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.

Click here to download your latest PR Executive, version 3.6

Former FT journalist, Tom Foremski, recently wrote a piece asking if PR can be automated? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher of an article that compares how the media industry ‘has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and forced to adopt new media technologies (has it, has it really?), with PR’s apparent lack of technological prowess.

The basic premise is that PR doesn’t use technology to further itself and that PR’s use of technology extends only to ‘a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares’. The upshot of which, according to Foremski is that PR can’t grow because it can’t scale; in essence, PR growth means hiring more people. Foremski thinks this is a problem that makes PR companies vulnerable as they can’t ‘automate the technologies of promotion’. Now that’s a phrase – automate the technologies of promotion. I don’t know about you but I’m picturing I-Robot-esque rows of fresh PRobots ready to bash out a press release.

Let’s look at that then, writing a press release. The much maligned and unloved press release that despite its own bad press is still a valuable PR tool that both journalists’ and PRs’ alike make use of. To write a good press release, you need knowledge of your client, the industry, issues affecting the industry, product knowledge, technical and often complex knowledge, and the ability to tell a story, the ability to know what resonates with human beings. You need nuance. Machines and technologies don’t understand nuance, which you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever tried to edit a document in Microsoft Word.

So I have to ask, is it such a bad thing that PR can’t grow unless more people become involved? Lest we forget the P in PR stands for public. It is all about people after all – on both sides of the fence, those communicating and those listening. The PR world is too often accused that it’s a clone-like, drone-like industry that churns out the same out old stories that aren’t either interesting or newsworthy. Would technology do a better job? People tell stories, not machines. Besides, as any PR knows, we already have enough trouble trying to answer the ‘what do you do for a living’ question. I don’t want to have to start throwing automate the technologies of promotion in there as well.

It’s time for a rant. It’s been building for a while.

What has happened to our ability to spell, punctuate and grammatically construct even the simplest of sentences? It never ceases to amaze me the number of written missives I am on the receiving end of that are littered with spelling and grammar errors. I’m not talking about words which might be hard to spell, but simple words, like ‘simple’. I’m talking about incorrect use of their/there or your/you’re. I’m talking about entire paragraphs not threatened with a single punctuation mark. The basic stuff, the really basic stuff.

The saddest bit? I work in an industry where writing skills are considered a prerequisite. It’s genuinely disheartening! Don’t even get me started on CVs which haven’t had even the most rudimentary proof. I remember long afternoons at school filled with spelling tests and grammar lessons, it was important and we were taught that it was important. That emphasis on getting the basics right seems to have disappeared. I’ve heard people boasting of their inability to spell like it is something funny or to be proud of; or chuckling over the fact they don’t know what an apostrophe is.

I’m not saying I’m an expert by any stretch; I make mistakes, I have to check things, I use a dictionary, I check APs style guide and I am somewhat over judicious with my use of the semi colon. That’s the point though, I check. If I ever spot a typo on something I have sent or distributed I am aghast! At my current agency, we have a practice of making sure written documents are proofed before being sent externally, be it to a client or journalist. It is a good practice, often in PR things are written in haste because that’s the nature of the beast; mistakes are easily made and a second pair of eyes can often spot them quickly. It also means you learn and get into the habit of proofing as you go, because let’s be honest, no one likes to be picked up on a silly mistake.

It’s that pride in your work and the desire to get things right the first time that seems to be missing from many people’s writing. You don’t need to be able to write like Oscar Wilde but being able to put together something like a CV which reads well and has good spelling and grammar shouldn’t be out of the bounds of expectation. First impressions count, and if you can’t be bothered to get your CV right, you’re not going to get on the good side of any employer.