Much like niche cultures and mainstream industries, public relations has developed a glossary of its own. It’s not “‘In N’ Out” burger ordering off the menu'” cult-like verbiage, but flacks from all walks of life speak in the same universal code.
We understand each other when discussing work around a water cooler. We empathize with each other when commiserating about the cries of a client over an adult beverage. We share experiences as we exchange terminologies native to PR during a networking soiree.
And yet, there are a couple of phrases that we should really just stop repeating, at least in the way they’re used today. Here is this week’s 5 Things: The 5 PR catchphrases that are spinning out of control.
1. Open the Kimono: Maybe it’s the striking visual I have of my sensei’s wife doing just this in front of my old martial arts class that scares the crap out of me, but this saying sucks–and I only hear it in PR boardrooms. I can’t name one of those “Six Sigma Black Belts” repeating this maxim, but people I know, respect, and call “friend” use this haphazard phrase on a daily basis. Why? They have almost certainly never been overseas or inside my aforementioned martial arts class, so let’s just close the kimono.
2. Evergreen: I’m not the most sterling eco-champion. I am a native Texan, so guess what I drive? (HINT: It doesn’t have a plug.) I do realize the importance of embracing and protecting our natural environment, but I also know that the journalists we pitch hate this saying, that many clients don’t understand it, and that we should stop using it. Yes, it means a story angle “won’t fade or wither”, but the color on that leaf is changing colors. A tactic that once took advantage of environmental awareness now comes across as greenwashing, whether you like it or not… and many don’t.
3. Churnalism: While this is not a really popular term, it is certainly one that needs to get the kibosh before it enters the broader vernacular. It was coined by Guardian UK writer Nick Davies, in his book Flat Earth News, to express how some journos take news directly from press releases instead of practicing original “reporting”. And now, PR pros use it as a means to describe the almost desperate need for content in the media. MEMO: Your content is usually not that good in the first place and this should be a symbiotic relationship. With this word, it becomes a one-way street with an abrupt dead end.
4. Off the Record: It’s appalling how many PR people still use this dreaded phrase, even in the company of journalists. There is no such thing as “Off the Record”. Kim Kardashian will date a poor man before that phrase becomes effective. In today’s world of digital immediacy, that phrase has gone the way of some newspapers that used to honor it. If you are talking about anything with a reporter, you run the chance of seeing your words in print (or digital). Reporters have a job to do, and springing for lunch is much different than paying their bills.
5. Perception is Reality: It sounds good. It reflects upon the industry. It even creates a sense of credibility when you say it. But, what if you’re wrong? Prior to contrary opinion in retail, the customer is not always right. Sometimes the public gets up in a tizzy over a misunderstanding. Do you need to act in crisis mode? You bet! Do you need to correct the problem? Unquestionably. Do you need to accept blame when they were wrong? No way. Perception is reality… unless others are not seeing things accurately.