Published: May 17, 2007
Last Updated: May 30, 2021

We have offered advice on asking dumb questions without sounding dumb, but of course there are many other ways to look dumb as a PR practitioner, aren't there? It's a very visible role, after all—whether you are in a corporate or agency job.

So in our continuing quest to protect you against looking dumb, we present 10 dumb things that otherwise smart communicators do: 

  1. Use business jargon. Try to avoid cliches and jargon and speak in conversational English. (I'm sympathetic if the clueless COO is twisting your arm.) Like the proverbial bath, good writing couldn't hurt and might help.
  2. Put a copyright symbol on your press materials. Press releases, fact sheets and bios are meant to help journalists. So if you want them to use your stuff, don't mark your content as copyrighted.
  3. Capitalize the name of your industry and other non-proper nouns. Do you promote your company's role in the Retail Technology market or the Cybersecurity space? Do your press releases quote the Vice President of System Push - CRM Resource Adjunct? Just stop. The names of industries are not proper nouns and neither are job titles.
  4. Forget that links are for readers first, not search engines. Remember that links in your content should be meant, first and foremost, to engage and inform your audience. In a press release, for example, you can link the quoted exec to his or her bio and link the product you're describing to its page online. Link to external resources such as Wikipedia listings and even YouTube videos to enhance your text. Keyword considerations should be secondary. And while I'm on the subject, stop using the clunky phrase "click here" to create links. Very 2001.
  5. Use the same style manual you've had since college English. I respect the Chicago Manual of Style and the authoritative Elements of Style, but today's default resource is the Associated Press Stylebook. Because it is used by media and PR folks alike, it has become the dominant style for non-academic and non-literary writing. Audiences today are subconsciously familiar with it because they see it in newspapers, magazines and online copy.
  6. Bury the news. Don't make journalists wonder what your press release is about or mention your real news nonchalantly in the third paragraph, such as your CEO's resignation or the launch date of the new product. Look at your announcement objectively and think about what will be most important to someone who doesn't work at your company.
  7. Describe your company in such glowing terms that no one can tell what it actually does. I've seen this too many times. You're so focused on the benefits of your services that you gloss over what it IS and what it DOES. Don't make your vendors, investors, prospective employees, media, analysts and other non-customers guess.
  8. Put more than four bullets per slide on your PowerPoint presentation. Brevity is the soul of presenting. If your presentation is going to be displayed or projected onto a screen, give your audience a fighting chance and make the bullets brief. Resist the urge to paste in a 20-cell spreadsheet or a dizzying pie chart. Crowded presentations defeat the objective of communication.
  9. Focus on the words and forget the visual. What a nice case study you've written. So many words and paragraphs to dig into. Now step back and consider what could enhance it visually: your customer's logo, a photo of the quoted subject, a beauty photo of the product or of people using it, a stock photo that conveys the service's idea, a graph of the money saved or efficiency gained, a screenshot of the software, a photo of your building or your customer's building, a callout quote of a significant statement in your text. You'll find lots of simple ways to enhance communication. Do the legwork and don't leave it to your graphic designer to "make it pretty."
  10. Be inflexible about your writing because you're so proud of it. My favorite line to clients is that this isn't my ninth-grade poetry. I can write their document nine ways to Sunday, so they aren't hurting my feelings if they want to edit it. I'll champion effective communication, and I'll keep them from presenting themselves poorly, but I certainly won't pout if they start making changes. That's "fragile artist syndrome."

Effective communication is deceptively simple. Remember and respect your audience, and your communications will be the better for it.

Joy Jennings contributed to this post.

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About the Author

Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Trust expert Scott Baradell is CEO and founder of Idea Grove. Idea Grove helps its clients secure trust at scale through its unique Grow With TRUST approach. Scott is an established authority on trust and editor of the online publication Trust Signals, as well as author of the upcoming book Trust Signals: Brand Building in a Post-Truth World. Idea Grove celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020, earning honors including the 2020 Pegasus Award for Small Agency of the Year, being named a Top 200 B2B service provider by Clutch, and ranking in the top 25 tech agencies in the U.S. by O'Dwyer's. Scott has an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America and speaks on PR and marketing topics at industry events nationwide.

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