Public relations are important, it’s why we spend so much time and money contributing to positive PR, and why we cringe at the idea of negative PR. The truth is that a lot of skill and planning goes into a successful public relations campaign, and a big part of this planning relates to knowing when to call in the media.
Some people fondly imagine that they can call journalists up and they’ll drop everything because they have a story for the media they think would be perfect for next week, whereas reality plays out much different. Each story has a lead time, which can range from 6 weeks all the way up to four months.
You read that right, four months.
There are two different kinds of leads, a short lead (6-8 week waiting period), and a long lead (3-4 months). Each bit of that precious time is used to ensure that the media is getting the story exactly the way the editor and journalists want it, and these processes do take time.
People have come up with a lot of different ways of coping with these lead up times, but one of the best methods suggested has been to work with the media to create stories everybody knows they’re going to publish – holiday interest pieces and seasonal pieces. Holiday interest and seasonal pieces are a given with any respectable media outlet, meaning that if you take that into account you can get in at exactly the right time to be the centre of that media swirl surrounding Mother’s day, or the first summer seasonal articles
There are a lot of these pieces, so we’ve assembled a list for quick reference below:
- Spring (long leads should be proposed in June, short leads can be proposed all the way up to the end of November)
- Summer (long leads should be proposed in June, short leads can be proposed up to the end of March)
- Autumn (long leads should be proposed in December, short leads can be proposed up to the end of May)
- Winter (Long leads should be proposed in January, short leads should be proposed up to the end of August)
- Valentine’s Day (long leads should be proposed in November, short leads can be proposed up to early February)
- Easter (long leads should be proposed in December, short leads can be proposed up to April)
- Mother’s Day (long leads should be proposed in January, short leads can be proposed up to early May)
- Father’s Day (long leads should be proposed in June, short leads can be proposed up to early September)
- Christmas in July (long leads should be proposed in April, short leads can be proposed up to early July)
- Back to School (long leads should be proposed by October, short leads should be proposed by the end of January)
- Christmas (long leads should be proposed by August, short leads can be proposed by early December)
- New Years Resolution (long leads should be proposed by September, short leads can be proposed by the end of December)
As you can see, although long leads are only supposed to take 3-4 months in reality some of these holidays have even longer lead times. This has to do with the sheer popularity of the holiday, the time and effort people put into producing holiday campaigns, and the time of year the holiday is in, but these times should serve as a good guide as to when a story should be proposed to the media.
People often wonder what exactly goes in to the accepted pitches when it comes to the media, and the answer is always the same – good content. If the story you’re proposing has a solid amount of content, public interest, and influence, it will run. If it doesn’t, then the story really won’t be able to run.
Some people assume that any story can be run, it just has to be pitched enough or in the right way, but this leads to a huge media marketing mistake – a loss of credibility. No one is going to take your calls if the last twenty times they’ve picked up it’s been to hear about the same lame story you’ve already been rejected for repeatedly, even if you have a better lead to pitch right now. Loss of credibility is king in this business, and any successful PR campaign must understand that.
Similarly, the media has been open about their distaste for schmoozing, or the idea that by calling up and chatting nicely first that your story will run. Editors have frequently expressed their lack of respect for this technique, and it has been reported that it’s actually a turn off of a story (regardless of content) when some one attempts to schmooze it in.
So what’s the answer? What gets a story to run? Good content. Good content is content that is relevant to the current audience of the media outlet, that presents information, that provides either a conflict or a human interest angle with which to approach it, and that which actually makes a difference to the people that have read it. These are the types of stories media outlets are looking for and these are the ones that get published.
When you have good content, the only thing that remains is knowing how to pitch it. We’ve discussed a lot what not to do (schmoozing or repeatedly pitching the same rejected idea), but let’s take a moment and examine what should be done.
- Get to the point. Quickly.Journalists and editors do not have all the time in the world to listen to how this story came about, let them know what it is and ask if they’d like to cover it.
- Make it easy for the outlet to cover your story.This means having pictures to support the story, contact information for any one involved, and as many points of the story as possible. The easier it is for a media outlet to pursue a story, the more likely they are to pursue it.
- Know the journalist.Be familiar with their work. Be sure that they haven’t covered this topic before, be comfortable discussing past pieces. You don’t have to know everything about the person but you should have a knowledge of who they are, who they’re writing to, and what they have already written about to ensure you’re not wasting everyone’s time pitching an idea that’s already been done.
- Know their audience.Demonstrate (quickly) that you understand the audience these writers are working for by mentioning how the story relates to them.
- Be available for questions, while on the phone and after the call has ended.Some people fondly imagine that pitching a great story means a shorter time until a media outlet picks it up, and while this may seem true it actually isn’t. No matter what kind of story you have, chances are you’ll be put on hold, you’ll be connected to an answering machine, and you will have to wait for a call back. This has to do with the chaotic time frames for most major media outlets, and should not seem insulting nor be a cause of frustration.The flip side to this understanding is staying available even after you’ve let the journalist know about the story. If they have follow up questions, they need to be able to get a hold of some one quickly to answer them or the story can be dropped.
These tips will have you well on your way to making a successful pitch, and by knowing you’re only proposing stories with quality content you are already well on your way to getting positive media coverage.