Avoiding PR Mumbo Jumbo

This post was first published by Doug Flora on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.

In George Orwell’s 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, he wrote:

“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.”

You probably recall being scolded by a parent, teacher, or both to stop saying “like” or “um.” However, Orwell was talking about something else. He was criticizing the explosion of jargon, euphemisms, mumbo jumbo and other misleading or unclear wording in the English language. That was 70 years ago, and things certainly haven’t gotten any better.

In fact, while every industry has its fair share of jargon, we PR folks can be among the worst offenders. I wish I could say that I’ve never been guilty of bandying about PR gobbledy goop, but alas, I came across this Orwell essay by way of a client who was having trouble “decoding” an email that I had sent him. Caught red-handed.

My colleague Mike Griffin recently addressed some of the more harmless jargony phrases tossed around internally at agencies. But some jargon we should be more careful about, especially when speaking to a non-PR audience (lesson learned).

Here are a few examples of questionable jargon and vague wording used commonly in PR emails and verbal communication:

  • “Let’s circle back on that”
  • “We intend to be better evangelists and get in front of the top influencers
  • “Let’s discuss how we can better meet our deliverables
  • “My client is now well-positioned to be an industry disruptor

There are far, far worse examples that would have even Edward Bernays rolling in his grave. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid using jargon or terms that are too vague for outsiders to understand, but for the sake of our own reputations (and the reputation of our industry) it’s probably best that we at least cut back on it.

At the end of the day, jargon can be perceived as a way to disguise your true meaning or massage something negative or mediocre into something positive. That’s why there are whole movements dedicated to a return to plain spoken English. So when speaking to external audiences like the media, especially those who are skeptical of PR in the first place, drop the jargon and speak plain English!

Orwell concluded in his essay that, “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy …  and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”

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