Stop the Jargon, You Exclusive Solutions Provider!

Best. Leading. Top. Premier. Sustainable.

These words sound familiar? You’ve probably seen them in a press release. Perhaps you put them in a press release.

A post by Ragan relays that Schwartz MSL Research Group and Business Wire released a list of the most common buzzwords used in press releases. If you want your future releases to stand out, you might want to start by keeping out the words it lists.

Additionally, they reveal the top action words (over)used in headlines are:

  • Announces
  • Launches
  • Partners

PR Lesson: FedEx Wastes No Time Addressing Embarrassing Video

Over the holidays, a video went viral showing complete negligence by a FedEx employee, just tossing a computer monitor over a fence rather than properly delivering the item. See that video below, as well as the company’s response, which has been viewed rather positively by communications critics.

Should CEOs Send Mass Responses to Criticism?

The question in the headline makes me think of the recent Netflix flap, in which its CEO emailed the company’s customers basically apologizing for some unsuccessful moves. As Best Buy now battles online retail giants like Amazon and faces criticism about annoying upselling and not meeting order demands around Christmas, company CEO Brian Dunn offered the following response on his blog. Here’s the post in its entirety (below). From a PR perspective, was this the right move?

Best Buy has been taking some criticism lately. As CEO, I know that criticism goes with the job, and I’m well aware we have some challenges. I also know that errors we make often translate into a poor experience for our customers, and that is simply unacceptable.

Still, while I agree with some of the commentary on areas we need to improve, I feel it’s important to set the record straight on statements about our company that are, in my opinion, not completely grounded in fact. And I feel the need to do so, in part, to make sure our 180,000 hard-working employees understand the whole story – and have the full context that allows them to develop their own opinion about what’s written and said about Best Buy.

Let’s start with a couple of examples where I think the critics got it right.

The cancellation of some internet orders just before Christmas was our fault, and it’s not representative of how we EVER want to treat our customers. I’ll spare you the technical explanation of how and why it happened, but we know we did not deliver a good experience and we’re truly sorry. We’ve worked to make amends with customers whose holidays were made less happy because of our mistake, and we’re working diligently to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Another area where we have received fair criticism is the overall speed of the transformation of our business model – something we are working hard to address. We’ve accelerated changes to key elements of our model already (the significant expansion in the number of products available on and the launch of our online Marketplace are two recent examples), but we need to move even faster, particularly in creating a more seamless experience between our stores, web sites, call centers and services teams. We recognize people can and do shop from anywhere, and they expect thoughtful, helpful interactions from us every step of the way. We continue to invest in a number of areas – from employee training, to critical system enhancements – to ensure our customers always receive the kind of experience they deserve and expect from us, wherever and whenever they choose. But, simply put, that work needs to happen faster – and we’re taking significant steps to accelerate the pace.

Now, onto a couple of topics where I disagree with the critics.

First, some believe the internet has made physical retailing (i.e., stores) irrelevant. There’s no doubt that the internet, and the mobile web in particular, have changed the way people shop, but there is strong evidence that consumers continue to value the experience of shopping in stores. A recent study by the NPD Group, a leading market research company, notes that nearly 80% of consumer electronics revenue still moves through physical stores. Additionally, approximately 40% of customer purchases made through are picked up in one of our stores. And the truth is, traffic in our physical stores increased in our third quarter and has been trending positively for most of the year.

Finally, there are those who question the validity of Best Buy’s business model. This misguided perspective is especially troubling for me, because it blatantly and recklessly ignores overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Best Buy is a financially strong and profitable company that has generated more than $2.6 billion in cash flows from operating activities in the first three quarters of the fiscal year. We also delivered positive operating income in each of the first three quarters of fiscal 2012. We grew total market share in the third quarter according to the most recent public data available. We have closed down certain operations that were not profitable, which we expect to have a positive impact on our earnings going forward. And we are focusing the company on areas where we see the greatest opportunities for growth and profit: mobile devices and connection plans; enhanced digital and e-commerce strategies; growth in our services business; and expansion of our established business in China.

As I mentioned earlier, we fully expect to receive our share of criticism – we’re a big company and we don’t always get everything right. But this is one of those times when I felt it was necessary not only to acknowledge our shortcomings, but to set the record straight on issues where facts are being obscured by rhetoric.

Brian J. Dunn
Best Buy Co., Inc.

Oh Indy, Let’s Loosen Up a Bit

If you paid attention to the news at all in Indianapolis last week, most likely you’ve heard about the “Indy Super Bowl Shuffle” video and surrounding hullabaloo.

I vaguely remembered a co-worker saying something about a “Super Bowl Shuffle,” but in all honesty didn’t pay attention – I’ve never actually seen the original. I was born the year the thing came out, am not a Chicago Bears fan and have never apparently been bored enough to look it up on YouTube.

The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association (ICVA) created a parody video called the “Indy Super Bowl Shuffle” to demonstrate all of the city’s hotels and amenities. An article in Thursday’s Indianapolis Star said the video was created to attract meeting planners who are headed to Chicago for some big tradeshow. And, apparently on the level of attracting these planners to take a look here, it worked – at least one is now considering Indianapolis for a big convention.

But after an apparent backlash from Internet-goers, the ICVA took down the video from YouTube (though it’s back up now and linked at the bottom of this blog). I’ve read some of the comments posted and most are just downright mean and nasty. Someone even took the time to make a Facebook page petitioning to take the video down.

Finally, I got the chance to watch the five-minute-long video, expecting to see the most ridiculous thing of my entire life. And you know what? It wasn’t great.

But it wasn’t as terrible as everyone made it out to be. I caught myself giggling and rolling my eyes and thinking about all of the great hotels we have here in Indy. It also reminded me of every Weird Al Yankovich parody I’ve ever seen and people fawn over that guy – something I’ve never understood.

All of the people in the video just looked like they were having fun, and obviously this wasn’t ever something to be taken very seriously. We get to host a Super Bowl – we should use that to our advantage at every possible turn. And, the video did exactly that: it built up interest in Indianapolis to a variety of convention planners around the country.

Have we completely lost the ability to laugh at ourselves? I’m thinking there are real issues that we should be concerned about – and a silly video promoting Indy’s hospitality district is not one of them.

In the grand scheme of things, this will all likely be forgotten. But we need to remember to relax and regain that ability to just have fun and be silly. It’s not going to kill us. Watch the video below and decide for yourself.

This is Off the Record, Right?

If you’re a character in the “Harry Potter” series, one of the most dreaded phrases spoken is “Voldemort.” If you’re the parent of a teen, you may be tempted to give a kidney if it would mean your child never uttered, “Whatever” again.

I can tell you as a journalist, one of the phrases that strikes frustration into the hearts of reporters everywhere is “off the record.” It makes our jobs more difficult and brings up ethical dilemmas, including deciphering what we can and cannot use for our stories.

Most of us were taught in journalism school that “off the record” is a term that means none of the material can be published (with attribution or anonymously) or shared with another source.

Be warned, however, that as a PR professional or business source speaking to reporters – depending on the circumstances and the particular reporter you’re working with – simply saying “this is off the record” doesn’t necessarily mean that your words will be saved from print or broadcast. A recent article quotes Johna Burke, senior vice president at BurellesLuce, on the “mythical creature” that is “off the record.”

The very idea of confidentiality has changed over the past few years, Burke said. Things employees used to talk to their friends and families about now gets shared on social media sites. Voicemails and emails make their way to the press.

“Everything is public record,” she said.

Christine Perkett of Perkett PR agrees, “From executive internal memos to ‘private’ DMs on Twitter, to emails, anything that can be shared – and if it benefits someone – probably will be,” she says. …

Be transparent with your message and communicate it well, Burke advised. She said, “I’d hate to think we need to be guarded” with information, though she did say it’s a good policy to keep a tight circle around communications you don’t want going out into the public sphere.

Perkett puts it this way: “A good mind frame is simply, zip the lip.”

(Gil) Rudawsky (senior director of communications at Ground Floor Media) doesn’t expressly prohibit going off the record, but he says to be very careful about it.

“The only way I’d recommend sharing off-the-record information is with reporters who you have a good preexisting relationship with, but even then it is with reservations,” he says. “Otherwise, assume that everything you say will show up in their stories.”

However, as I said earlier, depending on the circumstances and the reporter involved, the phrase still holds water. When I was a beat reporter at a small newspaper, my concern was developing trust with – not burning – my very valuable sources. So, even though hearing the phrase pained me, I would respect the source’s wishes and seek out someone else who could give me the information I needed for the story. Many reporters – but not all – follow a similar code. 

When you know you’re going to be interviewed, at least have a conversation with the reporter prior to the interview regarding information that should stay off the record. And, if there’s something you really don’t want to have published, you’re probably better off just keeping it to yourself.

Of course, as a journalist at heart, that last sentence cuts me pretty deep.

For Customer, Airline Soars High Through Customer Service

Customer service in any field or job is one of the reasons companies either succeed or fail. Good customer service can help you soar, as people want to continue to work with you even when something doesn’t go quite as planned. Bad customer service can be detrimental. Especially in this day and age of "status updates" and "tweets" that can cause PR nightmares.

Here’s a story of a good experience in an industry riddled with a bad reputation.

We’ve all had the experience at the airport where the man or woman behind the counter could care less about whether or not you reach your destination. They just want you to move along and go on to the next person. This is typically my experience. And it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. Even if it was just one person at one company (Delta Air Lines) — sometimes that’s all it takes.

My wife and I were flying to New York (via LaGuardia) to see her family. We had our 9-month-old daughter with us and after lugging four suitcases, a car seat and a stroller through the parking lot and up to the counter, we were told our flight had been cancelled only minutes before. You can only imagine our frustration, to say it lightly.

We were sent to another line at the ticket counter, seething and wondering how and if we were going to get through this.

We stepped up to the counter and the woman who now had our Fourth of July plans in her hands smiled and said hello to us and our daughter. We hoped, "Somehow, there must be a way out of here!" She searched for what felt like about a half hour, finding flights going through Detroit and that was about it. But with a baby, layovers can be tricky, especially if you have precious few minutes to get to your connection. She could see we were not happy with that solution and continued to search.

Minutes later she exclaimed, "Got it!" My ears perked up as she told us that there was a flight going to New York (JFK). That’s what we wanted to hear; we were back on track. She also informed us that we would be upgraded to first class, free of charge – indicating they may not be happy with her for doing so. Could it be? Could this woman really have been so nice and helpful to find a solution for us and our daughter that would be in our best interest and not the airlines? It could and she did.

I’m sure my smiling daughter (mixed with our comment about how she wouldn’t get to see her grandma) helped a bit, but it gives me hope that there are good people out there committed to doing the right thing for customers.

Don’t Let Perception Make You Seem Insincere

Now as much as ever, it’s critical for all American businesses to convey one characteristic — integrity. If people don’t believe your communicators when they speak, your days as a profitable business are numbered. Michael Sebastian of offers a few key phrases to avoid when speaking with reporters or the public, lest you seem like you’re hiding something:

Ever prefaced a statement with, “To be perfectly honest, I …”?

Look out. That’s a verbal crutch—sometimes called a throat-clearing statement—and when speaking to the media it could hurt a spokesperson’s credibility.

Barbara Gibson, a social media trainer and former chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), discovered this phenomenon while assessing the strengths and weaknesses of corporate spokespeople.

To perform the analysis, a journalist interviewed individual spokespeople for 40 minutes, then the journalist and a PR assessor rated their abilities across 12 key skills. Among the areas she examined was whether journalists considered the spokesperson “open and honest.”

“We found there is a very big difference between being open and honest and seeming so,” Gibson explained in an email to PR Daily.

She began by analyzing various aspects of spokespeople’s performances to learn why journalists think they’re not truthful when they are, in fact, telling the truth.

“I found that the higher the number of uses of verbal crutches within an interview, the lower the score in this area,” she said. “Then I also realized that those spokespeople [who use] what I identified as ‘honesty-related’ verbal crutches … almost always had lower scores.”

Four of these “honesty-related” crutches are:

1. “Let’s be clear”;
2. “To be perfectly honest”;
3. “Frankly”;
4. “Just between you and me.”

Businesses & Politicos, Keep Those Statements Grounded

Anyone following politics knows former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had a bumpy go of it last week. In response, his press secretary gave a rather "epic" statement to the Huffington Post. To be frank, it was a tad dramatic and a little… I don’t know… Spartanesque? While the commentary is remarkable in itself, it became downright poetic when read by actor John Lithgow on Comedy Central’s "The Colbert Report." (Hat tip to Ragan’s PR Daily.)

Congress Uses over 25% of Communication for Taunting

I was sent this article and at first thought it was from The Onion. It seems a fairly in-depth study found that Congress spends a significant amount of its communication efforts simply goading one another. The Washington Post has the depressing story: 

To come up with this insight, King and two graduate students analyzed 64,033 press releases sent out by all U.S. senators from 2005 to 2007. They used a computer program to sort them into different categories, based on their content.

Three of their categories were well known to political scientists. Over the years, they have come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Congressmen, which holds that there are three primary ways a legislator expresses him- or herself.

The first is credit-claiming. That involves a legislator trumpeting his own role in securing a bridge or a dam or some other thing voters want. “ ‘The government did this thing. It’s because of me,’ ” King explained.

The second is position-taking. This is the thing that “Schoolhouse Rock” and civics classes teach you is the point of congressional speechifying. “ ‘I’m at this point on the ideological continuum,’ ” King said.

The third traditional category is “advertising.” It might be recognizing some hometown team or dignitary, a nonpartisan effort to get one’s name out there. “ ‘Look at me! I’m a member of Congress!’ ” King said.

But, he said, some news releases he and his team studied didn’t fit neatly into the three traditional categories.

“They’re a different thing. To say that the only thing members of Congress do is advertising, credit-claiming or position-taking, that’s not right,” King said. “Because sometimes, they just stand up there and taunt the other side.”

Now, it’s not earth-shaking news that legislators like to insult each other. But what King did is quantify how much they do it: more than a quarter of the time. He found taunting was most common in members whose districts were “safe” — strongly held by their party.

Don’t Make PR Mistakes on Social Media

The Ragan’s Daily Headlines newsletter featured a topic today that resonates with all businesses who are trying to use social media — and do it the right way. The author, Priya Ramesh, identifies some key mistakes PR pros often make. I think #1 is definitely something to keep in mind:

This post is not meant as part of the ongoing bloggers versus PR debate. (I do think, though, that some of the best bloggers and social media pundits are those who have a strong PR/communications foundation.)

Some industry peers have been very vocal about social media being dead, some want to believe that corporate America is well past phase one of social engagement. My dear social media enthusiasts, look around and you will see a huge gap between those who get it and those who only think they get it.

If your organization is engaged on social media, please make sure you are not doing the following:

1. Repurposing press releases for Facebook and Twitter. As PR pros we think that social media integration is taking a boring press release and converting the headline into a tweet or Facebook update. Please stop. It’s a sure way to turn your friends and followers off. Instead draw your target audience to the announcement by asking them a question on the topic or pull out a stat or text bite that’s sure to get people to click on your URL.

2. Maintaining a formal, businesslike tone on social networks. Realize that those in your target audience have an attention span of 10 seconds, and then craft your Twitter, Facebook, or blog content accordingly. The voice you maintain in an annual report, during a board meeting or quarterly stockholders’ call is not going to cut it in the social sphere.

I am not asking you to sound like a hipster if you represent a financial services company. Yes, you need to maintain your brand image but come on, engage. Step away from that “push” mechanism of sending tweets and updates. and instead “pull” your customers into a conversation by asking them what’s on their minds. It’s OK to show a little personality.

3. Using social media to broadcast and not to get feedback. The beauty of social media lies in feeling your customers’ pulse in real time and using that valuable feedback to define your future steps. Features like the Facebook poll can be used weekly to ask a question or get your community’s reaction to a future product release. A tweet chat with your customers can result in ways to improve your customer service on Twitter.

Let’s get away from the “I am a PR manager, so my role is only to send messages” mindset. Instead, let’s get our hands dirty asking some tough questions to our online audience. You spent all that money and resources to get people to follow you online, now leverage their feedback to deliver what they truly care about.

4. Treating social media as a one-person job within PR/marketing. If you still think social media is a job for your junior executive who happens to love new technology, you have totally missed a social media opportunity. Moving forward, every PR and marketing professional will be expected to have a basic knowledge and understanding of how social media functions.

I am not saying the VP of communications must take the time to tweet every few hours a day, but you need to encourage every member of your team to practice social media. I am startled at how just one person is tasked with engagement activities across multiple levels for an organization that has the capacity to spend millions of dollars on advertising!

 5. Joining the shiny-object bandwagon without a strategy. Scott Stratten of “Unmarketing” fame summarized it well: “Let’s just get Web 1.0 right first, and then we can talk about Web 2.0.” Have you put enough time and resources on the three most essential social tools: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? Have you increased SEO with your blog? Do you see an incremental increase in your following and engagement activities (comments, shares, likes)?

Let’s first focus on why we got started on social media and align those goals with our social media strategy. Then we can start considering the 101 new apps and tools that get introduced daily.

This is not a rant against my PR colleagues, but a few reminders to help us become better communicators.