The PR BlogCreativityStorytelling & WritingThe Platitude Sickness: The Trash of Corporate Writing

The Platitude Sickness: The Trash of Corporate Writing

Welcome to the fight — we are the resistance.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

There’s a platitude sickness in corporate writing.

I’m a PR professional.
And I sometimes hate what I do for a living.

Most normal people hate corporate bullshit. As a writer, I loathe those corporate platitudes with a feverish intensity. But my corporate brothers and sisters cling to them. And it seems as if it’s getting worse.

What can we do about this platitude sickness?

It’s Not My Fucking Fault, I Swear

As a corporate writer since 2005, one could easily assume that I am responsible for at least two hundred shitty press releases. But I’m not, I swear.

Every time I present something to an organisation, I speak plainly. When I write, I always rewrite to avoid clichés. I strive to add some bounce to my copy — if nothing else, to prevent tired and stale sentences that ring too familiar. 1At this point, I should point out that English is my second language and that I do most of my writing in Swedish. Still, I strive to improve my business English.

I do my best to avoid platitude sickness.

“A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, the French word for “flat.” Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with an ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.”
Source: Wikipedia.

But my efforts don’t always pay off.

While some organisations appreciate my efforts, a sizeable portion of everything I’ve written for clients has passed through numerous filters before getting published.

And the result is nothing but a dwindling tirade of corporate cringe.

Not. My. Fault.

Oh, How I Loathe Corporate Cringe

I’m not alone in being frustrated. We’re all exposed to corporate speak. Whether you’re in marketing and communications or not, you’ll see these platitudes everywhere.

And for some reason, platitudes are becoming the go-to format for all corporate texts. It’s getting worse, not better.

I sometimes think this is a pidgin language for different business tribes. We fall back on corporate platitudes to let everyone know we belong in this money-making space. Making sure that we belong to a community is more important than making sense. 2Pidgin languages are a mixture of two or more languages, and they typically develop when two groups in contact with each other cannot speak each other’s language. Many pidgin languages have … Continue reading

It’s mindboggling how many hours organisations spend producing utter garbage.

The “Carpe Diem” Business Mafia on LinkedIn

Corporate platitudes are such a waste of editorial space. Unfortunately, platitude sickness tends to do quite well on social media.

A text loaded with obvious statements and no actual substance can still attract a lot of social engagement. People often hit that “Like” button (emoji button or whatever) without reading the linked article.

Yes, I’m looking at you, LinkedIn.

It’s essential to have a strategy.

Always put the customer first.

Be proactive and think long-term.

Publish epic content.

The “carpe diem” business mafia on LinkedIn can’t get enough of that stuff, right?

An Uphill Battle: Welcome to the Resistance

Yes, getting rid of corporate platitudes is an uphill battle. There are so many filters and so many readers that don’t mind.

Still, there are no excuses for giving up. As communicators, we’re in the business of catching people’s interest and making it worth their time. As we fall deeper into the attention economy, relevance and substance are the only things that can save us.

We might never win this fight, I admit. But even if we can’t win, we can at least make life a bit more difficult for everyone who commits corporate BS.

So, how do you combat platitude sickness in corporate communication?

Make it your mission to find platitudes and destroy them. And don’t let your colleagues get away with using them, either. As this becomes a ritual, you’ll develop an “allergy” to corporate platitudes — and removing them will make you feel better.

Welcome to the fight — you’re in the army now.

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 At this point, I should point out that English is my second language and that I do most of my writing in Swedish. Still, I strive to improve my business English.
2 Pidgin languages are a mixture of two or more languages, and they typically develop when two groups in contact with each other cannot speak each other’s language. Many pidgin languages have evolved into full-blown languages.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I fully agree with you. That is why I find the messaging hierarchy model (budskapshierarki) so useful. Basically, there are four levels in the hierarchy. I think it works for personal posting as well as for brand dev, because in the process of using it, you can’t escape the ‘why’ question.

    At the top there is a brand promise or brand positioning statement. This promise can be very open since it’s reflecting the brands understanding of a basic human need. It’s the answer to ‘why should I care?’.

    Second level is the product or service promise, for each and every product the brand is providing. These promises are the ‘reasons-to-buy’.

    Third level is handling rethoric issuses and persuasion. Facts and benefits for every second level promise, where every fact corresponds to a single benefit. It’s the answer to ‘how is it possible?’.

    Fourth level is about the offer. The answer to ‘why right now?’. Or call-to-action if you like. But that’s a separate topic.

    Thinking through the three top levels should wipe out any platitudes in messaging. The third rethoric level in particular. The process can take weeks or months for a brand organisation. But the cognitive process itself is not very hard and can be applied to any messaging activity.

  2. Nice post Jerry! I do think a lot on what quality in content marketing really is. Lately I’ve been struggling with one particular issue and that is why we tend to think that all great content must be aimed to solve a real problem. Or as it often is described, help your customer on their buying journey. I am not a big fan of that platitude at all. Not all good content must be aimed to solve problems, there are more to it. Inspiration, feel-good and more. I am working on a post on it, will come back and post when I am done.

    Now, back to your post and one of your examples. If a post with the title “Always put the customer first” only told me the importance of doing that, it’s crap. If the post also described a model for how to do it in a really smart way, it would probably get my attention. Than it goes from just “noise” to at least having a chance to add some value to me. Also, when doing so, that content piece includes a personal touch and a story that might attract me to some level to its writer.

    See what I mean?

    • Glad you got my point. There is of course obvious that answers on questions from your audience is crucial, but I the very best of content marketers do more than that. They support my buying journey as everyone tries to do. But even more important, they support my personal adventure as an entrepreneur and marketer. By doing that they secure a place in my mind as enablers of my own success what ever that might be. I’ll even fight to keep those brands/solution even though there might be good logical reasons to make switch.

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