Charles Hartley
Charles Hartley

Way back in pre-historic times during my first days as a media relations manager, I started meeting with product managers and directors about new products and services they wanted to announce via news releases.

They invariably and incessantly wanted me to refer to these offerings as a “solution” or “solutions.” No more, no less. Nothing else mattered to them. One priority. A single agenda. Call it a solution, slap a headline and a few sentences around that word, and off we go. Wipe our hands clean of the project and move on to announcing the next solution two weeks later.

I received directives to write about broadband networking solutions, fiber optic cable solutions, semiconductor chip solutions, smartphone solutions, satellite radio solutions, to name only a few.

Name anything tech. Be assured marketers wanted to call it a solution. Just get that word “solution” in there, PR pawn, or go back to high school where you belong. Just get ‘outta here and ‘outta our ways. Your job is to push send.

“We want to announce our new solutions,” the marketers would tell me.

“What problem does the solution solve?” I would ask.

“Don’t worry about that. Just make sure you call this a solution. Nothing else matters.”

These banal conversations dragged on for decades. Solution became the catch-all vogue word to describe every product and service—no matter what it was, no matter if it solved any problems, no matter when we were making the announcement or to whom, regardless of making money and competitive differentiation, regardless of the survival of the business itself and the livelihoods of its employees.

“Why don’t we get more specific about what this product or service is—such as a semiconductor chip that enables faster downloads of Internet pages?”

“All our competitors call their stuff solutions so we have to do the same. Make sure you put the word solution in that news release. It’s gotta be there.”

Solution this, solution that, product solutions, service solutions, software solutions, hardware solutions.

Solutions for everything until the end of time and for all purposes, reasons, and applications everywhere across the seven continents. We are solutions. You are a solution. Everything we do is a solution. Every breath we take comes out as a solution. All things everywhere are solutions.

The more I ran into this madness, the more I wanted to take Mr. Clean liquid solution and wipe away all solutions from the lexicon of business to business communications.

“If we call this a solution, it doesn’t communicate anything about the value of the product or service,” I would say. “Solution is just a word. It doesn’t connect with humans on a visceral level that would make them resonate with the benefits they could gain from using this product or service. If competitors call their stuff solutions, then how can you expect your customers to be more interested in your stuff if you call yours the same thing?”

My questions never resonated with them. I must have used the wrong tone when I asked the question, or maybe I didn’t read the rooms correctly. Probably a lot of both—especially the latter.

In news release after news release for decades, marketers would review my drafts and insert the word “solution” into the text after I had taken it out and included more specific and enlivening words. I would again take it out. They would embed it back in.

It was a game of word chess, a literary power struggle, mental combat.

“News reporters don’t care about solutions just because you call something a solution,” I would tell them. “They crave compelling stories.”

When I would say this, marketers would often look at me with disinterest and as if they were puzzled about why I could ever think they wanted to hear any of this. They didn’t care about what reporters wanted. They sure didn’t care what I wanted. I didn’t know what I wanted but I sure knew I didn’t want any part of a solution.

All they cared about—no matter what anyone else wanted, no matter the product or service or business strategy—was making sure to label their product or service a solution.

Imagine you have conversations with 100 different people over your career over this same topic and they all keep saying the same thing: We want to call this a “solution.”

“But why?” I would ask.

“Because, well, we just do.”

I could never get them to explain their reasoning further other than “just call it a solution” because we say so.

Above everything else, the boring conference calls, the bossy and belligerent bosses, the super-uncomfortable performance views, my utmost career takeaway has been crummy conversations about one wimpy word: solution.

From a wide range of companies in a diverse spectrum of high-tech industries, this semantic discussion wore on like an intractable march into a sell-out to solution salvation. Hours and hours of discussions lasting days, weeks, years, and ultimately an entire career distilled down to a single-minded doltish desire by masses of people to use the word solution in news releases.

Forever misaligned, we never settled on a solution. We kept battling but never resolving. We talked past each other. We didn’t empathize, synthesize, or compromise.

Unlike guitarists, we never riffed off of each other’s ideas. Harmony and rhythm rocked nowhere. Dissonance and discord dominated our dopey dialogues.

A resolution was never heard. It was so absurd.

Surely it’s time to seek another scintillating solution.

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Charles Hartley is the president of Carolina Content & Media Relations Corporation based in Davidson, North Carolina. The company improves the quality of writing, content marketing, and media relations for high-tech businesses. He writes a tech humor blog titled "Tech Tales From the Hart" that can be accessed here: www.carolina-content.com. He can be reached at charles.hartley@carolina-content.com.