Learning the Lingo and (Older) Terms of the Trade

Professional communicators should be the last people to use terms and acronyms with which their audience would be unfamiliar, right?

But not only are communicators human, as I peer around the office it appears they’re also getting younger every day, and some of these terms may be “old school” given modern online and social media platforms. Still, whether you’re a young communications professional or trying to have a conversation with one, it’s good to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Here are a few terms and their meanings or context I hope will help you navigate your conversations.

Advertising – Paid content, such as an ad for which you or our agency partner develop the verbiage and images. You pay to have your content appear just as you designed it. The media outlet in which your ad appears will make no edits or changes to your placement. (Think of it as you talking about your own organization.)

AP Style – AP style refers to content written in the accepted news style of the Associated Press Stylebook. Well-trained communicators know that if they expect the material they submit to be viewed favorably by a reporter or editor, they better follow these clear and simple rules for word usage and punctuation. Don’t mess up what otherwise might pique the interest of an editor by ignoring AP style, which means he or she would have to edit your work to use it. They don’t have the time – or the tolerance – for it.

Earned Media – This is non-advertising content, typically the result of suggesting, or “pitching,” an idea for an article or feature to a reporter or editor. Typically considered to be a more credible form of content than advertising, this is when someone else (the media outlet) is talking about your organization. In the context of social media, earned media today could also be interpreted to include shares and likes – other people sharing and endorsing talk about your organization.

Editorial – An editorial is a column that expresses the viewpoint of the media outlet on an issue, written in the voice of the editor(s). It’s typically found in the “opinion” section of a publication or website.

Editorial Content – This refers collectively to all the non-advertising content of a publication or news outlet, including editorials, bylined (or guest) columns, and other opinion pieces.

Journalist – While at the basic level, a journalist is one who researches, writes and reports information (thank you Wikipedia), ideally this term pertains to one who is trained in and adheres to journalist codes of ethics and standards. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is a nice, concise one-page reference sheet for anyone who who’s producing content. Unfortunately, there are many people publishing content– online and off – who fail to adhere to these ideals.

News Release – Exact same thing as a press release – see separate entry below – although “news” is considered more inclusive than “press,” which at least originally referred to the print media. I like “news release” myself, but don’t love “media release,” another term sometimes used synonymously. Why? I guess because it underscores the fact that your release by any name should include newsworthy content.

Opinion – Encompasses editorials, letters to the editor and guest columns – which may include either one-time submissions by guest authors or columns that appear with some frequency written by syndicated or local columnists. Today, opinion may also be extended to include the reader or user comments that accompany a news story.

Press Release – A tool used to garner earned media when an organization has something newsworthy to announce or share. Straightforward, right? But not really. Some folks will contact us and ask, “When will my press release run in the paper?” Well, it doesn’t work quite like that. A press release is an excellent tool; it’s like an article written in news (i.e. Associated Press) style and distributed to news outlets for their consideration for use as editorial content. They may use the content in full (rarely) or in part (a short brief or summary). Once you’ve shared it, it’s the media outlet’s decision whether to use it and in what form. They may choose to summarize it, use it as a jumping off point for an article in which they also consult other news sources, or not use it at all. That’s why it’s important your press release be newsworthy and avoids salesy language that will turn off a reporter or editor.

Are there other communications terms that trip you up? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to address those, too!