buzzword reports 2013

I read a really interesting report earlier today, The Buzzword Report 2013, from Twelve Thirty Eight, a terribly clever PR agency. By the way, thanks to Paul Fairburn for unearthing it and sharing it on Facebook. It details everything that journalists hate the most about how PR people work. Its full of bad practice and irritating habits, a lot of which that seem to be creeping in from the US.

The trouble is, after a quick glance through, you’ll realise that these problems aren’t limited to the world of journalism and PR. You’ll be amazed at how much of what is in this report YOU guilty of!

Take these top 20 ‘buzzwords’ that journalists hate to see in press releases. How many have you used in conversation today? The report has a stab at what the plain English campaign might consider a translation too.

1. Brits / Hard-working Brits / Hard-up Brits (an attempt to be ‘accessible’)
2. Dynamic (likely not to be)
3. Paradigm (a ‘silk purse’ word)
4. Elite (i.e. the best thing in Scunthorpe on a Thursday at 3pm)
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. Optimised (‘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’)

There’s a lot more in there that might make you feel a little uncomfortable. Well, that how it made me feel anyway. How about these little pearls of wisdom:

“Putting “does this work for you?” in the subject line, which makes me shout “no” and hit delete without reading it.”

“Starting an email with “FirstName” is definitely on the list.” (Note: I have to admit, I hate this too!)

“Happy Friday” and “Lock-in some coverage”.

The British royal family on Buckingham Palace ...

The iconic Prince William and Kate Middleton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Iconic” – when applies to everything from Kate Middleton’s hair to Colleen Rooney’s platforms. Please can we allow this word the respect and privacy it deserves at this special time so that it can recover its true meaning?”

“What are you working on at the moment?” – about 500 stories and we don’t have time to elaborate or we won’t get them finished. If we need you, we’ll call.”

“Cold calls – cold emails will suffice.”

“Misspellings and atrocious grammar – a complete turn-off. How can we begin to take your analysis and pronouncements seriously if you don’t even have the diligence to check the difference between it’s and its?”

“”We’d like to place this on your pages” – what are we: classified ads?”

“Please don’t “reach out to us” – we’re perfectly happy with a conversation or the written word.”

All phrases that are heard regularly by these journalists, some of who are very senior by the way, and guaranteed to annoying the life out of them, and some of which might be a little too familiar to some of us!

The report itself makes for very entertaining reading. Even if some of it has to be read through slited eyes and gritted teeth as your sensibilities grate like your nerves do when you hear nails scratching down a chalk board.

But here’s the thing. As someone that prides himself on clear communication and directness, I was amazed at how much of this stuff, and stuff like it, I use myself.

Me,  clear as a bell me. The person that hates Americanisms from British people (no problems with it from Amercians strangely) and all sorts of ‘jargon for jargon’s sake’.

Here I am playing bingo buzzwords with the best of them. Why do we do it?

Is there an element of social proof at play? Are we trying to establish in the listeners mind our expertise maybe? Or is it that some of these words and phrases really do slip into the lingo over time?

There was some good fun to be had the other day on Twitter as I and a few of the people I follow (some of whom have a rather limited grasp on reality sometimes) played #businessbard.

Simply, a number of tweets were exchanged with the aforementioned hashtag, the point being to recreate some famous Shakespearean quotation with a modern business context. Examples you say? How about:

@brandnatter with the classic ‘Hubble Bubble Toil and trouble, cut lunch breaks and profits bubble!’

@mrsmoti ‘Shall I compare thee to a spreadsheet?’

@HelReynolds ‘B2B or not B2B, that is the question’

@sarahfraser ‘Discharge my followers and let them hence away!’

And my personal favourite from me, ‘Whether its is nobler in the mind to suffer outrageous fortune and hostile takeovers’

@Whatsthepont weighed in with a great website that actually promotes Shakespeare and its use in modern business, which is also worth a read 

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

The great man himself: Essential business speak? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All good fun, but it does make you think. Shakespeare was writing his poems, sonnets and plays 450 odd years ago, and the quotes above, at least some of them, are still recognisable to most people today. I wonder how many of the buzzwords and jargon in use today will last till next year much less be around in 500 years time?

Will school kids of the future be learning about this stuff in the same way we learned about Hamlet and Macbeth? Possibly not. But I’m sure some the words we invent now will transcend fashion and become a permanent part of the lexicon.

What are your favourite Buzzwords  Which phrases do you hate the most? Which ones do you find yourself repeating, then kick yourself for doing it?

Let me know in the comments or email me directly at [email protected]

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11 replies
  1. Paul C Robinson
    Paul C Robinson says:

    Ah … buzzwords. How I hate them. Use the word synergy without being intentionally ironic and lose all credibility in my eyes instantly. Unless you are referring to the computer from the 80s cartoon Jem. Then its allowed.
    But yes …. I find this also is something many are guilty of, including myself, with over use of a word, phrase or colloquialism. Something I noticed that is a real Cardiffism, that I picked up for a while, is ending a sentence with ‘you know?’ But not just the odd sentence, but every third or fourth, you know? DOH!
    Another former colleague of mine uses the word ‘typically’ as a bridge word. Granted, its better than ‘er’ or ‘um’ but it did get to the stage where if he was rambling, I would sit and count how many times it came out for the rest of the meeting. It was about 3 a minute – in a 40 minute presentation. Maybe the client didnt notice … but if they did, I think my colleague may have done himself an injustice. Plus if the meeting was that dull that I’d given up and was counting his words, that cannot be a good thing.
    The key? In my opinion (and we could argue thats one that is over used), be brief, honest, make your point … then walk away if needs be. I think you’re more likely to look professional than if they perceive you’re floundering or saying rubbish like ‘think outside the box’ to look clever.
    I think Tony, its from you I learned that its not bad to walk way and let them think they need you, more than you they (correct me if Im wrong!)

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      A great comment, thanks Paul. And you make some good points there (not least the brilliant one at the end!)
      as well as what we say, we should of course be concerned with how we say it. These verbal ticks and styles we have can have a big impact on the client and whether or not we get them to do what we need them too.
      I feel like there might even be another blog post in there you know – what you say and how you say it x how many times you say it?
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really enjoy your contribution!

  2. Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich)
    Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich) says:

    I was on the phone with a client yesterday and she started off by saying, “Can you help me with something?” and then went on to ask me what buzzwords and acronyms meant. I explained them all to her and she said, “Oh thank you! I was in a meeting today and the person leading used all of these. I had no idea what he was talking about.” We think buzzwords and acronyms make us sound smart, but the reality is they don’t and they make everyone else around the person using them roll their eyes.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Hi Gini! – perfect example there with the client asking for clarification, of how ‘dangerous’ slipping into this style pf talking can be.

      I have always thought that the ‘trick’ if you like, is to make it easy for people to understand what you are trying to say. That could be a client or a new member of the team.

      Using a language deliberately to obscure your meaning is clearly counter productive, and not having the ability to ‘translate’ to clients or anyone else demonstrates a lack on our part.

      In all honesty, the harder path is the simple one (if that makes sense!) I think making relatively difficult concepts like those in PR and marketing understandable in simple and straight forward language is a real task reserved for the artists amongst us!

      Thanks a ton for leaving a comment, I really appreciate it!

  3. Ken Dardis
    Ken Dardis says:

    The use of “Diva” drives me crazy – especially when applied to persons like Nicki Minaj, who more appropriately deserves the term colorblind.

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