Last week I was trying to make plans with a friend and suggested he “ping me” when he had a better sense of his schedule.
“What’s ping?” he asked. “Is that a new app or something?”
That’s when it hit me. I had become a corporate buzzword abuser.
I “circle back” with reporters. We strive to “move the needle” for our clients. We “disrupt.” We follow “unicorns.” We gauge “bandwidth” and “extra cycles” that can be dedicated to projects.
Exhale. My name is Beth, and I blurt out meaningless jargon to my friends without even realizing it.
In the tech and startup communities, it’s almost impossible not to weave corporate buzzwords or acronyms into everyday conversations. It’s just how we talk and write. And this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; every industry has its own language and specific phrases that only insiders will understand.
Buzzwords as a means to build community
As a 2014 article in The Atlantic (“The Origins of Office Speak”) states, “A well-placed buzzword is a great way to claim membership in a certain tribe.” The article offers a fascinating history of office speak, noting that in the 1950s and ‘60s, many American companies underwent several mergers and acquisitions, creating massive conglomerates. “This made it more difficult for workers to feel a connection to their companies,“ writes article author Emma Green.
The creation of a common language, or at least some frequently used buzzwords specific to a company or an industry, was designed (hopefully) to foster a more emotional connection for employees to their work and their workplaces. “In a workplace that’s fundamentally indifferent to your life and its meaning, office speak can help you figure out how you relate to your work—and how your work defines who you are,” writes Green.
Translating corporate jargon for the outside world
Industry jargon presents a unique challenge for PR, marketing and communications professionals. Trying to minimize, or at least translate, jargon for non-techies or other industry outsiders can create both the biggest headache and the biggest reward in our field.
If, as Green writes, office speak helps to define who you are, then industry jargon and buzzwords also help to define a company and what it does. Too often, however, the language that companies (and their PR teams) use to describe themselves mistakenly assumes that their target audiences know (1) who you are and (2) what you do. It’s easy to get caught up in the vernacular of your company and its industry, but when it comes time to talk to outsiders about it – including reporters, investors and other influencers – it’s time to simplify and speak as clearly and plainly as possible. Remember the days when companies had “customers” and not “end users”?
Last year a British PR agency made a list of the most annoying jargon phrases that PR professionals use with journalists. Hamish Thompson, the firm’s managing director recalls in The Drum, “A few years ago, I remember seeing a business describe itself as ‘a global leader in the adhesive labelling solutions sector’ and I thought, what you mean is ‘we sell stickers,’ which I think is better.”
Without proof or explanation, jargon is meaningless
It’s also important to back up your claims rather than rely on the convenience of generic buzzword-y descriptions like “groundbreaking.” In a highly entertaining anonymous post from The Guardian on PR jargon, the author states, “First, I doubt the product is anywhere near groundbreaking. Second, prove it.”
Saying a product is “scalable” or “robust” or “enterprise-grade” is all well and good, but companies need to back up those claims, especially when they’re being shared with journalists. It might seem cumbersome to explicitly reference a survey or report or statistic in a press release or blog post, but the reality is that if a reporter can’t find a source for your claims, you’re going to lose credibility fast.
What are your most-reviled buzzwords that you use in your industry? “Ping” me here and we can “take the conversation offline” if need be.Tags: Best Practices, Communique PR, Tech Translation