What If Everyone Acted Like Ron Swanson?
In the oft-quoted Mike Judge comedy "Office Space," The Bobs ask Tom to decipher his job description with a simple question: "What is it you say you...DO here?" Tom instantly panics, screaming that he "Has people skills" and is "good at dealing with people!" before storming out of the room. He cracks under the pressure. Just like many public-relations candidates do when I ask them to ditch the buzzwords, jargon, and resume puff that clouds their real, actual message.
Fourteen years after we met Lumbergh, TPS reports, and Milton’s stapler, the haze of PR jargon has grown ever more dense. During that time, LinkedIn has encouraged the trend of marketing mumbo jumbo and resume word fudging. So much so that customers today distrust almost anyone in marketing and PR, in part because the language we use is so totally separated from reality. At the same time, Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson has become something of a cult superhero for his BS-blasting, tell-it-like-it-is powers.
It's Not Lies, It's Jargon
For example: A random LinkedIn search surfaced the following skills description: "I analyze and transform your marketing with strategic social media marketing/PR consulting services designed to attract your optimal community." A translation: "I look at what you're doing and plan out what you should be doing to get you good customers."
Another professional claims to have a "successful track record developing and executing integrated marketing strategies and tactics," which could mean anything. Said person also has a "diversified portfolio of experience across a full range of marketing disciplines and touch-points (most recently, focusing on digital and social media) to drive and demonstrate results."
The obvious questions arise: Drive what results? What's a touch-point? What is Integrated Marketing? Even the Wikipedia result borders on nonsensical: "Integrated Marketing Communication is a term that emerged in the late 20th century regarding application of consistent brand messaging across myriad marketing channels." We are no closer to clarity.
Healing The Wound
The unfair assumption is that PR people are liars. Not because of specific lies, but because of the barrier we put up between real work and our egos.
It may seem a lot less sexy to say that "we get you on the television or written about in a magazine," and much more tempting to say that you are a "media relations whisperer" (that's a real quote). It's harder to tell your parents that you do your best to make people look good, versus referring to yourself as a "brand strategist" that has "intellectual rigor, problem solving capabilities and the decisiveness to analyze cultural trends that define brands."
The reality is that it's scary to look at everything in its unvarnished terms and tasks. PR professionals are not doctors or lawyers. We are not saving lives or changing the world. Our tech startups could die tomorrow and most of the world would not care. That doesn't make PR people unimportant - but it does put things into perspective.
So why be honest? Because it's profitable, and fun, and you will be loved if you can actually do the things that you are meant to do. If you're using job obfuscation (jobfuscation?) to try and hide that your life is putting tweets in a calendar, or writing up corporate Biographies, or filling agendas, you should probably quit. That's what you do. That's your job. The more that you hide it, the deeper you pull yourself into a world that's not real, and the more damage you do to the industry and yourself.
Speak plain English, and your clients will love you. In a world of millions of marketers spewing meaningless jargon about how they'll "ensure a balance of Global brand identity and locally-relevant execution," you can be the lone agent who speaks plainly, specifically, and without ego.
Promise the minimum you can do in the most simplistic terms. Then deliver more.
Why? Because every time that you tell somebody that you'll do something without buzz or fluff, and then you actually deliver, you distance yourself from the crowd. In the end, nobody cares how intelligent, impressive, or connected you are. All that really matters is the results.