Carrie Blewitt, Senior Vice President at Story Partners, discusses the use of jargon in public relations. She also explains how to develop a clear and effective pitch to the media.
DOUG: Carrie, I hope we’ll have the bandwidth to get through our action items by EOD or at least provide some deliverables before we run out of time. What’s up with the use of jargon and PR and communications?
CARRIE: That’s a great question, Doug. Yeah, think so many times we get a little caught up with using the same lingo all the time. We all want to talk smart; we want to write smart; we want to communicate in a smart manner, but a lot of times really industry jargon can get in the way, and it can be more confusing than more clear for an audience. So, you know, as your kind of looking at your audience and knowing your audience, it’s best to take a step back and kind of break down some of that industry language that some internal teams are using or business units are talking about, sort of inside baseball, as we say, and really break it down and use the grandma rules. I like to say, how would you describe this announcement or this piece of news or this new technology to your grandmother or to a family member? And that way you just use plain English to describe it.
DOUG: That’s really got to be important in the developing the stories that you work on for and with your clients.
CARRIE: Absolutely. So as you’re developing the stories and creating media pitches or creating remarks for a speech or creating, you know, social media posts, you really want to make sure it’s digestible, it’s easy to understand. And, you know, if you have to use an important term or you’re introducing a new technology, for example, certainly use that, but you want to make sure you’re explaining it in a way that’s really easy to understand and grasp it. Because of an editor or a reporter that you’re pitching doesn’t understand it, it’s going to be hard for them to explain it to their audience or to their readers.
DOUG: So, what do you do, say, in a business-to-business context where there might be a better understanding? Is it okay and guess are there different kinds of jargon? I was sort of poking fun with my open with things like action items and EOD and bandwidth and hard stop. But then there’s the jargon that’s specific to industries.
CARRIE: A lot of times we’ll read about something that’s groundbreaking or innovative or first of its kind. And oftentimes that certainly rings true. And for a company or a product, that’s how they want to describe it. But if you’re going to describe it as groundbreaking, you want to make sure you back it up with facts and figures. Right. Or talk about why it is groundbreaking and explain it. So, it’s okay to use those terms, but make sure you’re explaining why. So many times, the word innovative is really overused, but just back it up. Explain it, explain why it’s different. Having supportive third-party information and quotes and people to be interviewed is always helpful. So, if you’re really demonstrating why it is these terms, that can really support your cause and support your pitch.
DOUG: Is an easier way, or one of the ways to avoid jargon, is maybe to focus on what the benefits are for what your product or service is offering to the community and marketplace.
CARRIE: Absolutely. A good way to break it down is, you know, some people might be familiar with the message triangle, right? So, you’ve got a statement that announces-
DOUG: Since we don’t want to go all jargon, why don’t you explain what that is in case some of the folks don’t know what that is?
CARRIE: That’s a good point. So, a message triangle. A lot of times in media training or message training, we create a hierarchy of messages. And you start with a statement, sort of a more general broad statement, and then you back it up with 3 or 4 supporting points so that it looks like an inverted triangle. So, you’ve got or a pyramid. And when you break it down, that’s really a good place to explain it, explain benefits. It’s supporting points behind that message.
DOUG: Is there any good news when it comes to how communicators are using jargon, or maybe not using jargon?
CARRIE: There’s so much coming at us today, communications wise, so much news to watch and newsletters to read, and information coming at us that think, over time, people are becoming a little more brief and using smart brevity in their communications, because attention spans are just really short these days, especially since the advent of social media and more and more social media channels to follow and stay with, people are really becoming, learning to become brief and using smart brevity. And that is it’s actually a great book that came out last year from the founders of Axios and Politico called “Smart Brevity”. That really emphasizes that you’ve got to cut through all the clutter, you’ve got to condense your words and just make sure you hit your point in fewer words and think we’re seeing more of a trend in that occurring today.
DOUG: Does this have a role and how you communicate when you’re pitching the media? You alluded to some of that earlier.
CARRIE: You want your editor or reporter to really understand what you’re trying to sell them. And a lot of times with 24-hour news, a reporter might be filing three stories a day for their online news outlet. So, if that’s the case, that reporter might not be in the know on all these topics or certainly won’t be a specific beat reporter but might be a general news writer. And so, breaking it down to them and helping them understand in plain English what you’re what you’re pitching, what the company’s all about, what you’re selling is really important so that they can write a story that their readers are going to grasp and really understand and ultimately want to know more about.
DOUG: Do you find that from an agency perspective and providing guidance to clients, they’re clearly up to speed on trends in their industry, but they might not be as aware of how you can sort of integrate those trends into what is happening in the general marketplace. Is there a way that you approach combining that information as a strategy to tell positive stories about your clients that people will care about?
CARRIE: Yeah, I mean, we oftentimes have to counsel our clients on the latest ways to communicate. Right. And what’s the latest and greatest way to break through all the news and the sort of the clutter that’s out there. So, we will educate them on items like podcasts if it makes sense for them, like the latest social media threads, for example. When that launched, a lot of companies and brands merged automatically over to the threads, but some didn’t and some wanted to take a wait and see approach. So, we counsel each client depending on their goals and what they’re trying to do from a business perspective, from a marketing perspective, on what’s the best approach to do that. So yeah, we help them, really help them to tell their story.
DOUG: How you’ve been a great source for our audience and that isn’t just highfalutin jargon.
CARRIE: Thank you very much, Doug.