Event Horizon: You are not in the lead
Event Horizon is a column by CN’s Stuart Wood, taking a look at the events industry from a newcomer’s perspective. In this fourth instalment, he examines some common PR and marketing pitfalls, and offers some suggestions for how to dig yourself out.
What is a marketers favourite word? If you’ve been on the receiving end of enough press releases and business mailers, you might have seen it. It’s usually found in the first sentence, and it’s usually the first word I delete.
The number of times I’ve seen the word ‘leading’ come from marketing and PR teams during my grand total of nine months in the events industry is quite staggering. But there’s a very basic paradox here: if everyone is in the lead, no-one is in the lead.
To illustrate my point in a rather poetic way, here is the opening paragraph of a press release I received a couple of months ago. It might be the most egregious example of meaningless PR hype I’ve seen. Names have been removed in an attempt to spare embarrassment:
“ABC, Europe’s leading event showcasing the latest equipment and techniques in marine civil engineering and construction, is to co-locate with XYZ, Europe’s leading event showcasing the latest equipment and techniques in marine civil engineering and construction.”
Well - which is it?? The writer in question has shot themselves in the foot at the starting line. By lazily substituting any qualitative description for empty, copy-pasted hype, they’ve broken the illusion of omnipotent persuasion which the press release aims for. Clearly, neither show can be the market leader if the other is, too.
"There’s a very basic paradox here: if everyone is in the lead, no-one is in the lead."
Did you know that Wordpress is used by one in three websites on the internet? Neither did I, until hearing it in a marketing keynote delivered at the AEO Forums by consultant Tim Tucker. That’s because Wordpress – which genuinely can claim to be a market leader – knows that it is more effective to market without boasting.
The purpose of a press release is to convince journalists or the public that the company in question is the best, and worth their time. Starting with the assumption that we already think this is laziness at best, and arrogance at worst.
Don't believe the hype
So what should marketers and copy-writers be doing? First, don’t use unnecessary hyperbole. If you are claiming to be the best, you best be able to back it up. In an era of fake news, readers can sniff out bias and false hype much more easily than you think.
Instead, be specific. Give me some concrete facts, figures, examples. Tell a story. Most importantly of all, be clear in the way you communicate. Use words you’d actually say in real life, and avoid clichés or ‘marketese’. That means cheap tactics like “don’t miss out!”, or company bios which manage to say next to nothing in the most long-winded way possible.
In an era of fake news, readers can sniff out bias and false hype much more easily than you think.
Here’s another example from a recent press release. I knew nothing about the company in question prior to reading it, but if anything was left more confused by the frustratingly vague marketing hyperbole in the company’s bio:
"The X Group is a successful UK-focused private group of companies, which leverages synergies across its specialist property, construction and hotel divisions to its strategic advantage. Since 1999, the Group has built its standing through meticulously managing projects from inception to delivery and beyond. Today, it owns and manages a diverse portfolio of flagship assets across the nation’s key business locations, partnering with some of the world’s most recognised brands to deliver consistently high service levels and sustainable growth."
Phew. I could summarise all the information I need there in one sentence: "The X Group is a collection of UK-focused companies in property, construction and hospitality, which was founded in 1999".
That really is all the information anyone could need from a bio, and is anyone being persuaded by collaboration with unnamed, ‘recognised’ brands? No.
Just because we work in a primarily B2B industry does not mean marketers don’t need to get personal, or creative, in the ways they appeal to their audience. A bit of honesty and simplicity goes a long way, and if companies would stop loudly shouting about being the best, they might find people more receptive to actually listening.
So – please, I beg you, stop leading with the word ‘leading’.