some life and soul into your writing is invaluable.

So, now we’ve covered some of the attributes of successful tech PR pros, what about our clients? It takes two to tango you know, and we’ll take a look from the other side of the aisle next week.

5 tips in 5 minutes – making sure media interviews run to plan

Media interviews are a much-vaunted, much-loved staple of any PR programme worth its salt, but, like anything in PR, they can go horribly wrong. But even when an interview isn’t a complete car crash, as any PR pro will know, a lot of interviews can end up being merely a so-so experience – instead of being a sound-bite stuffed, charming-the-pants-off-journalists result that we all hope for.

It’s important to remember that every spokesperson you have is different. Some will have been media trained up the eyeballs over a long career in the C-Suite, others will be doing their first ever interview having never knowingly spoken to a journalist in their life. It’s also important to remember that interviews are arranged for any number of reasons, and so the approach you and your spokesperson take will differ accordingly. It might be a ten-minute chat on the phone to grab a few quotes for a feature, or it might be an in-depth hour-long profile piece.

Whatever the reason and however experienced your spokesperson might be – ensuring that you prepare the spokesperson thoroughly and give them all the information and context they need to feel confident, will pay dividends down the line. It goes without saying that providing a briefing note with valuable background on journalists, publications and talking points is essential. But often, more important that simply sending a document, is personally pre-briefing your spokesperson. Your spokesperson is highly likely to be a very busy individual, fully digesting all the info in a briefing document may not be high on their list of priorities.

So if nothing else, grab that five minutes before your spokesperson even utters a word and remember to reiterate the basics – here are just a few to get started:

  • Speak slow – remind spokespeople not to hurry or speak quickly, and to make a conscious effort to slow down – ensuring that the journalist can catch/record comments
  • Press pause – hand in hand with speaking too fast, is not giving the journalist a chance to speak, tell your spokesperson to pause when they’ve finished speaking to allow the journalist to ask questions
  • Check in – periodically, it’s useful for spokespeople to check with the journalist that they understand the comments they are making
  • Listen closely – remind spokespeople to really listen to the question a journalist poses and do their best to answer it specifically rather than too generally
  • Not knowing is OK – it’s fine not to know something, your spokesperson shouldn’t be afraid to decline to answer a question if they can’t answer, it’s far better than fudging it!

The Changing Face of PR? Indeed.

I read an interesting article in Recruitment International Magazine this week, entitled ‘The Changing Face of PR’, its opening sentence boldly stated, “PR may be at the cusp of its evolution.”

Why? Well, the ‘digital boom’ according to the article’s author Davina Forbes, of Major Players – a Randstad owned PR and comms jobs recruitment company.

With the greatest respect to Forbes, I have to disagree with the majority of what she writes. I read, with some incredulity, “The digital boom, the birth of the media hub and the fall of the journalist may have sparked the beginnings of a new trend within the industry that could inevitably lead to a new focus for PR jobs – content.” A ‘new trend’?! Hasn’t PR always been about good content? And I’m not so sure this ‘digital boom’ is at the ‘beginning’ of its evolution, having been in full flow for a good couple of years now.

Sure, it’s been a learning curve, but the majority of PR practitioners and students I know, already work exceptionally well within the ‘new’ digital rules of PR engagement. Most are also clued up with social and digital media; having your own Twitter account and blog is a matter of course for most practitioners, and in general, these outlets are managed very well.

Talk to, or listen to, the vast majority of PR practitioners, both old and new, and they have a thorough understanding of digital/new media/social media communications. According to Forbes, “…the PR talent has the capability, perhaps it’s just a case of brushing up, particularly for those new to the industry.” This is an unfairly inaccurate representation of the skills of new entrants to the industry; especially in light of the large number of well trained and educated PR students and graduates. Many universities offer PR modules dedicated to social media and digital communication; producing industry entrants who are amongst the best practitioners of communications in a digital world.

The reasons for this are two-fold; firstly, young PR students and graduates have grown up through an age of digital communication, and are used to communicating and being communicated to across a digital medium. Secondly the overwhelming move towards teaching, training and guidance from experienced practitioners at countless numbers of university courses, traineeships and internships has consolidated this knowledge in practice.

I’m not just painting a rosy picture of the PR industry; of course there are still practitioners who stick by their traditional methods. And while traditional methods still have a key role in PR, the dinosaurs are dying out. In general, the PR industry is doing a good job of moving with the times.

It is quite astounding to read this statement, “…content generation is becoming an increasingly important skill to possess for the PR…” Content generation has always been a key skill, whatever the media outlet – print, digital, oral, visual; and PRs have always had to be good at it. As a self proclaimed ‘leading’ PR recruiter, the relatively negative view Forbes presents of the industry and its practitioners seems worryingly out of touch.