PR pros: Ban these terms from your writing!

1. Key (when used to mean important, pivotal or fundamental)
Key is ubiquitous across all of PR. My objection is that it’s mostly used to make an ordinary sentence sound more precise or more authoritative and, in doing so, actively disguises the true meaning of the sentence (if there is one). When people put “key” in front of a words such as “stakeholder” or “message,” it’s there to make it sound like they have a grip on the important stakeholders/messages without actually saying who or what they are. Here’s a tip: if the phrase sounds too imprecise and unscientific without the word “key,” then it’s probably pretty meaningless.

2. Innovation
I don’t want to get rid of this word altogether, just carefully monitor its use. In the past, when it wasn’t used by every company that had an incremental product refresh cycle, it was quite a powerful word, linked with Victorian inventors in stovepipe hats and smart engineers working for NASA. Now it is so abused it has come to mean “didn’t exist in the world until now,” which is true of a lot of ordinary things such as sandwiches and cups of tea, but you wouldn’t call those innovative, would you?

3. Strategic
Again, I don’t want to get rid of this word altogether, just limit its use. In certain contexts, the word strategic can be fun and sexy, for example “strategic missile command,” “strategic troops,” “strategic thermonuclear heat death.” Outside of war, however, the word strategic is just another corporate-speak piece of nonsense.

4. Revolutionary
Adjectives are in short supply at communications’ agencies. What do you call version 9.1 of a product when “new” won’t do? The thing about revolutionary is that “revolution” describes a process or effect rather than a state of being. Ergo, a new, untried product cannot be revolutionary, although somewhere down the line it might be said to have been revolutionary, but to be honest, it’s unlikely.

5. Proprietary
“Proprietary” and “bespoke” go together, and often with “solution.” There is a place for them. Software is often “bespoke” and “proprietary” and that’s OK, because those are the technical words for software that’s been created for a particular business or application. I’ve been trying to do away with “proprietary” for a while. My solution is to use “exclusive” or “xxx-developed.”

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Caroline Gilmour is a PR and marketing copywriter. She blogs at Some Light Drizzle, where this article originally ran.

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