“Innovation” – does it belong on toilet paper, or in PR?

Toilet rollAs a high-flying PR superstar one of my occasional responsibilities, beyond the 5-star restaurant lunches, exclusive parties and celebrity endorsements, is making sure we have enough toilet paper in the office.

Yet during my most recent re-stocking, I noticed something on the side of the packet: apparently this particular manufacturer of ablutionary tissue promises “innovation” in its products. I have to admit, I’m not sure precisely what constitutes the cutting edge in toilet paper (or why you’d ever want one), but it did make me think: just how often does PR use words such as “innovation”, “leading” or “revolutionary” without necessarily being able to back those claims up?

My problem with such words is two-fold. First, saying that a product is providing something completely new, or that an organisation is at the forefront of its field is, while eye-catching, a pretty bold claim to make. Second, over-use of such words massively dulls their impact. If every product is innovative and every company is the world’s leading, pretty soon audiences will adopt the Mandy Rice-Davies approach to the claims we make: “They would, wouldn’t they?”.

You can argue that these words provide a useful shorthand for the reader or journalist: yet overuse has already rendered “leading” into something of an in-joke and “innovation” isn’t too far behind. The fact is, as PRs our job is to ensure we’re communicating these ideas in a way that is captivating, eye-catching and easily understandable to the audience. If we have to fall back on clichés, then we’ve already failed.

The old adage is “show, don’t tell”: rather than just saying something is innovative or leading, show why. Does a product have a capability that’s never been seen before? Then explain that. Has the company grown in areas nobody has entered? Demonstrate how. Is the way in which we work about to be revolutionised? Then explain how things will change (hopefully for the better).

PRs are supposed to be storytellers, so we need to be sure we’re telling the best story we can about our clients. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just had a great idea for a WiFi-boosting toilet brush.

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