Adam T. Sutton

Writing Better Releases and Copy

May 12th, 2010

Anyone familiar with press releases sees it all the time: a bunch of words that don’t say anything. I’ve personally read releases with three or four sentences of real information. The rest was just superlatives and hype.

Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott has targeted this type of writing since at least 2007, starting with his Gobbledygook Manifesto. In 2009, he pooled resources and queried journalists to pull together 325 common phrases. He then worked with Dow Jones to analyze their occurrences in over 700,000 North American press releases sent in 2008.

The top three most-used “gobbledygook” phrases they found:
1. “Innovate” (and all its derivatives)
2. “Pleased to”
3. “Unique”

“You see that stupid word [innovate] everywhere,” Scott says. “Every company is claiming how innovative they are, how innovative their products are…It’s so over used to have literally become meaningless.”

At best, potential customers ignore such words, Scott says, and at worst they’re insulted by them. Furthermore, the words do nothing to differentiate a brand, and they’re unlikely to be used by someone in a search engine. They’re truly empty phrases.

I recently interviewed Scott to ask him how social media can help cure a company’s addiction to these phrases (keep an eye on our Great Minds newsletter for the article). Scott shared a wealth of information — and not all of it made it into the final piece.

Here are some steps he suggests for checking whether your company uses too much “gobbledygook”:

First, check content on your website, press releases and other marketing content. Look for clichés listed here and in the Dow Jones analysis linked above. Examples include:
o “Mission critical”
o “Ground breaking”
o “Market leading”

Also, check if your content describes how your products solve your customers’ problems, and if it’s written in your customers’ language. Too many companies, Scott says, speak in a language that is only understood internally.

“People are dreaming up this language in a vacuum.”

For a good test, Scott suggests taking a block of questionable text, finding all references to your brands and products and replacing them with your competitors’ brands and product names.

“If the language still sounds accurate, then you’re in deep trouble,” he says. You’re not differentiating yourself at all.

Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

Categories: Branding, Marketing, PR Fame Communications Tags: ,

  1. May 19th, 2010 at 09:44 | #1

    It is funny how the industry tells us that press releases need to be all fancy and full of cliches but the people we actually want to inform don’t want to read it.

  2. May 19th, 2010 at 10:01 | #2

    Oh, and how about, “value-added solutions…”

    I need to be careful with, “innovate,” and “unique.” I mostly write in a conversational tone, but sometimes I end up in gobbledygook territory. Thanks for the reminder to cut it out!

  3. May 20th, 2010 at 10:48 | #3

    Thanks for reminding me not to write gobbledygook. Like Kathleen, when I’m working on b2b copy, I find myself straying from real language into corporate BS. I wouldn’t class the word “unique” as gobbledygook though – it’s just a boring, overused word.

  4. May 20th, 2010 at 15:25 | #4

    What’s ironic is Mirriam-Webster defines “unique” as “the only one.” Apparently everyone is the “only one.”

  5. May 21st, 2010 at 21:21 | #5

    Thanks for the great list. Phrases like “paradigm shift,” “thinking outside the box,” and “pushing the envelope” were overused and annoying a decade ago. Thanks for pointing out so many others that I hope will disappear from my writing “going forward.”

  6. Andrew White
    May 22nd, 2010 at 06:27 | #6

    It’s a tough change, since most department heads writers work under will simply bounce a proof back to a writer if it doesn’t sound or look like the nice, safe, traditional hype.
    My customers are trending toward an appetite for practical but elegantly assembled language without that conference room jargon.
    Good article, Mr. Sutton.

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