Weird and Confusing Public Relations Terms Explained

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!

Hipster teacher against big blackboard with mathematical symbols

Even if you are educated and experienced in the Public Relations industry, you’ll likely stumble upon words that sound completely made up. No, I’m not even talking about trying to keep up with the latest social media slang, I mean words that have been around for a hundred or more years now.

Though these are words I use on a regular basis with my clients, I realize I can’t expect them to inherently know their meanings, well because I’m not sure I really do! So for my own benefit, and hopefully yours, here’s a brush up on some weird and confusing PR terms that might trip you up.

Pitch – I think most people could figure this one out if they tried, but I recently had a client point out that  while they understood the concept of a pitch, they didn’t really know what all it entailed. Valid question. A pitch (most often to a member of the media) is a note (most often in the form of an email) written to inform and gauge interest in writing a news story on your suggested topic or conducting an interview with your client.

A good pitch contains a few key elements: A quick intro that spells out the “What’s in it for me?” for the reporter, background on the expertise of your client that you’re pitching to be interviewed, a to-the-point close that asks the reporter if you may connect him/her with your client directly.

Hits – Simply put, a hit is media coverage. When you hear someone refer to the number of “hits” a press release, op-ed, etc. received, it means how many times the news was picked up on different outlets.

B-Roll – We live in a highly visual society. The more we do to supply the media with quality, ready-to-go visual elements, the more we increase our chances of receiving hits. B-roll is previously recorded video footage, which is often shown in the background of a TV or online news story while the reporter is verbally providing the details of the story. B-roll may be used over and over again by the media, depending upon how generic it is (i.e. a scene of people walking down a street).

Traction – In Public Relations, when we say something is gaining traction, we mean that one or more media outlets have responded with wanting more information. This will likely result in a hit for your client, so long as you provide prompt, quality responses that they can use as part of their story.

Boilerplate – A boilerplate is a short (two sentences to a paragraph) summary on your client that is most commonly placed at the end of a press release. This gives reporters a quick low-down on who you are without them needing to spend time doing that research. A boilerplate is also strategically placed at the end of the release so as not to interfere with the important story at hand.

Release – If you haven’t pick up on it by now, a release is a shortened way of saying “press release” or “news release.” These are issued when you have newsworthy information to communicate with the media. A release should be factual, unbiased (as much as possible) and be formatted with the most essential (who, what, where, when, why) questions being answered first and then growing out to the lesser important information toward the bottom. In PR we call this the upside-down pyramid, where we put foundational information at the top.

Advisory – A media advisory is not the same  as a press release! Don’t overthink it, look at the core words here. A media advisory “advises” the media of an event that is about to take place. In a media advisory you’re literally sending the media an invitation to come and cover the event firsthand, think ribbon cutting, press conference or groundbreaking. In contrast, the release we just talked about “releases” information about the event as soon as it has taken place, providing reporters with the full story, quotes etc. so they may cover the story even if they weren’t able to attend.

Earned Media – Earned media is at the core of what makes Public Relations different from advertising. In advertising, you pay for guaranteed placement. In PR, you “earn” your media placement, but you also don’t control where, when or how it’s conveyed. Overall, earned media is perceived as more trustworthy than paid advertising because it’s coming from a third party source. Not to mention the huge difference in price!

Owned Media – Owned media is your client’s website, blog and business social media profiles. You have created this content and your own it. It’s not content that’s been published by a third party source, like the media. You have put it out there and you have control to alter it as you wish.

In-House – Having an “in-house” PR professional, means you have one or more employees who work exclusively on one business’s PR efforts. In contrast, a PR agency is an outside firm with many different businesses as clients. PR professionals take on other forms as well, such as a consultants. A PR consultant is a bit of a middle ground between in-house and agency options. They still work with multiple businesses, but have fewer clients overall and offer more of a boutique or concierge service. More to come on this topic in a future blog!

Byline – It’s often said that in PR you don’t get a byline. For the PR professional pushing out the content, this is  true. However, you can absolutely earn a byline for your client which is an essential part of a successful media relations campaign! Even though you are producing the content, the byline would go to your client. These mostly commonly come in the form of a guest column or letter to the editor.

Syndication – Traditionally speaking, syndication refers to a news service, like the Associated Press, that takes a single story and places it on several websites or in several outlets nation/worldwide. Syndication now also includes blogs and other social sharing sites who will syndicate content from other bloggers or news outlets. When a piece of client coverage is syndicated, it means that the same story ran in multiple media outlets.

What other weird or confusing Public Relations terms have you heard, but are not sure what they mean? Ask and I’ll (try to) answer!

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