PR Speak – Talking the Talk

Press conference gone wrong

I recently got a call from a company looking to hire a PR agency for a press conference.  ‘Must be big news,’ I thought…a major corporate acquisition, a new reality show, a partnership with an A-list celebrity.  I asked for a few details and soon realized we were not speaking the same language.  He was about to release a new wine and wanted to generate some press coverage; I expected something a little more significant.  It’s not that his new wine had no news value or that I wasn’t interested – far from it.  It’s just that the term “press conference” held a different meaning for me than it did for him.

My native tongue, public relations, has its share of jargon, idioms and cryptic phrases.  But the conversation got me to thinking about public relations terms that are misleading in their simplicity, starting with “public relations” itself.  I suppose there is an element of relating to the public, but that does not begin to capture the practice of professional PR.  I’ll leave the discussion of what public relations means for another time.  In the interest of clearer communication between companies and their PR practitioners, I thought I’d elaborate on some of the terms that often get confused.

  • Press Conference.  Also known as a news conference, this is a staged event for the press (news media) where a company, organization or individual invites reporters to hear major news and ask questions.  It’s commonly used by political figures to make policy announcements (or respond to scandals!) and large companies to release news of unusual importance.  But think about it: if you’re asking the media to drop what they are doing to participate in a press conference, it better be some pretty big news.  The introduction of a new product or even the launch of a new brand might not warrant a press conference unless it’s an automobile or an Apple device. Story pitches, media tours, launch events and press releases serve as more appropriate PR tools for that kind of news.  And for truly big news, the gravity and urgency of which cannot possibly be conveyed in writing, we’d probably suggest any number of online tools, such as a virtual press briefing via Ustream. Of course if your news rivals game-changing technology or reframes the world of food and wine, we’ll gladly organize a press conference for you.
  • Press Release.  A frequently invoked term that sometimes gets garbled.  I’ve had executives talk about wanting to see more press releases.  “Fair enough…whatcha got that needs announcing?” I say.  Come to find out they want to see more press coverage, as in stories written about them. In some circles it seems the term “press release” has taken on a generic use to refer to press coverage or even a public relations campaign.  A press release is a document that announces news.  It should convey the important facts behind a story, and it should be written as news, capturing the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.  Before writing a press release, care should be given to answering the question “Is this really news?”  More than a few journalists bemoan the cascade of press releases they receive, and releases without real news provoke a special kind of ire.  To get a sense of the daily volume of company press releases, check out Business Wire early in the news day.  It’ll give you a headache.
  • Press Kit.  A collection of documents that tell different parts of a company’s story, for use as background by the media.  Common contents include biographies, company backgrounders, fact sheets and images.  A press kit for use with the media should not be confused with a sales kit.  A sales kit adorned with accolades, reviews, selling points, slogans and ad copy should not be used with the media, even if you call it a press kit.  Some of the contents might be similar, but using the same kit for press and sales would be a mistake. In fairness to sales, using the PR department’s press kit for sales purposes misses a huge opportunity to tout reviews and accolades and hammer home selling points.  And yes, we’d be happy to advise you on whether your press kit should be put online, sent on a USB drive or printed and mailed.
  • Off the Record/No Comment.  It’s not so much that these terms are misused, it’s that executives often view them as some sort of magic PR wand that will make problems go away.  Please don’t believe that; you’ll only make it worse.  There’s a place for “off the record” (although I usually tell clients if it’s not on the record, don’t say it), but that place is not after a statement has been made.  If something is off the record, it needs to be agreed to beforehand, not minutes, hours or days later when statement regret sets in.  “No comment” is easy to remember and a frequent refrain of professional sports figures and other celebrities, so it’s no surprise that many people see it as an authoritative response to a difficult question.  Careful.  Unless you claim celebrity status and truly don’t care what people say, you should reconsider a “no comment” reply.  Like it or not, “no comment” arouses suspicions, and it leaves the telling of your story to someone else.
  • Astroturfing. OK, I admit I had never heard this term until recently.  Apparently it refers to the practice of setting up an advocacy group for a particular cause or campaign and disguising it as a grassroots effort, just as AstroTurf is designed to look like real grass. We’ll leave that one to others.

Any other PR terms that get misused or are misunderstood?

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>