PR firms use jargon.

Yesterday, I moderated a panel at Atlanta Tech Village sponsored by BusinessWire on how to break into media. In the audience were a number of startups and quite a few Atlanta PR firms, including us of course. One of our panelists, a seasoned PR firm pro, kept using language that clearly frustrated the startups in the room. (I saw your faces twisting, yes I did!) I kept note of the PR firm speak that created some confusion.

Your PR-firms-speak decoderPanel-BusinessWire

  1. Embargo

This is a word PR firms and journalists use to mean a story (or a press release) is supposed to be confidential and unpublished until a certain date. While in our panel yesterday the idea was tossed around that journalists don’t respect embargoes, that’s not completely true–there’s nuance. In the startup world, embargoes aren’t as respected. For example, tech Crunch won’t embargo work.) However, as your company grows and becomes less of a startup and more of “an employer,” embargoes are going to matter to your PR team. Embargoes on video content for national news, like these examples, are very real–that’s why you see CEOs talking about mergers and acquisitions immediately after. Often, those pieces were recorded the morning of or the morning before. In these situations, the news about the acquisition, for example, was “embargoed.”

2. Embargo release date

This is the date on the material when a journalist in possession of “embargoed material” can publish or air it. National journalists like the Financial Times, New York Times, Bloomberg News, MSNBC, and similar definitely respect embargo dates in our experience. Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way for PR firms to let a journalist know there is actual date sensitivity, but that’s another topic.

3. Exclusive

An exclusive is a word PR firms use with journalists to let them know that no one else is getting the story, or that if that journalist would publish it, it would be the first time it is seen. Exclusive original content matters to serious media outlets. For example, in my column in Inc Magazine, while Inc. kindly allows me to republish content within certain parameters, timelines, and restrictions, my content must appear first and originally on Inc. That kind of policy is in place at most respected national business outlets. That’s why taking your blog posts and sending them to media generally doesn’t work. Your company’s blog is actually a media outlet. (If you’d like to dive into content marketing deeper, try our Content Marketing Field Guide.)

4.  Op-Ed

PR firms use “op-ed” as a shortcut for saying “opinion/editorial article.” Most major business publications use them, and so it’s a type of content that’s fun to produce and fun to read. My definition, a column is “op-ed.” Why it matters is that the other kind of content, news, is time-sensitive whereas op-eds are not.

5. News

Media and PR firms use “news” in a specific meaning that’s not clear to many marketers or beginners in the field. Real news has a “new.” You can generally tell is content is news or not news with the simple test that real news has a moment in time when it happened or matters. For example, when you release a study or new data, that data is released on a certain date. When a company is funded or acquired, there is an effective date. News happens in the moment. If your content is not tied to a specific point in time, it’s not news.

6. Briefing

Briefing means a journalist is interested in getting to know you but isn’t necessarily working on a story that you would fit in at the moment. Journalists take briefings to stay current and connected with the industry.

7. Pitch

PR firms “pitch” stories. It’s just like a sales pitch, only instead of selling a product PR firms are selling a story.

8. Fact sheet

Media loves to get the facts right the first time–in fact, nothing makes a good journalist more comfortable than having all the facts they need presented cleanly and crisply. Smart companies–and PR firms of course–help journalists do their job more efficiently by providing simple fact sheets on the company, key executives, and products.

9. B-Roll

When you watch the news, often the journalist is talking but what you’re seeing is imagery of a company, a place, or crowds. That “footage” that isn’t your spokesperson or the journalist is all B-roll. A-Roll, a word no one uses, is the primary feed of the story (the journalist and the people being interviewed). If you want to be on television, you want to provide good B roll. It makes it much easier to distribute your story.

10. On the record

This is probably my least favorite term because I am of the opinion everything is always on the record. However, some PR firms will ask that certain facts or issues not be reported even if they are disclosed–and the way that’s asked is, “can we keep this off the record?” or “are we on the record?”

I’d say don’t even go here–commit to transparency and share stories you want to be shared. If something truly needs to be “off the record,” don’t even share it with your PR firm.  The one exception here would be a crisis communication situation, where to give you the best service, PR firms truly need to know the full situation.