Jargon: Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.
The PR newbie – Chantel-Mariee Lewis, Research Intern
Starting as a research intern I thought I had a fairly good understanding of what PR was. I previously volunteered at a small PR company, handling social media and events but this would be my first time in an integrated comms agency. I quickly learned that alongside the initial tasks that come with starting any new role, there was also the unspoken assignment that everyone forgot to mention - learn the local language.
My first day in the office was like my first day in a new country. Decoding the jargon and acronyms that were being thrown around in team meetings and in emails was an endless challenge. What was the ‘national press’ and why did it differ to ‘trade press’? Who was KPI, and why were we hitting him?! And when I agreed to my first ‘sell-in’ to pitch a story, I thought it would be something much more complex than making a round of calls to journalists trying to get them to write an article.
I was told to look through the ‘media list’ which was far more than just a list of names. It was actually a carefully constructed list of journalists specific to this story. In Cision’s 2019 State of the Media report, 75% of journalists said that fewer than 25% of the pitches they receive are relevant. The subtle targeting of the list is actually what leads to the possible success of the story.
My first sell-in taught me that jargon is also used when communicating with journalists. A quick Google search of the word ‘embargo’ showed me it was all about the banning of ships leaving and entering a port – something I swiftly learnt was not relevant to my news story. Instead, the journalist was simply asking for the date the story could be published. Now, how serious the consequences are of the embargo being broken; I still don’t know - could we sue?
Nine months down the line, I understand how it’s so easy to slip into the routine of using jargon. It may be 1.75 seconds quicker to ask if a project is needed by ‘COP’ today. But are these 1.75 seconds really needed?
The PR veteran – Sarah Evans, Consultant
I hate jargon, I find it confusing and isolating. But sadly, I’ve come to realise that jargon is not that easy to avoid.
PR has its own jargon which can lure you into a false sense of security as you pretend to sound super smart as you bang on about ‘engagement plans’ and ‘toolkits’; when really all I mean is ‘ways to get people interested in the story’ or ‘what talking points to remember’.
Our job as communicators is to make sure our audience understand what we are talking about. For example, it’s being able to explain the difference between the online TV show “The Fox Problem” and the physical ‘fox problem’, of urban foxes causing chaos in cities - a valuable lesson I learnt as a young AE that I’d rather not go in to! The point is, we need to get our message across clearly and effectively, but that can be made all the more difficult when you’re also navigating your way through a jargon minefield. Is the interview going to take place ‘DTL’, will it be a ‘pre-rec’, will I need to give them an ‘off-the-record’ briefing etc? But before we even get to the pitching stage, as consultants we need to make sure our clients understand what our recommendations are.
Often, our client contact will be the in-house comms lead, who has as much, if not more, PR experience as we do, but that’s not always the case. Our day-to-day contact is not always someone who has a history in PR and therefore may not necessarily understand things that we would consider the basics. We can never assume they know the difference between an ‘exclusive’ or ‘general release’ nor the importance of an embargo or a briefing doc vs a briefing event. The last thing you need is to confuse your client more by sending them an email asking if they’re free for a ‘DTL’, ‘pre-rec’ interview and if they could please let you know by ‘COP’ as the opportunity aligns with the existing ‘LTDP’. When you indulge in too much jargon, it can be a dangerous game to assume your client always knows what you’re talking about.
Being surrounded by jargon means it can be difficult to escape it but working with interns and people who are new to PR is a great way to challenge yourself and pull yourself out of the PR jargon pit. For me, I think it makes me a better communicator. It forces me to take ownership of the language I use and to not hide behind a jargonistic veil. It challenges me to think about what other words I can use to describe what I’m doing and take the time to explain what I really mean when I talk about a ‘media strategy’ and what goes into it.
Not all jargon is bad, and I would argue that some of it is necessary and can even be a bit fun - ‘Prush’, anyone? AKA the PR adrenaline rush that comes with landing a piece of coverage, for those of you who were wondering…
But I do think it’s important you are aware of what words you choose and don’t just use jargon for the sake of trying to sound smart, because more often than not it will have the opposite effect.
So, here’s our jargon buster for old hands and newbies alike…
Briefing doc: A document designed to prepare the client ahead of an interview which usually contains the objectives of the interview, the suggested talking points and some likely questions.
Briefing event: An event that is arranged to brief people on a piece of research, or policy ask that the client is promoting.
COP: Close of play AKA end of the day (something I discovered was not that well known, after I received a very confused email back from a client one afternoon)
DTL: Down the line (NB, most definitely not to be confused with DTF)
Embargo: A date by which a press release or statement can be made public
Engagement Plan: This document usually contains story ideas and suggestions for how to get the media, politicians or other relevant groups and individuals interested in the work your client is doing.
EOW: End of week (again, not something that well known, which was also only realised after I received another confused email back from a client)
Exclusive: When a story is offered to one particular journalist or publication ahead of anyone else.
Pros: It is (almost) guaranteed coverage.
Cons: It can result in other publications not wanting to cover it.
General release: When a story is sent to numerous publications and journalists at the same time, to encourage as much coverage and publicity as possible.
KPI: Key performance indicators. Targets which are set at the beginning of a campaign, for example achieving one MP meeting per month or securing one piece of national coverage per month.
LTDP: Long term delivery plan
Media list: Usually an excel sheet that contains suggested journalists to contact for a particular story.
National press: Media publications or outlets that are available across the country. For example, the ITV, The Guardian or BBC Radio 4.
The Noddies: Filming a presenter nodding along to questions a producer has actually asked earlier.
OB: Outside broadcast (as in recording something physically outside)
Off the record: Sharing information with a journalist that they are not allowed to publish or attribute to the source.
On background: Sharing information with a journalist that they are allowed to publish but not attribute to the source.
Pitch: The ‘sales’ process of suggesting or offering a story to a journalist on the phone or in an email.
Pre-rec: Pre-recorded interview
Prush: PR adrenaline rush. The feeling PR people get when a piece of coverage lands, or when a journalist has agreed to cover your story after you have been pitching for hours/days.
Sell-in: The process of calling and emailing journalists to encourage them to cover your story.
Toolkit: The document that contains the key talking points for a campaign and all additional information, for example sources of information and background context/thinking.
Trade press: The media outlets that are subject specific, for example they only cover stories that are about printing or dogs or property law, for example.