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!

Portrait Of The Ideal PR Agency Intern

At our New York-based PR agency, we revisit the topic of the PR intern each spring to find ways to improve the experience for our agency and its intern employees. We look for certain qualities in interns and have structured a very successful summer program for PR students that has resulted in several hires here and elsewhere. This year, we thought it might be helpful to provide a portrait of the ideal intern, who in that perfect world shows all of the following:

Keen interest in the industry. From the first interview to their last day in the office, we want to see interns who read PR blogs, want to be part of new business pitches and thirst for more knowledge about how PR fits into clients’ business strategies.

Love of, and aptitude for, writing. We have exacting standards when it comes to writing. Obviously a young college student doesn’t come to us fully formed, but we do seek those who can demonstrate basic journalistic writing ability. We then pride ourselves on offering lots of opportunities to hone their skills.

Rabid devotion to pop culture.  Many the successful PR campaign is borne of a combination of client news and something fascinating going on in the world! We encourage interns to be as up on Supreme Court decisions as they are on the World Cup or the latest from Jay and Bey. You never know where a great client idea may come from.

Industriousness! An intern “standout” will always be the individual who comes looking for work, cheerfully stays late if necessary, and offers a creative or unique solution to a problem. These are some of the qualities PR clients look for in an agency as well.

No fear. Some of today’s college students have been done a tremendous disservice by well-meaning yet overly involved parents. This sometimes results in timid kids. PR is not for the timid! We seek young people who are unafraid to pick up the phone (yes, that ancient instrument for talking!) and who can handle constructive criticism from us and even outright rejection from others. Preparation for the real world is supposed to be part of every intern experience, after all.

Personality. No, we don’t mean the dreaded “people person,” but we need to see a spark and a sparkle that tells us an intern is creative and curious and a team player. Isn’t that they kind of person you want at your office?