You may think you don’t have to dumb down your story – you’re wrong

Posted on: 2016-05-09 in Opinion

Are your B2B articles understandable enough? The Media Coach's Lindsay Williams has some tips on talking to the media.  

  There is a great misconception in B2B PR that you don’t have to dumb down a story. Because B2B PR is targeted at trade press or specialist pages of the mainstream media or websites, many people believe that it’s okay to communicate as you would with colleagues. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
If you can’t tell your corporate story, or explain your new product in a non-technical way – like you’re speaking to your mum or an intelligent 14 year old – you’re missing a trick.
Trade press and specialist journalists face the uphill battle of making B2B stories interesting. If you are covering the politics of the day or celebrity love lives, there is no need to ‘sex it up’. However, if you are talking about revolutions in subsea pipeline technology or the potential for business transformation you have to work to make it interesting.
The way you speak is an excellent place to start. There are entire subsections of the English language that cause listeners and readers to come down with indigestion.
Firstly, there are acronyms. Most organisations have them. While they are useful internally or within an industry niche they do not travel well. Did you know there was a three-letter-acronym for three-letter-acronyms – I kid you not – called TLAs? Avoid them when talking to or writing for journalists.
Secondly, there is the real technical jargon of an industry. Sometimes these terms are unavoidable. However, if you do have to use them, you need to explain them. To a normal perso a bank account or a loan is not a ‘financial product’. Similarly, ‘instructional scaffolding’ is a term used in education that needs a colloquial translation such as ‘tips – often conveyed through a graphical or model – designed to help students pick up something new quickly’.
While specialist journalists will know some of your jargon, they won’t always know much as you do. And if you use too much jargon, the journalist may ignore what you are saying because they don’t understand it. If you’re a good spokesperson who can speak colloquial English, journalists will come back to you repeatedly. If you don’t, they won’t.
Thirdly, there is huge raft of overly formal language that is often used in interviews because the interviewee mistakenly believes it will impress the journalist. At the Media Coach, we call this ‘utilise syndrome’ (saying ‘utilise’ where ‘use’ will do). ‘Money and people’ can usually replace ‘resources’; rather than ‘interacting’ with customers, you could just ‘talk’ to them.  There are many problems with this formal language but the key one from a PR point of view is that it makes it unlikely that the journalist will quote you.
It is the job of the PR person to persuade a business to ditch jargon and overly formal language. However, PRs often don’t and there are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, PRs don’t want to be too challenging to their clients – they may suggest politely that something is simplified but they won’t press the issue. Second PRs go native. In order to impress clients, they adopt the language of the business and lose sight of the jargon problem.
Lindsay Williams is Managing Director of The Media Coach.  
UK Agency Awards Winner 2016

About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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