Stop talking bullshit

jargon cartoon

There’s too much waffle in the world.  A nice blog post by my friend and creative genius Dave Milligan-Croft, found that he was exposed to more than 7,000 brands in one day. You can read his excellent ‘Brands for Breakfast’ post here.

The flow of communications from brands doesn’t just stop at the visual. There’s also the bullshit written in most corporate communications. Whether its on websites, sales collateral, presentations or (most criminal of all) in press releases there’s a massive case of verbal diarrhoea sweeping the nation.

What can PR agencies do to stem the flow of internal corporate bullshit they are expected to communicate externally?

Firstly, you need to get familiar with the concept of The Fog Index. I’ve used this formula for many years when copy-writing press releases or corporate communications for clients. It combats the common problem of new clients not understanding why you’re not called their spade a ‘mobile excavation device’.

The Fog Index measures the readability of the English language. It enables your PR material to be read easily by the intended audience (ie: journalists, opinion formers and end-users).

Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

So how do you apply The Fog Index to your PR material? 

  1. Select a passage (such as one or more full paragraphs) of around 100 words. Do not omit any sentences;
  2. Determine the average sentence length. (Divide the number of words by the number of sentences.);
  3. Count the “complex” words: those with three or more syllables. Do not include proper nouns, familiar jargon, or compound words. Do not include common suffixes (such as -es, -ed, or -ing) as a syllable;
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words; and…
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4.
The formula looks like this: 

fog index

If that’s all too mathematical and complex then simply do what one senior PR person told me at the beginning of my PR career when I was a press officer at GMPTE on Portland Street in Manchester:

“Just call a spade a spade and you’ll be alreet.”

Back in 1994, the Plain English Campaign campaign scored a victory when a European Commission directive declared that any term in a consumer contract can only be enforced if it is written in ‘plain and intelligible language’ – which is worth knowing if anyone tries to baffle you.

You can read more about the fog index and other useful readability tools here. Hopefully it will make your world a step closer to becoming a bullshit-free zone.

About Peter Davies

I'm a Manchester PR agency man. I work at RMS, the UK-based independent PR and marketing agency, I'm also a daddy and a football referee. Call me on 07779 033 016.
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