Judd Apatow’s Lesson in Corporate Speak


In the 2005 movie Fun with Dick and Jane, Dick Harper (Jim Carrey), public relations manager, conducts a corporate tour. He tells his guests “Globodyne’s a consolidator of media properties and data retrieval with a focus in fiber-optic content provision. It’s basically a synergy of Web-based and platform-based UNIX-driven delivery systems.”

When they stare at him dumbfounded, he quickly admits, “OK, I made that last part up.”

Screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller were right on the money with their spin on corporate speak – industry jargon and hackneyed words that show up in news release after news release, but shouldn’t.

If you’re just churning out boring, jargon-filled releases day after day because that’s how it’s always been done, what value are you bringing to your company? You might as well delegate release writing to the interns. If, however, you’d like to breathe new life into your headlines and copy, start by avoiding the words that journalists loathe and start using words that grab their attention and guarantee your release will be read – and shared.

10 words to avoid

Here are 10 words/phrases to avoid in headlines and news releases:

  1. Solutions: Without a doubt, the most over-used word in news release headlines, copy and corporate boilerplate. Every company has a “synergistic, cutting-edge, value-added, outside-the-box, industry-leading, innovative, disruptive, world class, revolutionary solution to (fill in the blank).
  2. Synergy: While used to describe the coming together of web-based and platform-based UNIX-driven delivery systems by Dick Harper, the word means the combined entity is greater than the sum of its parts. In the corporate world, it most often refers to mergers. I can’t remember many mergers where synergy would describe the merged company.
  3. Bleeding Edge/Cutting Edge: How many companies or products truly can claim such a lofty position? It’s getting pretty crowded out there on the edge.
  4. Value-added: Shouldn’t the value you bring to your clients be intrinsic? Why are you adding it?
  5. Outside the box: Where are all the boxes from which every company has escaped?
  6. Industry-leading/Leader: Judging by the use of these phrases, every company distributing a news release today is a leader. How are they judging leadership? International, national, regional, local, on their block, in their minds? Technology, revenue, profit, number of employees, offices? If everybody is leading, who’s following?
  7. Innovative: Even companies or products that win awards for innovation are rarely innovative.
  8. Disruptive: Usually used in conjunction with a technology product announcement. Quick, name five disruptive products released in the past year. Sorry, time’s up. But judging from news releases, there are hundreds. Remember, disruption takes a long time.
  9. World class: Most often found in corporate boilerplate, the phrase world class has no real meaning. Whom are you measuring against? St. Kitts & Nevis or China? And no one ever says American class or Canadian class. Don’t use it.
  10. Revolutionary:  One definition is “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.” Along with innovative and disruptive, it is highly unlikely your new product is truly revolutionary. It’s just the kind of hyperbole you should avoid.

10 Shareable Words

The key to getting a news release read is making sure the news benefits your target audience. If it doesn’t, it won’t be read. By highlighting key benefits in the headline and using key words, you will grab their attention and significantly increase readership.

The three most effective words to use in writing a news release and headline are free, new and best. The meanings are well understood by all. For blogs, some of the best words for headlines are surprising, smart, science, and critical.

Since the object of social media is to get people to read AND share your message, strong headlines using the right words can improve sharing. However, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are a bit different. They tend to be read more on mobile devices than blogs (an estimated two-thirds of all social media activity takes place on mobile devices). Those readers want manageable pieces of information that won’t take much of their time to read. Some successful social media words include: how to, facts and great. The number ten is popular as in Top 10 lists, a big favorite.

Don’t churn out boring, jargon-filled releases.  Breathe new life into your headlines and copy with the right words – you will grab readers’ attention and make them want to share it.


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