Leading nowhere

It’s Monday and presumably we’re all rested up and ready to face the work week. While you’re enjoying that first cup of coffee and reviewing your calendar, maybe before you step into the Monday staff meeting, how about a word challenge?

Who plans to write at least one press release this week? As the first quarter draws to a close, corporate communications types will be busy crafting earnings releases to be issued in early April. Maybe you’re working on your organization’s annual report. Whether you’re a one-person shop or member of a sales team, sometime this week you will likely tell someone what your organization does, for whom and how.

Sadly but necessarily, we’ll all use the same tired words we’ve been using for decades. In all the years I’ve been involved in helping organizations describe what they do, I haven’t managed to climb completely out of the word rut.

Think for a moment about how you would say, in two sentences, who your organization is and what it does. Say it out loud or write it down. Or look at your company’s mission or boilerplate statement.

Notice whether what you wrote—or what your employer has already written—uses any of the following words: “leading” (or “leader”), “solution,” “innovative,” “premier” or “state of the art?”

If so, then the good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news is that you’re not alone. This basically means everyone else is making the same claims you are. I do it too, and I can honestly say that I’ve written or repeated all of these words for the organizations I’ve represented.

Last week, Ragan’s PR Daily reported the 25 words most commonly used in press releases. These were culled by PR strategist Adam Sherk, using an aggregation tool that, from what I could gather, did not pick up boilerplate language.

The list won’t surprise you, but perhaps it will get us all thinking of how we might choose better words to express what we do and why we do it better than anyone else.

For example, if we all say we’re leading, then is anyone really leading? What is premier, exactly? Whether we make wireless routers or nose hair clippers, peddle consulting services or plumbing services, how innovative or state-of-the-art are we, really?

“Solution” topped the list, appearing 776 times in a 24-hour period.  I once worked for a computer services company that once told its tens of thousands of employees to refrain from using the word “solution” because it implied that its customers had “problems.” It makes you wonder how many problem-free customers comprise the target market for any service provider.

I’m not here to offer magic synonyms, at least not today. I’ve not even sure synonyms are the answer. Otherwise, we’re going only as far as “foremost,” and “ground-breaking.”

Are there more meaningful words, or expressions of ideas, from which to choose, or do we need a whole new vocabulary for this young decade altogether?

I plan to give this additional thought and I encourage you to do the same.

Who can produce a compelling lead paragraph or boilerplate statement, for a real or fictitious press release, that does not contain any of Sherk’s top 25 words? There might be a prize for the most ground-breaking entry.

2 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR

2 responses to “Leading nowhere

  1. wade@vol.com

    Dear Word Nymph,

    Talk about words, language and writing, Pickover in one of his more interesting books, “Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves”, which begins with an exegesis of language that I had never been exposed too, writes that Ernest Vincent Wright wrote “Gadsby, a 50,000 word novel, without using the letter “e”.

    Now surely, if this can be done or was done, there could be some sort of impressive and effectual statement made by the corporate world.

    Wade Swicord

  2. Polly

    How about a creative writing exercise forbidding the use of the verb ‘to be’?

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