How to Interview a Potential PR / Marketing Hire

June 4, 2007



Interviewing job applicants came up in discussion last week amongst peers. Here’s my short list:

1. Shut up.

Don’t jump in and fill in the pauses. Let them talk. Don’t spend 35 minutes of a 45-minute interview telling the candidate about your company. Amazing what you’ll find out when there are a few moments of silence. Remember, you’re looking to hire a communications professional who has to know how to communicate.

2. Look for a confluence of values

The resume matters only if the candidate has integrity, a strong work ethic, and both a desire and a need to succeed. Plus whatever other personality characteristics are important to you.

HR people, and Tony Mikes of Second Wind, will tell you this.

3. Give the candidate a writing test.

4. Go ahead…ask the “best” and “worst” questions.

Might as well stir things up. Try “What’s the most embarrassing moment in your career.” A candid colleague…a very successful PR VP…told me that early on she was pitching a business story when the editor asked her if the company in question was private or publically owned, and she didn’t know. End of conversation.

It’s all about lessons learned.


5. Read lots of other advice from HR veterans. Such as:

5 Ways to learn the most about a job candidate


Now back to our regularly-scheduled feature:



This can be a refreshing term when used in a business communications context. As in: “keep your website evergreen by frequently supplying new data on…”



The prepositional phrase: “In today’s competitive business world…”

Perhaps the ultimate throw-away. If you’re in business, can you think of a set of words that could illicit more of a sarcastic “Duh!” from the reader. What’s worse, this phrase is often followed by the revelation that “you need to be more competitive” or something close.




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Slough Off the Cruft

May 21, 2007

A few more observations about overused words mentioned in David Meerman Scott’s blog post Gobbledygook Manifesto. By the way, his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, is coming in June. I’ve seen an advance copy – lots of information and ideas on building networks (and customers) via blogs and RSS.


“World class.”

The term seems to suggest that, no matter where the reader lives, there is always somewhere else in the world where everyone has higher standards than “us undiscerning schmucks that live right here.” Once upon a time, “world class” indicated that the product or product design was viable on more than one continent. Then it became a favorite edit-in adjective to imply that the product or service is so great that it ought to be deemed the standard of the world. Result of overuse: it’s almost as trite as “super.”

“Easy to use.” Yep, nothing’s hard.



It signifies anything unpleasant that accumulates over time. As in dust under the bed. You could use it to describe an efficiency-stealing bad habit that makes operations progressively worse.


Synonym for “behave” or “conduct.” As in: ” Jason’s tech savvy lets him comport himself with confidence.”

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Geek Redefined

May 12, 2007

Definition of “Geek:”

Circa 1970 (Merriam-Webster): a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.

Circa 1990 (common usage): a nerd who loves computer code and techie gadgets.

Circa 2007 (Wikipedia): an individual who is fascinated by knowledge and imagination, usually electronic or virtual in nature.

Wow, geeks have come a long way.

Time was when “geek” was synonymous with “dork”….a nerd with bad clothes and a worse haircut, with no social skills, who entertained himself by programming stuff on a computer. Imagine sitting in front of a computer all day!!

Now every information worker sits in front of a computer all day, occasionally weeping and wailing when their PC jams up. We often plead with geeks to help us. We need geeks and darn it, we like geeks. We want them around during the business day. Best Buy proudly flaunts the Geek Squad as a service advantage.

To be a geek has become a good thing. Now we apply it to anyone who is knowledgeable and maybe a little obsessed with something. Business Week lovingly refers to “manufacturing geeks.” USA Today has deemed turf scientist Trey Rogers the “Lawn Geek.” There’s the “Weather Geek.” There’s Even the Wall Street Journal uses the word freely.

Geek Squad Baby Geek

Some geeks seem to defy business gravity and get rich. You won’t hear anybody these days saying: “Yeah, those Google twins Sergey and Larry…real computer geeks…what a couple of losers.” Could Geekdom even become sexy? Power and money are intoxicating, and some geeks wield a lot of it.

Computer wizardry not-withstanding, one disappointing fact remains: the engineering profession in general (which includes geeks) continues to have a huge PR problem. Little jabs are frequent, such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus flippantly dissing and dismissing engineers on Jay Leno’s show recently. More importantly, there’s the fact that fictional writers completely ignore the profession – there hasn’t been an engineer role model in a television show (even acknowledged as a character’s incidental profession) since the widowed father of My Three Sons (Ed McMurray) back in the 60s. What a great guy “Steve Douglas” was.

Meanwhile, however, the press can’t ignore the savvy geeks who cash in quickly with ingenious enterprises such as YouTube and MySpace. When news stories tie Web 2.0 and IT engineering with business creativity and success, perceptions begin to change. This is a good thing. Long live the Geeks!

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Robust Me

May 2, 2007


“Oh jeez, not another flexible, scalable, groundbreaking, industry-standard, cutting-edge product from a market-leading, well-positioned company! I think I’m gonna puke!” says marketing advice author David Meerman Scott in his blog post Gobbledygook Manifesto. He tallied several hundred thousand press releases last year with help from the wire services and news aggregators, and found over-use of bloated and vague terms like “robust,” “world class,” and “easy to use.”

The adjective “robust” has always been a little fuzzy in my book. It could mean “heavy duty,” or “purposely over-designed.” Or does it simply mean that, as opposed to being barely capable of doing the job it’s intended to do, the product in question is really, really, absolutely designed and/or built to do the job it’s intended to do?

More on Gobbledygook words soon.



“Pulse” as a verb.

As in: “information that pulses through the network,” or “the extra throughput tends to pulse the bottom line.” Use it to convey vibrancy, authority, intensity or resilience.

pulse marketing communications


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Nowhere Else in Any Universe

April 3, 2007

IT’S LAME: “Unparalleled”

Yes, it’s of epic proportion. It’s of cosmic consequence. It’s unparalleled.

It seems that nearly every company and every product is unparalleled these days. How is this possible? Does anyone believe it, or does using this adjective without including substantiation merely serve to build skepticism of all the words and claims that follow it.

62% of the business editors Smith-Winchester surveyed recently deemed “unparalleled” to be overused in business publicity. The majority also indicated that “Unsurpassed” was also overused. Our suggestion: back up the claim…and use only it if you can. By the way, “unparalleled” isn’t a synonym for “unique.”

IT’S GAME: “Rich Medium”

The multiple meaning of the word “medium” can serve you well. Use it creatively to refer to an industrial controls environment, or a business environment resulting from a trend….a software capability or communications mode… a culture for growing things, like ideas (literally or figuratively). Mix in a dash of prognostication, on occasion.

Hot Link

Podcasts from Grammer Girl may actually prove that someone can make grammar tips popular. She’s getting national press. And it’s about time that someone helped us all get tuned into the rules. Check out her blog Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Grammar Girl blog

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This Paperclip is a Solution

March 6, 2007

paperclip is a solution

IT’S LAME: “Solutions”

In our recent survey of business editors, 68% rated the word “solutions” as overused in press releases and other business marketing communications. This is not to conclude that the word is meaningless. Problem-solving is an expected part of the sales process, and in many cases, it’s a critical element of a product or service where there is application-related “value-add.” Too bad that “solutions” has been ruined by overuse, especially by producers of standardized, off-the-shelf products.

Web home pages and capabilities brochures are peppered with it; we’ve seen as many 6 or 8 uses in the first few paragraphs. When it comes right down to it, everything you really need to buy is a solution. A paper clip is a solution. So there isn’t much punch or insight that comes from calling it a solution.

Substitute words you could use? “Answers” or “remedies” … or simply leave the word out. Example: “ABC Company provides business software solutions that help…” can be edited to “ABC Company provides business software that helps…” without losing any meaning or clarity.

It’s even more dangerous to rely on “solutions” to anchor a tag line, or even a whole branding strategy. In his article No more solutions, please in the February 12th 2007 issue of B-to-B magazine, Mike Stefaniak comments: “By 2000, the term was quickly becoming devalued from overuse. Today, it’s dead—void of any capacity to differentiate a company’s brand.”

“Solving problems is now as expected as quality, speed, innovation, ‘highly-engineered’ or a host of other prerequisites for competing. Nonetheless, far too many business-to-business companies continue to stake their brands to entry-level attributes. And ‘solutions’ remains at the top of the list.”



In this era of business collaborations and partnerships, how do you describe two people or business entities that are in sync, working together as events and opportunities unfold. “Mapping” is a novel term. It connotes both “tracking” where you’ve been, and also looking forward…breaking new ground. In the right context, it can impart a sense of achievement. Speaking of which, we’d like to do some mapping in sync with your thoughts and wishes. Please feel free to contribute power words or sour words (lame or game), or information on resources for business-to-business communicators.


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Leading is a Throw-away

February 15, 2007

IT’S LAME: “Leading” as an adjective

I recently surveyed several hundred business publication editors about words and phrases I felt were overused. The word “leading” (as in “… a leading producer of …”) was voted one of the worst. 94% surveyed felt it was overused. One editor called the word an automatic “throw-away” when he sees it in a press release.

Sticking the word “leading” into the description of a company is so common and so rote, it is meaningless. Where are the “followers?” Given that everybody uses it, “leading” certainly doesn’t mean #1 or even #2.

If you want to impress your prospects, quantify your company’s achievements, or describe your position and your USP within your market, then back up your claim. But watch out for slipping superlatives in there just for the heck of it. (i.e. unparalleled, unsurpassed). More about this in future posts.

IT’S GAME: “Distinguish” (to compare)

“Distinguish.” Use it in a sentence that specifically differentiates your product or service from the competition. Doing this helps us stay away from using broad, unsubstantiated brag-and-boast statements about being the best.

Example: “The unique ‘color-all-the-way-through’ feature of Monarch composite decking and railing distinguishes it from other wood or composite products where scratches and gouges show through the surface coloring.”

We want to post your opinions. Please comment on our “lame” and “game” choices, or add others.


For more ideas on avoiding formulaic writing, read one of the better articles on writing powerful press releases, by Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications: Write a World-Class Release

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Welcome to Smith-Winchester’s Blog

February 15, 2007

Improving the vocabulary used in publicity is what this blog is all about. From press releases to advertising…even an occasional company mission statement.

Language is the blood and guts of business-to-business marketing communications. There are many examples of great writing and vocabulary used to describe complicated product offerings and value propositions…precise, colorful wording that sells. But we also see many abuses: lazy clichés and empty buzzwords, AdSpeak shoe-horned into editorial, and other offenses that inhibit the reader’s understanding and their desire to learn more. In many cases, repeated abuses are downright annoying to the intended audience (and to editors, to be sure). Bad writing can tarnish the brand.