By Rachel Antman
Public relations professionals often advise clients to avoid using jargon when they address or speak to people outside their industry. Yet we don’t always follow our own advice. I, for one, am guilty of using PR-speak, which I’ll call PRench, when I’m talking to people less familiar with the world of PR. To assuage my guilt, I’m taking this opportunity to “translate” a few terms:
Pitch: This “inside baseball” word has nothing to do with baseball. We define pitches as story ideas that we propose to the media.
Source: A person who can offer insight into or commentary on a particular topic. PR people often propose or provide sources to media.
Editorial calendars (AKA “edcals”): Media outlets publish these calendars to alert potential advertisers to planned story topics and themes of upcoming issues. But they are also helpful to PR people, who can “pitch” stories or clients as sources relating to these topics. Most outlets publish these annually with the caveat that they are subject to change.
Placement: A placement typically refers to coverage in a media outlet that your PR team has secured, or “earned,” on your behalf. No payment to the outlet is required.
Hit: Not related to baseball or pop music. Same as a placement.
Pay-for-play: An arrangement in which an outlet will publish or air a story in return for a fee or a contact list of your company’s (or your client’s) vendors. This is essentially “paid” coverage, which might be in the form of an advertorial or sponsored content. What are these? I’ll borrow the explanations from PR Boutiques International, which recently published a blog on different forms of paid content: Advertorials are “paid advertising in the form of articles or other editorial content,” and sponsored content, as defined by Hubspot, is “a type of promotional media that’s paid for by an advertiser, but created and shared by another brand, influencer, or publisher.”
By-lined article or by-liner: This is an article supplied by a guest author that an editor decides to publish at no cost to the supplier. Also called a “contributed article.” Op-eds are type of by-liner written for advocacy purposes. By-liners differ from advertorials or sponsored content, which, as mentioned above, the supplier pays for directly through a fee or indirectly through a vendor list.
Media contacts: These are reporters and editors with whom a PR professional has a relationship. The better the relationship, the better the chance that the reporter or editor picks up the phone when you call or responds to your emails.
Exclusive: A news story that an outlet publishes in advance of wider dissemination.
Embargo: The date when media are “allowed” to publish a story that you’ve provided in advance. What’s tricky about embargoes is that they’re not legally binding. They are essentially requests. For this reason, I’m not a fan, but some of my colleagues are.
Boilerplate: At the end of most press releases, you’ll see a standard paragraph about the company or organization issuing the release. That is the boilerplate.
Advertising: Stuck this in to see if you’re paying attention. PR and advertising are both subsets of marketing, but they are not the same. If you want to learn more about advertising, talk to John!
I hope that these PRench translations are helpful. But they represent only a sample of terms that PR people use with abandon. Don’t be shy about asking your PR teams to explain themselves when they start spouting jargon. PR, as many point out, is not brain surgery. But if you don’t stop us, we can give surgeons a run for the money when it comes to confusing terminology. And, at least in my case, bad handwriting as well. But that’s another story entirely — one that I won’t be pitching.