Time to weed-out those nasty bizspeak phrases

April 8, 2013

Language is a living thing; a constantly changing and evolving environment in which words and phrases spring into being and live out their lives. Some, like majestic trees, live long and grace the literary landscape with their presence. Others litter the ground like scraggly weeds, stifling clarity and choking eloquence at every turn.

Business writing – a soil particularly well enriched with taurine fertiliser – provides the most fertile environment for such unwanted invaders to take root. Bryan A. Garner, writing in the HBR, has been busy gathering handfuls of the worst offenders (as judged by numerous contributors) in an effort to put this rogues gallery to the scythe.

Bryan urges everyone to "Hunt for offending phrases: Start looking for bizspeak in all kinds of documents, from memos to marketing plans, and you’ll find it everywhere. " And when you do, pull it out by the roots!

Bizspeak Blacklist
actionable (apart from legal action)
as per
at the end of the day
back of the envelope
bandwidth (outside electronics)
bring our A game
core competency
drill down
ducks in a row
forward initiative
going forward
go rogue
harvesting efficiencies
hit the ground running
impact, vb.
kick the can down the road
let’s do lunch
let’s take this offline
level the playing field
leverage, vb.
on the same page
out of pocket (except in reference to expenses)
paradigm shift
push the envelope
pursuant to
putting lipstick on a pig
sacred cow
seamless integration
seismic shift (outside earthquake references)
strategic alliance
strategic dynamism
think outside the box
throw it against the wall and see if it sticks
throw under the bus
under the radar
utilization, utilize
verbage (the correct term is verbiage — in reference only to verbose phrasings)
where the rubber meets the road

Hunt for offending phrases: Start looking for bizspeak in all kinds of documents, from memos to marketing plans, and you’ll find it everywhere. You’ll eventually learn to spot it — and avoid it — in your own writing. You’ll omit canned language such as Attached please find and other phrases that only clutter your message.

The (further) perils of Twitter for business

April 18, 2012

Very interesting article this morning on Real Business concerning the legal implications of Twitter use. In particular, what it could mean for users who Tweet about their employer.

We all know that you should be extremely careful about what you say online. One case highlighted in the article is of a civil servant who found herself the subject of an acutely embarrassing (and not exactly career-enhancing) expose in The Independent.

A member of staff at the Department of Transport had a disclaimer in her Twitter profile stating that the tweets were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer. This disclaimer did not stop The Independent from publishing her tweets (about her job, her feelings towards work and wider political issues such as describing a course leader as “mental” and posting links to tweets attacking government “spin” and Whitehall waste) in an article about her employer. She complained to the Press Complaints Commission, but they found that because tweets are public property this was not an invasion of her privacy.

The article is well worth a read – you can view it in its entirety here Five more legal issues to consider when using Twitter

A little PR goes a long way at exhibitions

February 28, 2012

We have just more-or-less completed the PR programme for the Southern Manufacturing & Electronics Show 2012. The show this year has been hailed a fantastic success by everyone that took part, and all the exhibitors we spoke to seemed delighted with the level of enquiries they’d received. Yet, as always, I wonder just how much better some of those exhibitors would have done with a little more pre-planning and forethought with regards their event promotions.

This year we had a record number of product stories from exhibitors which we used in the show blog and our various editor news round-ups in advance of the show. Yet, impressive though the number was – around 200 stories blogged – it covered less than a third of the total number of exhibitors present. Of course many companies run their own promotions in the run-up to the show, but there are still many that don’t – particularly the smaller companies and first-timers. For these firms, gaining visibility through participating in the show’s promotional campaign is an easy win. But I’m always amazed by how many fail to make use of this free service.

Naturally, it’s not an easy thing to write a press release if you’re unfamiliar with how it all works. But it’s not that hard – especially when you have the show press office to help you get it right. If you are doing an exhibition, do yourself a favour and make sure you really make the most of the opportunity by getting your story out. If you’re unsure what to do, why not download our free Preparing for an Exhibition guide to help you.

Use the SCAMPER system to create new ideas.

July 26, 2011

I ran across this very interesting blend of psychology and historical anecdotes on Psychology Today. A great read and some interesting ideas to bear in mind.

Nine easy ways to generate a lot of ideas is to apply a checklist of nine creative-thinking principles that were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn, pioneer of brainstorming, and later arranged into the following mnemonic SCAMPER.

S = Substitute?
C = Combine?
A = Adapt?
M = Magnify? = Modify?
P = Put to other uses?
E = Eliminate?
R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

SCAMPER is based on the notion that everything new is some addition or modification of something that already exists. You take a subject and change it into something else. (E.g., drilled petroleum becomes chemical feedstock becomes synthetic rubber becomes automobile tires. Natural gas becomes polyethylene becomes milk jugs. Mined ore becomes metal becomes wire becomes parts of a motor.)you can take anything that exists and change it into a new idea.

The blueprint for using SCAMPER is:

(1) Isolate the subject you want to think about.

(2) Ask the SCAMPER questions about each step of the subject and see what new ideas emerge.

(3) For every new idea you discover, ask "How can…?" "What else…?" "How else…?"

(4) List and evaluate the ideas.

Suppose you wanted to improve the ordinary paperclip? You would start looking for ideas by asking:

– What can be substituted in the clip?

– What can I combine the clip with to make something else?

– What can I adapt to the clip?

– How can I modify the clip?

– What can I magnify or add to the clip?

– What other uses can I find for the clip?

– What can be eliminated from the clip?

– What is the reverse of a clip?

– What other rearrangement of the clip might be better?

One manufacturer substituted plastic for metal, added color, and produced plastic clips in various colors so that clipped papers could be color-coded thereby finding another use for clips.

Think about any subject from improving your productivity to reorganizing your organization and apply the Scamper checklist of questions. You will find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

SUBSTITUTE SOMETHING? The principle of substitution is a sound way to develop alternative ideas to anything that exists. Think up ways of changing this for that and that for this. The scientist, Paul Ehrlich, kept substituting one color for another—well over 500 colors—until he found the right dye to color the veins of laboratory mice. You can substitute things, places, procedures, people, ideas, and even emotions. Ask:

Can you substitute something? Who else? What else?

Can the rules be changed?

Other ingredient? Other material? Other power? Other place? Other approach?

What else instead? What other part instead of this?

COMBINE IT WITH SOMETHING ELSE? Much of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas or subjects to make something new. This process is called synthesis, and is regarded by many experts as the essence of creativity. Gregor Mendel created a whole new scientific discipline, genetics, by combining mathematics with biology. Ask:

What can be combined?

Can we combine purposes?

How about an assortment? A blend? An alloy? An ensemble?

Combine units? Combine materials? What other article could be merged with this?

How could we package a combination?

What can be combined to multiply possible uses?

Combine appeals?

ADAPT SOMETHING TO IT? One of the paradoxes of creativity is that in order to think originally, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. Thomas Edison put it this way: "Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on." Ask:

What else is like this? What other ideas does it suggest?

Does the past offer a parallel?

What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?

What idea could I incorporate?

What other process could be adapted? What else could be adapted?

What different contexts can I put my concept in?

What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?

MAGNIFY IT? An easy way to create a new idea is to take a subject and add something to it. Japanese engineer Yuma Shiraishi made the home VCR possible by figuring out how to lengthen videotapes so they would be long enough for feature-length movies. Ask:

What can be magnified, made larger, or extended?

What can be exaggerated? Overstated?

What can be added? More time? Stronger? Higher? Longer?

How about greater frequency? Extra features? What can be duplicated?

What can add extra value?

How can I carry it to a dramatic extreme?

MODIFY IT? What can be modified? Just about any aspect of anything. The hub-and-spoke transportation system that makes Federal Express work was a feature of at least three air freight services as early as 1930. What Fred Smith did was to modify the dimensions, process and purposes of the system and turned an old idea into an elegant concept. Ask:

How can this be altered for the better? What can be modified?

Is there a new twist?

Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Change name?

What changes can be made in the plans? In the process? In marketing? Other changes?

What other form could this take? What other package? Can the package be combined with the form?

PUT IT TO SOME OTHER USE? A subject takes its meaning from the context in which you put it. Change the context, and you change the meaning. George Washington Carver, botanist and chemist, discovered over 300 different uses for the lowly peanut. Ask:

What else can this be used for?

Are there new ways to use as is?

Other uses if modified?

What else can be made from this?

Other extension? Other markets?

ELIMINATE? Sometimes subtracting something from your subject yields new ideas. Trimming down ideas, objects, and processes may gradually narrow the subject down to its truly necessary part or function–or spotlight a part that=s appropriate for some other use. Ask:

What if this were smaller? Understate?

What should I omit? Delete? Subtract? What=s not necessary?

Should I divide it? Split it up? Separate it into different parts?

Streamline? Make miniature? Condense? Compact?

Can the rules be eliminated?

REARRANGE IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE? Creativity, it could be said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Rearrangement usually offers countless alternatives for ideas, goods, and services. A baseball manager, for example, can shuffle his lineup 362,880 times. Ask:

What other arrangement might be better?

Interchange components?

Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Change the order?

Transpose cause and effect?

Change pace? Change schedule?

REVERSE IT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS? Reversing your perspective opens your thinking. Look at opposites and you’ll see things you normally miss. Ask "What is the opposite of this?" to find a new way of looking at things. The historical breakthroughs of Columbus and Copernicus were the polar opposites of the current beliefs of their day. Ask:

What are the opposites?

What are the negatives?

Can I transpose positive and negative?

Should I turn it around? Up instead of down? Down instead of up? Consider it backwards?

Reverse roles?

Do the unexpected?

Even the hot dog, as we know it, is the result of the right idea-spurring question being asked at the right time. Antoine Feutchwanger sold sausages at the Louisiana Exposition in 1904. He first sold them on plates, but this proved too expensive. He then offered white cotton gloves along with the franks to prevent customers from burning their fingers. The gloves also were expensive, and customers walked off with them. Antoine and his brother-in-law, a baker, sat down and brainstormed. "What could be added (MAGNIFY) to the frankfurter that would be inexpensive and would prevent people from burning their fingers?" His brother-in-law said: "What if I baked a long bun and slit it to hold the frank?" "Then you can sell the franks, and I can sell you the buns. Who knows, it might catch on."

9 Easy Ways to Create Ideas | Psychology Today

Published originally on July 20, 2011 by Michael Michalko in Creative Thinkering

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures

July 18, 2011

An amusing and audacious attempt to spin bad news, spotted by “Axegrinder” writing in the Press Gazette.

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures

Posted by Axegrinder on 15 July 2011 at 09:53

Who says that the millions police forces spend on PR is a waste of money?

Axegrinder has been sent this hilarious press release sent out from North Yorkshire Police force’s answer to the Ministry of Truth.

Stop the presses, apparently crime has gone down in the county. Rejoice, you might think – until you get to the fifth par when you find out that crime has actually gone up. I’ve heard about dropped intros but this is ridiculous.

North Yorkshire Police is making great strides to clamp down on crime.

The force’s latest performance figures show a 6.6% reduction between April and June 2011 compared to the previous year.

This period – the first quarter of the current financial year – has seen 741 fewer crimes recorded than this time last year (10,401 against 11,150 crime). Detections have also increased by 3.7% to a total of 33.5%.

This significant impact is in direct response to a small but concerning increase in overall crime last year in North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Published today (Thursday 14 July 2011), the Home Office’s Annual Crime Statistics 2010/11 for England and Wales outlines a 0.6% increase in crime in the county. This equates to 267 more crimes in comparison to the previous year – from 42,196 to 42,464.

This increase was largely down to higher levels of crime in January, February and March 2011 compared to the previous year. North Yorkshire Police also saw a rise in reports of historical serious sexual offences which is a positive indicator in victim confidence in the police, as well as proactive police work to target drugs offences, most noticeably in Selby with the success of Operation Orate which saw a series of raids on cannabis farms and a 55% increase in offences in the district. In addition there were 137 separate fraud crimes committed by a company director from York.

However, the corresponding British Crime Survey figures that have also been released today are extremely positive for North Yorkshire Police, with only 6.4% of the public perceiving a high level of anti-social behaviour – the lowest level in England.

Public confidence in the force and local councils to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour has also increased by almost 6% over the past year, to a total of 55.9%.

The stand alone confidence measure in North Yorkshire Police has also increased to 61.5% from 57.9%.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick said: “This was the first year-on-year rise in recorded overall crime since 2003/04, and whilst this is ultimately a disappointing position, it must be taken within context of a long term reduction which has seen 20,000 fewer offences committed in North Yorkshire and the City of York over the last six years.

“Despite the rise, it is important to emphasise that the North Yorkshire policing area remains the fourth safest and lowest crime area in England and Wales. The results of the British Crime Survey are also a welcome indication of the satisfaction people have in the service we deliver.”

Mr Madgwick added: “Nevertheless, we have taken some very firm action in response to the small spike in crime and I am very satisfied to report that it is now on a downward trend once more.

“A particular success has been our dedicated burglary reduction campaign Operation Haven, which is having a great impact on reducing offences and promoting key crime prevention messages to members of our communities.

“It is this type of proactive and intelligence-led policing activity, together with strong partnership working and engagement with the very people we serve, that will help to maintain the high quality of life in North Yorkshire and the City of York.”

Bill Baugh, Vice Chairman of North Yorkshire Police Authority, said: “The Authority looked at the full year’s data at its AGM in June and it was disappointing to see the slight rise at the end of the last financial year.  Crucially though, the more recent results have shown encouraging downward trends that we are more used to in recent years.

“We are not complacent though and in those more challenging crime categories, particularly burglaries, violence and theft, the Police Authority has requested further analysis of the issues and tactics to be presented at the next Performance and Scrutiny Board meeting at the end of August so that we can be sure that the service is doing all that it can, on its own and with partners, to sustain the good results seen in the last three months for the rest of the year.”

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures | Axegrinder

Slides that don’t suck: a non-designer’s guide to creating awesome diagrams for slides

July 16, 2011

Great article on Lifehacker about creating powerful and clear presentations.

By following just a few simple rules, anyone can create diagrams and illustrate information more clearly in slide presentations. Enrique Garcia Cota shared some essential guidelines for things like choosing font size, shapes, color, and more.

Although Cota, a.k.a. otikik, is not a designer, the tips he offers in his presentation maintain classic design principles, such as varying shape sizes for emphasis and to establish hierarchy. His tips are also designed for the audience in mind—those in the back of a room staring at a projector.

A Non-Designer’s Guide to Creating Awesome Diagrams for Slides

A successful Tweeting…

June 29, 2011

Probably one of the biggest debates in PR & Marketing is the effectiveness – or otherwise – of social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. In a previous post, I noted that research seems to indicate that 48% of private businesses are, if not actually users themselves, then at least ambivalent to the usefulness of social media in promoting their businesses. But what about in a more tightly defined demographic such as manufacturing? Two things that have happened over the last week have bought this topic to the fore.

The first was a survey by Lee Anne Orange from the International Machine Tool Show 2012 which we wrote about on our Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2012 blog. In her informal survey of exhibitors, she found that the rate of adoption of social media channels in manufacturing is accelerating, yet is still a relatively small number in absolute terms. In total, around 20% of firms at the show use one or more forms of social media. So while that seems to indicate that there is still room for significant growth, their are many that remain unconvinced. One can only speculate what factors are inhibiting growth, but personally I suspect there are two main reasons: Effectiveness i.e. does it actually work? and Production i.e. who is actually going to write this stuff? For us, the question of effectiveness was answered quite conclusively this week in the second of our “social media happenings”

One of the hardest areas for PR to break into is the national media. This is particularly true for specialists like us who tend to work with b2b brands which are relatively unknown to the general public. Getting journalists from the national media interested in engineering and manufacturing stories is very hard work; that’s not a criticism as they have a completely different agenda to trade publications. But it’s none the less frustrating when our overtures concerning stories of genuine editorial value get passed-over because they are deemed too “niche” to be of interest. But we were surprised this week when a slightly sarcastic  (oops!)Tweet from us concerning the BBC’s lack of interest in grassroots manufacturing was answered in person by a well-known TV personality. This has led to a dialogue, which may well result in BBC TV covering Southern Manufacturing 2012! Hugely exciting for us and something we’ve been trying to achieve for the last 6 years. Time will tell, of course, but if there were any doubts remaining about the effectiveness of Twitter in reaching key journalists, they have now completely evaporated.

Centaur revenue up 15% as ad sales bounce back – Press Gazette

January 6, 2011

6 January 2011

By Oliver Luft

Business publisher Centaur reported this morning that group revenue had risen 15 per cent year-on-year in the first half of its new financial year.

Publishing a trading update ahead of interim results scheduled for 24 February, the company said it had maintained the strong growth reported at its AGM in November with group ad revenue increasing 17 per cent year on year in the period.

Centaur, which publishes titles including Marketing Week, The Lawyer and Creative Review, said it recorded a notable increase in recruitment advertising, which was ahead by almost a third, reflecting strong growth in the legal and marketing communities.

Excluding recruitment, Centaur said its strongest growth rates were achieved though web-based display advertising – led by financial product advertising for which revenues are more than 30 per cent ahead year-on-year.

Event revenues increased by around 13 per cent year-on-year, the company said.

Centaur revenue up 15% as ad sales bounce back – Press Gazette

How the Sleeper Effect Persuades You Months After the Message

December 9, 2010

This is a really interesting article based on academic research into the effectiveness of media persuasion. Not good news for advertisers, but an interesting vindication of the effectiveness of PR messages over time.

How the Sleeper Effect Persuades You Months After the Message

Persuasion isn’t just about convincing someone in the moment. Psychology researcher Jeremy Dean explains how a persuasive message can change attitudes months after it’s delievered.

In the 1940s during WWII, the US Department of War wanted to know if their propaganda films were really working. So they carried out a series of experimental studies into how they affected soldier’s attitudes.

The complacent assumption was that the films should easily influence the average GI. Producers and psychologists alike expected to see a huge shift in attitudes towards the war after they were viewed. What they found was nothing of the sort, and the results came as a bitter blow to propagandists everywhere.

While the films were informative and did strengthen some existing attitudes, experiments showed they were extremely unlikely to make soldiers more optimistic about the war in general (Hovland et al, 1949).

In retrospect this should have come as little surprise, since the soldiers knew these were propaganda films designed to change their attitudes, so their defenses were up.

What they did discover, though, was that some of the films did have an effect on soldiers after months had passed. While attitudes didn’t change immediately, subtle shifts were picked up nine weeks later. US soldiers who watched one film about The Battle of Britain showed little extra sympathy towards the British five days later, but, after nine weeks, they had softened. Yale University’s Carl Hovland and colleagues called this the ‘sleeper effect’.

Big impact

Since then the sleeper effect has had a rockier history than the average soap opera character. It has gone up and down in the esteem of psychologists over the years as some experiments have confirmed the effect and others have found nothing.

Quite naturally many people wondered whether the sleeper effect really exists, especially as it goes against common sense. Persuasion should really be strongest just after a message is delivered. Over time the persuasive effect should weaken as people’s attitudes return to how they were before-and this is what many other studies have shown.

Nevertheless when researchers have weighed up all these studies, it seems likely the effect does exist (Kumkale & Albarracin, 2004). It’s just it only appears under two circumstances:

  1. Big initial impact: the sleeper effect only emerges if the persuasive message has a major initial impact. If it isn’t powerful enough, it won’t hunker down in our minds, biding its time before it boomerangs back.
  2. Message discounting: it should be obvious that the source of the message can’t be trusted so that we discredit it; like when the soldiers were watching the propaganda film.

What seems to be going on is this: people are convinced by the arguments until they see that the source of the message can’t be trusted. But people don’t tend to process the discounting cue very thoroughly. So, over time, people forget they discounted the information and the content of the persuasive message, which was processed thoroughly, does its devilish work.

Know the source before the message

The sleeper effect isn’t the great news for advertisers (and advertising agencies) you might imagine. The effect is strongest when the message is discounted afterwards. When we watch adverts, we usually know beforehand that they can’t be trusted, so our minds are already on alert for the distinctive smell of half-truths.

There are all kinds of everyday situations where the sleeper effect occurs. Like when the travel supplement recommends a great resort, then we read at the bottom the trip’s cost was covered by the resort. Or there’s an article telling us about the health benefits of milk and then we read at the bottom that the author is the head of the Milk Marketing Board. Any time we receive a persuasive message before we find out who the source is, the sleeper effect can come into play.

Naturally, then, canny information consumers will want to know the source of a message before they read it.

Persuasion: The Sleeper Effect [Jeremy Dean]

How the Sleeper Effect Persuades You Months After the Message

"Social media is useless" says Telegraph – but where’s the evidence?

October 21, 2010

The Daily Telegraph recently published an article in which it claimed that the majority of small businesses found social media of no use to their business under the heading “Small Firms: Social media is useless”

A survey conducted by the Forum of Private Business (FPB) found that 52pc of respondents who use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, regard them as ‘not useful’ or ‘useless’ to their businesses.

OK – 52% is technically a majority, but only just. What about the 48% of businesses that find social media tools useful? That’s a lot of businesses; and a lot of potential customers just waiting to be engaged.

FPB spokesman Phil McCabe said: “It’s clear that, while a lot of our members are certainly trying out social media for their businesses, many remain unconvinced of its benefits.”

That maybe true. But perhaps that has just as much to do with how effectively they’re using it, as it does the usefulness of the media itself. The same report goes on to state that nearly 20% of respondents “Didn’t have a website.” Would the Telegraph argue that this proves the internet is not a useful business tool? Social media is not the magic silver bullet of marketing, but it is a useful tool for some businesses to be able to engage with their customers.

When choosing to use social media, you should follow exactly the same evaluation criteria as you would use for any other marketing tactic: determine the target audience, the ability of your chosen medium to reach them and what you hope to achieve as a result. There’s nothing to say you have to use social media, any more than there is a rule that you have to use advertising, fly-posting or cold-calling in your marketing strategy. All these techniques will work in the right circumstances. But only you can decide whether they are appropriate for your aims.

Small firms: "Social media is useless" – Telegraph