‘About us’: The weakest phrase in communication

Your boilerplate bio adds little, if anything, to the actual news you’re trying to share.

The two words “about us” have become the weakest words in the practice of communications. Why? Simple—no one cares about your company or organization. No one has the time or inclination to care.

Customers, vendors, clients, shareholders and others only care about benefit of your services and products to them, to their lives. Anything else is irrelevant noise.

“About us” gained popularity in the late 1990s when startup tech companies—with no services or products to sell—started using press releases as marketing flyers. They had nothing better to do, so they used news releases to tout all the grand things about their companies that did not actually exist. The “about us” boilerplate in press releases was born.

What started out as the use of contrived or phony news to promote what was often a falsehood at some hype-oriented “air-ware” tech company has mushroomed into a mainstream bad habit at companies and organizations, large and small, diminishing any potential importance of news in news releases.

Do you really care “about” XYZ Corp., or do you only have time to possibly be interested in how their products or services might help your own business or lifestyle—the value to you? With today’s information overload, we tend to dismiss those people who talk about themselves.

Not long ago, I asked a senior communications specialist at the corporate headquarters of JCPenney, an iconic company in American business for more than 100 years, why it included an “About JCPenney” in every news release. I asked, “Don’t you think everyone in America already knows of your company?” He laughed (with embarrassment) and said it started because JCPenney’s competitor Target did it. They just copied what Target did.

Not to pick on JCPenney, because it’s a fine company, but here is its 123-word boilerplate statement:

About jcpenney

jcpenney, one of America’s leading retailers, operates over 1,100 department stores throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as one of the largest apparel and home furnishing sites on the Internet, jcp.com. Serving more than half of America’s families each year, jcpenney offers a wide array of private, exclusive and national brands which reflect the Company’s vision to be America’s shopping destination for discovering great styles at compelling prices. Traded as “JCP” on the New York Stock Exchange, the $17.6 billion retailer is transforming its organization to support its Long Range Plan strategies to build a sustainable, profitable enterprise that serves its customers, engages its associates and rewards its shareholders. For more information, visit www.jcpenney.net.

It’s corporate gobbledygook. How about, “To learn more about our company, visit www.jcpenney.net.”

What’s worse is that it sounds like many other “about us” statements of other companies. Who cares?

Competitive differentiation, distinctive awareness, and leadership come from communicating in clear, simple words why audiences will benefit from your products and services. That’s called “news.”

David E. Henderson is president and owner of News Group Net LLC. A version of this post originally ran on DavidHenderson.com.


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