Perspective from Justine Griffin: About a year ago, in quick succession, I heard a speech given by the new CEO of a major corporation and the new Executive Director of a relatively small non-profit. Both said that they were “drinking from a fire hose” and that over the course of the next few weeks they were embarking on “a listening tour”. Instantly, the voices of two smart, savvy, dedicated professionals stepped on the…
About a year ago, in quick succession, I heard a speech given by the new CEO of a major corporation and the new Executive Director of a relatively small non-profit. Both said that they were “drinking from a fire hose” and that over the course of the next few weeks they were embarking on “a listening tour”. Instantly, the voices of two smart, savvy, dedicated professionals stepped on the landmine that is the business cliché. Their important opportunity to introduce themselves and describe their own unique brand, perspective and approach fell flat as a result.
Whether you are the new CEO, a long time communications practitioner or a newly minted college grad just entering the PR world, here’s an important lesson: if you are seeking to convey a compelling message, precision matters. Get lazy and rely on clichés and you guarantee that you will not be memorable or persuasive.
For those at junior levels who are seeking to get ahead in the field of communications, I advise you to be a lifelong and interested student of the English language. Trust me, it will pay off. Increased focus and attention in recent years on social media and other aspects of our profession has led many to lose sight of the fundamentals. It is great that you know how to make a video go viral, but if you can’t write well, you will not be moving up anytime soon.
In PR, particularly crisis PR, you often have a maximum of three sentences in the media to convey critically important perspective on something that has gone awry. The words matter. It is important to avoid using language so standard that it has become meaningless. Example: Beginning with “We are disappointed” when responding to a loss in court. Or saying “we are saddened to hear” in commenting on a death. Of course you are in fact saddened, but imagine a one word difference: “Our team is crestfallen to hear that he has died”.
I believe we need to bring back to our profession a renewed love and respect of the English language. And we must join forces and declare war on the business cliché. I will begin by taking aim at five of the worst of the worst, the cringe-inducing, eye-roll prompting hackneyed expressions.
1. The aforementioned “drinking from a fire hose“. Whatever next endeavor you embark on, find a different way to say you are overwhelmed. Please. I beg of you.
2. Bandwidth. Don’t use it. Ever. You sound silly.
3. Low hanging fruit. The business cliché that may have started it all.
4. Robust. For the love of God, please find another way to say strong.
5. Align. Ubiquitous. Just ubiquitous.
Those are my top five. What are yours?