Public relations, as with any communications discipline, can be plagued by awful language.
Journalists and authors have editors to eliminate bad word choices, but unless we vigorously police ourselves, even the best PR practitioners can be guilty of using phrases we wish would disappear from the industry’s vocabulary.
These terrible PR phrases are five of the worst offenders:
1. Leverage. Don’t use this unless you are talking about an actual lever using a pivot action to physically move an object.
This tops the list of offenders because it breaks a cardinal rule of clear writing: Avoid using a more complicated word to express something when a simple word does the job better.
“Leverage” is an overblown—and not entirely correct—way of saying “use,” so why not just say “use?” Please don’t upgrade it to “utilize.”
2. Circle back. I’ve gotten enough feedback from journalists to know this phrase is irksome. What does it mean, anyway? It might be an attempt at glorifying the “follow up,” which often is a necessary tool for getting things done.
3. Status quo. This is another empty phrase that’s too often abused by communications professionals when trying to make something sound better than it is. If there’s no progress or action to report, be direct and to the point rather than trying to dress up the language.
4. Disruptive. To be fair to PR professionals, this term tends to be abused by those in business and tech, but it’s fair game for this list.
The term, coined by Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, has a specific meaning that’s been co-opted too often. Next time you’re tempted to use this word, ask yourself: Does this so-called “disruptive technology” displace established competitors by providing a service at the bottom of the market and relentlessly pushing its way upmarket?
If not, it might simply be a smart new service or product. There’s nothing wrong with that.
5. Turnkey. Apparently, this means “off the shelf,” or a total package ready to be implemented. It’s an insider term that, as shorthand, doesn’t do justice to what it’s meant to convey.
Terms to continue using
Not all shorthand terms are bad. Here are a few phrases I like, along with reasons for the thumbs up:
1. No-brainer. Use it sparingly, but it implies punchy clarity.
2. Key learnings. Some will push back against “learnings” as a noun, but I think it’s evocative. It takes the older phrase “lessons learned,” which is passive, and transforms it into something more descriptive and active.
3. Elevator pitch. It’s been around for a long time, but it’s accurate and vivid. There’s something appropriately dramatic about it.
4. Bandwidth. It may be dated, but it’s clear and is a common way to refer to capacity.
What would you add to these lists, Ragan readers?
Michelle Han is a senior account supervisor at Crenshaw Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on PR Fish Bowl.