The Not-So-Subtle Art of the Buzzword

As brands look to inject themselves into industry discussions, many jump on the buzzword bandwagon in an attempt to catch the eye of reporters and potential customers. Often, it’s a great avenue to showcase expertise and provide insightful thought leadership. However, as your mother may or may not have told you, jumping onto moving vehicles can be dangerous.


One of the main determining factors of success with buzzwords is timing. If you try to get into the conversation too early it can be perceived as overdramatizing the situation, a common mistake in communications where every brand always has the best, most innovative product ever to hit the market.  However, if you wait too late the conversation can be raging and it will be exponentially more difficult to rise above the noise. Much has been said about Gartner’s Hype Cycle in the technology world and it is a good indicator of where many buzzwords land in that timeline. However, the overall placement of a buzzword on the Hype Cycle might not be a good representation of where it is within specific industries. Businesses must take a more granular approach to determine the ideal time to jump in the conversation. This requires a thorough understanding of the industry, but more importantly, a thorough understanding of how buzzword is perceived by the media.

Effectively gauging the media’s current perception of buzzwords at any given time is always a tricky proposition. It’s often not a general consensus but a more individualized view influenced by a variety of factors—the most important of which if often their level of burnout on a particular topic. In the beginning it’s new and exciting to everyone. However, as time goes on, for reporters that must write about the trend on a daily basis it becomes more of a chore necessitated by the larger media landscape and their editors. It’s important to remember that a media outlet is a business too. They rely on clicks, often driven by search engines where consumers are searching for the latest news on a topic. So if a trend is still relevant, there will always be pressure to cover it whether the reporter genuinely wants to or not. These subtle nuances in attitudes towards a topic are hard to pick up without speaking with journalists on a regular basis. However, if read correctly, can help a brand form a more lasting relationship with a reporter because in the end, journalists really appreciate people that “get it” and if you can present ideas catering to their current state of mind, you’ll have a much better chance of becoming that trusted go-to source.

One sure fire way to do the opposite and turn off journalists is a half-hearted attempt at sprucing up a buzzword. It’s easy to cloak a trend in a new shell or paint it a different color to get noticed, but an empty shell will only crumble under the pressure of the media. A great example is the Internet of Things. We have all seen the various takes on the trend such as the “Internet of Everything,” “Internet of Clouds,” and so on. It’s easy to roll your eyes when you read these but the key point is that you are reading them, illustrating that this can be an effective technique for joining an already crowded conversation. However, there has to be legitimate substance behind the new term. Journalists pride themselves on being able to wade through the marketing speak and this is a technique they’ve seen a hundred times before. Again, that’s not to say they shun new takes on an established trend, quite the contrary, but the heart of the story must be there to gain significant traction.

So what is a business to do? The answer is simple. Don’t shy away from using buzzwords when and where appropriate but don’t feel compelled to try to find a way in if it’s not a good fit for the business or current strategic objectives. Of course, tactically it is much more complicated to attach a brand to a trend but with the right expertise and a solid handle on the media landscape, there’s no reason businesses of any size can’t turn buzzwords into big wins with the media.

This post was contributed by LEWIS PR Senior Account Executive Evan Burkhart

Twitter: @evanburkhart