A PR Intern’s Guide to Agency Lingo

If you’ve scored your first tech PR internship this summer, congratulations and welcome to the *dark side (some jargon already!) You’re about to be thrust into the fascinating world of public relations –  where people naturally speak their own private language with various business slang and PR lingo. To get ahead of the game and save yourself some assimilation time, here’s a primer on current PR/biz jargon – at least the kind we use in New York tech PR.

PR intern’s guide to agency lingo

*Dark Side – Okay, we in PR take offense to this shady designation. When a journalist decides to transition to public relations, they may say they’re “going over to the dark side.” Truth is, it’s not that dark. PR people and reporters work very closely every day, and are very much in the same business of storytelling.

Air cover – PR pros are not top guns, paratroopers, or bombardiers; air cover refers to media visibility that supplements or helps support more substantial stories — or even other departments’ initiatives. The PR team might pitch some less tailored info about the company for general brand visibility ahead of a new product announcement or a big funding announcement.

Earned media – Interns need to learn this term first, since it’s among the things clients expect from their agencies. As opposed to paying for advertising (or maybe in addition to it), PR pros earn media coverage by pitching stories reporters want to write, and readers/viewers want to see.

Phoner – When we set up meetings or interviews with clients and reporters or analysts, sometimes it’s an in-person discussion, but more often people are too busy for face time, so we arrange a “phoner.”

KPIs – You will see this acronym on proposals or client briefs. It stands for Key Performance Indicators, and it’s how we show we’ve met client performance goals or met a commitment for deliverables.

Boilerplate – If a client asks you or a colleague to create a new boilerplate, they’re not talking about cooking or heating. It’s the final paragraph of a press release that contains background on the company in question. Actually the term originates with metal printing plates of prepared text that were distributed to local newspapers.

Heads down – This phrase does not refer to low self-esteem. But if one of us is up against a deadline and intensely working on a single project, she (usually an upper level person – AAEs don’t have the luxury of such proclamations) will announce that she is “heads down” – meaning give a wide berth and don’t bother her until she arises from her bleary-eyed, hunched over position at her desk.

In the weeds – Particularly in the world of high-tech PR, it is easy to get trapped deep in the details when writing PR content like a byline, white paper, or a media pitch. This refers to the often esoteric, deeply technical aspects of our clients’ offerings. You don’t want to drag tech journalists too deep into the weeds; that’s what industry analysts like Gartner are for. It’s our job to translate the dry, mechanical details into digestible narratives for broader audiences.

Pre-pitch – A new PR intern may know what a media pitch is, and may even know what an exclusive is; but a pre-pitch is an early outreach to media contacts before a piece of news has been officially announced.

Bump! – As a verb, PR people will “bump” a deliverable up the chain of command to get final edits or approval. Often used with a gleeful exclamation point (because the PR pro is so pleased to get a task off her list), it’s a speedy one-word proclamation.

Flag – In your first week working in a PR office, you’ll notice everybody flagging. Huh? Back in my day, flagging meant failing a test – getting an F. But PR agency people often need to flag media stories for clients, either because it may have a negative mention of their brand – or in preparation for reactive media pitching. “Flagging” is also used in media training as a technique to emphasize certain responses to a reporter’s question.

Evergreen – Journalists, marketing, and public relations pros often strive to create a specific type of content that will remain relevant for the long term — evergreen content stays fresh because they cover topics and angles consumers will always be interested in, as opposed to more obscure, timely themes.

UVM – A dewy young intern may think UVM is a prominent college, but UVM refers to the number of unique visitors per month that a news website receives. Interns will hear this on day one and see the acronym constantly when completing coverage recaps or compiling media lists.

Crossing the wire – It sounds like an explosion is imminent; but it’s a routine practice of putting a press release out via a wire service like PR Newswire. “Crossing the wire” comes from a bygone era when news services communicated via electrical telegraphy.

If you’re a new tech PR intern, study the above terms to prepare for that first day. But, sorry to report, while you’re mastering PR office lingo, you will simultaneously need to master the lingo of technology. In our case, it’s adtech; get ready for an acronym tornado: DMP, CDP, iOT, OTT, DOOH… but that’s one for another post. See this earlier post for tips on how to go from PR intern to permanent hire.

Did I miss any interesting PR office lingo? Let us know @CrenshawComm.

How To Go From PR Intern To Permanent Hire

If you’re an aspiring public relations pro and have nabbed your first internship, congrats! Soon your head will be spinning as you’re surrounded by new people in a fast-paced environment. If it’s a good internship, you’ll learn a lot, get a flavor for what PR is all about, and end up with a clearer idea of where you want to go in your career.

Not all internships turn into entry-level jobs, and maybe you don’t want them to be. But in case a desirable spot opens at the right moment, it’s important to dazzle not only the bosses, but the full staff – since basically everybody’s your boss when you’re an intern. I asked several veteran PRs who were able to parlay a single internship into a career how they did it.

PR tips on going from intern to perm

Be noticed

It’s easy to sit at your desk and wait for assignments, especially when you’re new and don’t know the lay of the land. But it’s better to be noticed — in a positive way. Staff might be shy about giving work to inexperienced interns, or they may not be well organized. If you sense that, keep asking for work. Update your supervisor frequently (but not too frequently) on what you’re doing and when you anticipate finishing. If you have a particular skill or desire, let it be known! Showing enthusiasm as well as an obvious work ethic can only help. Be proactive, but not pushy.

Be professional

As an intern, you’ll be thrown into the fray with little knowledge of the workplace culture, dress code, personalities or even workload. Until you’ve become acculturated, err on the side of professionalism. Speak, behave, and even dress just a little bit more conservatively than you ordinarily would. Be friendly and relaxed, yet punctual, diligent, and not too chatty. Stay away from overly personal questions to colleagues, and avoid gossip at all costs.

Go the extra distance

It’s a cliche because it’s true; you’re likely to stand out if you go above and beyond in small ways. Read, study, and volunteer for tasks no one else wants to do. Offer helpful suggestions. A five-star intern at a PR firm will work hard to understand the business. One of the first things I did here (yes, I was an intern, too) was to study each client to learn what they do and how our PR programs work for them. Crenshaw partner Chris Harihar claims the secret to his success when he started years ago as a PR agency intern is that he read every relevant journalist and trade magazine to flag relevant news for the team internally – even on the weekends! Who wouldn’t hire a guy like that?

There are no stupid questions

It would be great and impressive if when given a task, you can just go and knock it out like you’ve been doing it for years. But, odds are, there will be questions, and the worst thing you can do is to muddle through without asking for fear of looking ignorant. Do your best to think a step ahead: have a laptop or pad and pen at the ready if direction is given verbally. Always ask the deadline for a given task and where you should direct any questions that might come up later. When communicating by email, keep your questions and comments short and to the point, but don’t be bashful about asking.

If you make a mistake

An intern may think she’s blown all chances of a permanent hire with a mistake. But I would argue that mistakes make us more human and relatable — and can elicit empathy. Consider the young woman who showed up a month early for a Skype interview at Microsoft and proceeded, as anyone would, to send a note to the recruiter asking what’s up. Her self-deprecating tweet about the mistake went viral, which prompted Microsoft reps to offer reassurance. Admitting a mistake and being able to laugh at yourself shows a certain type of confidence and good nature and can even endear you to your bosses. As a multitude of CEOs have learned, trying to bury mistakes can end up creating a “PR” nightmare.

It’s a small PR world

Even if you know there won’t be a full-time position opening after the internship, you should still give it your best. You never know if a month or a year down the line, an agency may need an account coordinator or digital assistant.  The New York PR industry is a small world where lots of people know one another. PR managers are happy to recommend stellar interns for jobs at other agencies. Why not ask for a recommendation letter when you leave? It can be an asset to crack that first entry-level PR job. Here at Crenshaw, we actively seek out interns who have the potential to be permanent hires.

Become an asset

The above add up to one overriding goal of an internship: becoming a valued asset to the company team. Whenever possible, offer to complete task that nobody asked you to do – a task that might add value to whatever the staff is working on. If the agency has a regular blog, offer to write a post, suggesting a topic. Volunteer to check in media at a client press event if you sense the team needs extra hands. Doing quality work with a good attitude will endear you to an agency. If the team will miss you once the internship is over, you have become an asset, and you’ll have a better chance of being hired.
Several of us are former interns, including yours truly!

PR Internship Dos And Don’ts

by guest blogger Lauren Silverman

In PR, tangible experience is just as important as classroom experience (if not more). Real-world opportunities build skills and provide an integral part of any career path. It is important to know at the outset that internships are a two-way street and it’s the intern’s responsibility to maximize the experience.

This summer at Crenshaw Communications I’ve added to my internship acumen. Here are some of my best tips to make your internship more meaningful:

Do be hungry. A former supervisor told me this; be hungry for more information and experience. Ask to sit in on meetings and try new tasks. Make yourself invaluable—the company should notice your absence.

Don’t dress for the job you have. I’ve always lived by the mantra that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Dress appropriately for work and wear pieces you feel good in. If you feel confident, your work will reflect that.

Do “fail forward”. The best part of an internship is that the job provides the best opportunities to learn from your experiences; that is key! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but make sure you learn from them if you do.

Don’t suffer from device-itis. PR is one of the few fields where you’re encouraged to be social media-savvy and your job might require some tweeting or Facebook posting. However, allot a certain amount of time for browsing and don’t overdo it.

Do read up, be in the know. As a PR professional, it’s beneficial to know about pop culture and celebrity gossip. You’re expected to “keep up with the Kardashians” as well as current events and industry news. Stay attuned by picking up a trade magazine or browsing your favorite news source, it’s a good way to show you’re aware of the world around you.

Don’t re-invent the wheel. When writing a document for the first time, be sure to review older office files for examples or do a Google search before asking for help. By taking initiative, you’re proving to be self-reliant and proactive, two great intern qualities!

It goes without saying, but don’t forget to keep in touch with your mentors and team members after an internship ends! These are some general guidelines, but interning is a never-ending learning process. What are some other recommendations you might give to a current or prospective intern?

Get Outside! (Your Comfort Zone) Conquering Common PR Phobias

It’s graduation season, which means the beginning of new and promising PR careers and summer internships.  It can be a lot to handle all at once, and you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone every now and then to truly succeed.
Here are the top 4 phobias I see from those just starting out in public relations.

Pitching over the phone

This is undoubtedly the top fear I see from interns and entry-level PR pros.  There is always a certain apprehension about picking up the phone and calling a reporter, but the truth is, they don’t bite.  Be smart and only call those who are right for the story.  Read up on the journalist and check out their twitter to see what they’re into, and try role-playing with a colleague to get more comfortable. The younger you are, the less likely you are to actually use the phone for “talking”, but in this business, it can make a big difference.

You’ve pitched like crazy… Still no placements!

Your client has a “huge” announcement, and you’ve been pre-pitching.. and pitching… and pitching some more. Still no hits. Don’t have a panic attack, because it happens to the best of us.  Learn to “put the best face” on the situation for the client by providing them with constructive media feedback and taking what you’ve learned and applying it for future media interaction.

Afraid of the higher powers

Every now and then an intern comes along who is completely terrified to speak up in staff meetings or ask questions and speak in person with the higher-ups at the agency. This is unfortunate, because the only way to stand out and be noticed is to speak up and show off what you’ve got.  Try making a list of things you’d like to speak about and ideas you’d like to present, and tackle them one by one.

Uh oh.. No one shows up to your event

Even the most seasoned PR veterans fear this.  It’s enough to keep you up at night.  What if no one shows up to your client’s event that you’ve been planning for months?  The thought may be terrifying, but the only thing you can do is prepare and plan like crazy while managing expectations throughout the process, so that the client will be ready for any possible scenario.

What do you think? What’s your biggest PR phobia?

How To Get A Job In A PR Firm

It’s that time again, when an army of newly minted graduates hits the streets (or, more literally, their laptops) to land that first job. It may be the tightest employment market in years, but the challenge of finding work is probably good preparation for what’s to come! If you’re determined to break into PR, here’s my best advice.

Use every connection you have

Neighbor’s son-in-law’s friend works at a PR agency? Ask for an introduction. Share a hometown, hobby, or favorite sports team with an employer? Let her know. Be polite, but be persistent, and don’t be shy. This is not a career for the faint of heart.

Ask for advice, not a job

Of course your goal is to be hired, but you may get further if you ask a senior executive for ten minutes of her time to get her best advice about breaking in. It’s a bit harder to turn that down, and your strategy should be to get on the radar.

Perfect your writing

In a competitive job market, a grammar error, tortured phrase, or typo will eliminate you, plain and simple. (Marijane’s post about resume gaffes is just the tip of the iceberg!) Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper-like word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But for your own sake, be brief.

Don’t spam

It’s amazing how many emails I get with another agency’s name in the body, or with telltale font changes or other signs of an e-blast. A mass email tells an employer that you’re not serious. And never, ever, start a note with “To Whom It May Concern.” Prospecting for a job is a lot like pitching media; the personal approach is time-consuming, but it’s the only way to do it.

Be social

As in following prospects on Twitter, engaging them on Facebook, and participating in industry or company LinkedIn groups. Consider Facebook ads, an introductory video of yourself, a career-themed Pinterest board. Show that you understand the medium and how to use it.

Get real

Experience, that is. Most agencies require at least one internship. Interviewing PR pros about their daily routines, studying the media and developing knowledge in a niche area or vertical category is also helpful. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course, I was impressed by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory. But, very few had enough practical knowledge to write a solid client recommendation memo. The more practical experience you have, the better.

Have opinions

The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on their newest client, you have thoughts or ideas about the client’s business, the category, or a competitor. If an employer asks what you think of her agency’s website, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not empty flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.

Package yourself

Make your strengths relevant. Be a storyteller, but prepare your narrative in advance. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter asked me to tell her about myself. I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest, so have your “key messages” ready.

Show, don’t tell

In telling your story, illustrate your strengths with anecdotes and examples. Don’t just brag about your best qualities. Rather than saying, “I’m really determined,” try something like, “When I didn’t make the team, I practiced five times a week for three months to have a better shot in the second try-out.” That tells me more about your character, and it’s more memorable.

Be a media junkie

Nothing warms a PR executive’s heart like a true student of the media. Drop names, visualize stories, show that you’ve not only done your homework, but that you consume a broad diet of traditional and social media on your personal time and take an interest in PR industry and business topics and developments. You are what you read or watch.

Be curious

Always ask questions. Even if you’re speaking with six executives in a row and have heard the corporate spiel from each of them, ask them something. Even if you know the answer. If you’re stuck, ask them how they broke into PR, or what their best advice is for someone starting out. Your job is to show engagement.

In short, be memorable, useful, and persistent, and you will get there.

The Care And Feeding Of PR Interns

Guest post by Liz Savery

When I started in the PR business, interns fetched coffee and picked up dry cleaning for agency VPs. Serf labor. Then, after the Lewinsky scandal of the nineties, the very word became a punch line. But things have changed, right?

Not so fast. Last week, a fresh intern “scandal” broke after a BBC television “exposé” painted an unflattering portrait of a UK fashion agency for its use of 20 unpaid interns. That’s out of a staff of 70.

The truth is, the way an agency treats interns says a lot about the firm. Do yours sit in a cube all day updating media lists? At Crenshaw, ours do some of that, but they also staff events, spearhead research projects and have real input on daily account work.  Last summer, a stellar intern revamped the analysis we use for one client’s quarterly report, making it more streamlined and more readable. (We tried to persuade him to forget the college thing and come to work for us immediately, but back he went.)

So, how to make a PR firm internship a win-win experience? Here are some of our best practices.

Advertise. Many internships are filled by simple networking. But, if you’re advertising, I have a timesaving tip. I always put two questions in our ads. A proper response tells me that the ad has been read all the way through. It also indicates that the applicant can do basic research. The questions from my last ad were “What LCD manufacturer is associated with Quattron technology?” and “Name a spokesperson for this technology.”  (We are AOR for Sharp Electronics.) It saves us the trouble of looking at 50 replies from applicants who spotted  the word “intern” and assumed it meant a finance or advertising internship.

Appoint a mentor. Interns give junior staffers a wonderful opportunity to hone both people skills and time management  techniques. Mentors provide an agency orientation and are the first stop when interns have questions. You want to maximize the time invested by everyone, as well as promote your firm as a great workplace. A happy intern is a future Account Coordinator with a short learning curve!

Balance the workload. A Starbucks run every once in a while is fine, as is updating that ed cal list. Just make sure interns learn the basics of good press release writing and targeted pitching.

Consider job shadowing If you can set aside a day to allow your intern to shadow a more senior account executive, it can pay off for everyone. Or, invite the intern to sit in on your next client or new business meeting. If you warn them in advance, most clients will understand and appreciate what you’re doing.

Compensation. If you’re not offering payment, make sure that fact is clear upfront. But consider covering basic transportation costs, and if he/she goes above and beyond, offer some compensation or at least pay for meals.

Responsibilities. Above all, don’t use an intern where a regular employee would be a better choice. How to tell if you’re crossing a line: do your interns have direct responsibility for client deadlines?  If so, better hire an entry-level person…then go buy your intern a cup of coffee!

The Public Relations Society of America offers these guidelines for ethical treatment of interns.