When buzzwords attack, AKA we’re not going to publish your press release

Does your agency have a "penchant for disrupting, injecting emotion and turning communication into conversation"? Mumbrella's opinion and features editor Josie Tutty reveals adland's most sinful buzzwords, and offers a sincere apology to all the press releases she has let evaporate into the depths of her Gmail inbox.

As Mumbrella’s opinion and features editor, I get sent a lot of copy.

So when I stumbled across Houston PR’s ingenious tool for busting buzzwords yesterday afternoon, I’ll admit I spent more time than I probably should have copy and pasting press pieces that have been sitting in my inbox for an awkwardly long time.  

The Buzzsaw’s purpose is to eliminate doublespeak from copy, in an attempt to highlight how passing off meaningless jargon as honest communication has become the norm.

They quote “reach out” “solutions”, “touch base”, “robust”, “repurposing”, “artisan’, “holistic” and “curate” as some of the many examples of marketing nonsense that have been submitted.

I also tried it with a certain media release that has been making the rounds lately, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that “unique”, “market-leading” and “dynamic” are not words favoured by the Buzzsaw. 

As Hamish Thompson notes in his most recent LinkedIn post (and the post that led me to the Buzzsaw machine in the first place): “There’s a company in the US that calls itself ‘A global leader in the adhesive labelling solutions sector.’ In other words ‘We sell stickers.’”

Adland clearly has a problem, and ironically, it’s a problem with communicating.

The issue with buzzwords – or, as my boss Tim likes to call them, “weasel words” – is that any feigned attempt at sounding more important than you actually are will always come across as inauthentic.

And if you don’t agree with me, I’ll bet you anything that you’re the one writing, approving and sticking your name on these releases in the first place.

One of the most refreshing op eds I have published over the past few months detailed the slow, painful death of a press release in 22 days, which the anonymous author described as “a soul withering and Kafka-esque tale of mega bureaucracy”.

Kermit summarises the sentiment perfectly

It details the hoops a PR agency has to go through to even get a release approved and sent out to journalists, let alone published. A glance at the piece’s comment thread, and the ensuing Twitter reaction, will tell you that this is a common experience.

So really, it should come as no surprise that when a release lands in our inbox, we can expect to delete approximately two thirds of it without a second thought.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, after all.

And to those PRs out there who have spent the last three weeks going through endless iterations of a press release or opinion piece only to have it rejected – or worse, completely ignored – by every journalist you blasted it out to, I say: sorry.

Sorry, because battling with a buzzword-hungry client is probably more than your job’s worth.

Sorry, because your original idea was probably far removed from the fluffy, jargon-loaded monster it became.

Sorry… but we’re still not going to publish it.

And to be fair to them, it’s not just the PRs. A startling percentage of marketing and ad agencies’ ‘about us’ sections can be an absolute minefield.

They’re integrated communications change makers with a penchant for disrupting, injecting emotion and turning communication into conversation.

They manage multiple connection points across a spectrum of involvement.

They strive to deliver superior results via cut-through creativity.

But the question on most of our lips is: what do they actually do?

As a junior, it was easy to let it all fly over my head and believe the incomprehension I was feeling was 100% my fault.

But by now, I’ve realised a sad truth: no one really knows what they’re talking about. Or if they do, it’s so veiled in mystic meaninglessness that no one else knows what they’re talking about.

Which, when you think about it, is basically the same thing.

So next time you’re about to send over some copy, I’d suggest giving it a whizz through the Buzzsaw, just in case.

And if you’ve made it through this mini rant and still want to send me an opinion piece (you brave thing, you), you can reach me at josie@mumbrella.com.au.

Josie Tutty Mumbrella CommsCon Conference 2018


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