Buzzwords be gone

Avatar photo Dominic Alston - 15th Apr, 2024

Why buzzwords confuse journalists and get in the way of good story-telling

The Public Relations industry can get a bad rep for propagating the over-use of corporate lingo, otherwise known as ‘buzzwords’, when in reality you should be paying a PR agency to filter them out. Not only do they make journalists run a mile, they can serve to build an unnecessary divide between the language people use everyday and the language used in business, technology, finance or politics.

Sometimes buzzwords are created for the more nefarious purposes of shifting responsibility away from where it rightfully belongs. In the early 2000s, British Petroleum hired a PR giant to establish the term ‘carbon footprint’ into the popular zeitgeist – aided by BP’s carbon footprint calculator. Unsurprisingly, this tool is no longer online – but it succeeded, at least for a period, in establishing the climate crisis as a fault of consumers’ individual choices, rather than the structural causes really to blame.

In other cases buzzwords become buzzwords because a company is trying to boil down something more complicated into a neater package. Artificial intelligence, the buzzword of the moment, being a good example. AI was Collins Dictionary’s Phrase of the Year in 2023, and will most likely be tech’s most misused phrase this year too.

To be semantic, in most cases AI isn’t really AI. There are important differences between Machine Learning, which needs humans to monitor input and outputs, and true, autonomous AI systems – which don’t yet exist. Even ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools aren’t AI in its truest form – and that’s despite the billions in investment, doom-mongering, and rose-tinted optimism they’ve caused. These tools are actually examples of Machine Learning.

Customer chat functions are another tool mistakenly put under the umbrella of  AI, where ‘Automation Intelligence’ would be more fitting. This would more accurately describe how a digital bank’s chatbot could provide relevant choices based on a number of set parameters vs a consumers’ input, for example.

Do semantics matter?

One argument is that language changes and definitions evolve over time. After all, ‘AI’ is now used extensively by marketing departments, propagated by PR agencies, and sought out by investors and consumers. On the other hand, this misuse of the term may water down our understanding of the revolutionary impact true AI would have.

It also makes the work of journalists that much harder. They already face the sharp end of a saturated landscape that requires them to sift through an overflowing inbox to filter the news from the noise – and they don’t want to have to read and eventually edit out the same overused and inaccurate terminology.

Translating nonsense into sense

The role of a PR agency is to consult clients on what journalists want, and to help journalists locate and understand what’s of value. Key to this is saying no to buzzwords wherever possible. Is the product truly ‘revolutionary’? Is the company ‘industry-leading’? Is that chatbot actually artificially intelligent?

In the short-term, doing this will help cut through the noise. In the long-term, truth, responsibility, and sanity will prevail. People may finally start expecting financiers, businessmen, politicians, and tech-bros to use real words, rather than those designed to confuse, oversell or disenfranchise.

Would you like to expand your brand?

Get in touch with us today.