How You’re Killing Your Pitches (and How to Stop)


I’m always telling my Second City students that “specificity is the key to comedy.” It’s important, though, for everything else when it comes to communicating. When you’re vague, you’re really being lazy. You’re assuming I’ll know what you mean by saying the absolute bare minimum. You’re also communicating that you possibly don’t know what you’re trying to say and hoping that I’ll figure it out for you.

I see this in publicist pitches all the time, and I see it in the entrepreneurial community too. Nowhere does this shine through more than in a pitch or press release.

PR Daily cooked up a list of 20 words and phrases you should cut from your pitches for exactly this reason, and they basically impart this wisdom: Quit using buzzwords and use your own words. Here’s that list, relayed to the publication from MichaelSMARTPR and New York Times tech columnist David Pogue.

  • Landmark
  • Revolutionary
  • Groundbreaking
  • Breakthrough
  • Turnkey
  • State of the art
  • Best in class
  • Cutting-edge
  • Leading-edge
  • Best-of-breed
  • Awe-inspiring
  • Decadent
  • Sumptuous
  • Breathtaking
  • Extraordinary
  • World-renowned
  • World-class
  • Stunning
  • Beautiful
  • Dramatic

The pair who made this list say these words undermine your credibility. I don’t know if it does that per se, but I think it does instill a sense of skepticism about what you’re saying. A storytelling maxim comes into play here: show, don’t tell.

Instead of telling me your company or business idea is “groundbreaking,” tell me how it is. What extremely radical, exciting thing are you doing? And can you tell it to me factually, without letting your emotions get involved?

Many people can’t, which is truly ironic because many journalists will pass on pitches that are very very vague. But it makes sense: If you don’t care enough about your pitch to make it clear what you’re saying, why should I care at all?

There’s no shortage of ideas out there, so stop cutting yours off before they even have a chance to be fully considered. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. (He also co-runs a blog behind the DePaul class, DIY Game Dev.) He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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