If you’re the kind of uber-efficient PR pro who organizes Outlook into client-specific folders, keeps client folders for years after they’ve evaporated, and alphabetizes books and CDs, this post is for you.
If you’re a new PR professional still learning the ropes, this might help.
It’s October. If you aren’t thinking about 2014 editorial calendars, it’s time to shift into gear.
I’m talking not about creating editorial calendars for your blog or social content, but about the traditional PR tactic of using editorial calendars created by magazines, trade publications, and other media for securing placement opportunities. Newspapers and broadcast media generally don’t provide editorial calendars.
Editorial calendar searches are a basic PR skill, but one that way too many pros gloss over, only do annually, or forget entirely. That’s a mistake, given how aligning your pitches to an editorial calendar bumps your success rate way up.
It’s time to kick off the process for next year. If you wait much longer, it will be too late to pitch January/February issues. You don’t want a client calling to ask, "Why am I not in this issue? It’s a perfect fit for what we do."
Magazines and many other media outlets, as well as the larger blogs, publish an annual calendar of upcoming articles or topics they’ll be covering. It’s a smorgasbord of opportunity and a foundational public relations skill. It’s also an opportunity for you to let your PR skills shine, because most agencies and PR pros don’t spend enough time with them to gain maximum benefit.
1. If a team is handling the client, ask whether editorial calendars have been collected, and what agency or department procedures typically are for handling this part of PR. You don’t want to re-invent the wheel if someone is already on top of it, but you do want to show everyone that you are getting the foundation in place for fantastic results, that you are covering the basics.
2. Assuming you’ve already built your client media list and/or a list of publications you’ll be targeting, check their website first to see if it is available for download, then contact every outlet on that list and ask for a media kit. Generally this includes the editorial calendar, demographic information about readership, ad sizes and specs, and ad due dates. Why is this better than asking for just the editorial calendar? Because the ad due dates tell you when the publication goes to press. It helps you plan the timing of your pitch so it isn’t too late to be considered.
3. Keep a spreadsheet so you can easily track whom you’ve spoken with, which ones you have, and which ones you are still waiting on. It also gives you a tickler file to get started on the next year.
4. Print out the editorial calendars, put them in a clearly labeled folder and keep it on your desk. Plan on referring to it often. Tuck a copy of your spreadsheet in the folder, too.
5. If you don’t already have a relationship going, contact each publication individually to discuss their print schedule. When do they typically close out their issue? How far in advance should you pitch them? What is too late? Do they prefer to be pitched via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or phone? Do they have special issues with different print schedules? If it’s a blog or e-zine and not a print publication, look at their website to see if they prefer post submissions that are ready to publish. (It’s usually an obvious page.) Note all this information on your spreadsheet.
Next steps for advanced PR pros and newbies alike
6. Spend time going over each editorial calendar and writing down story ideas to pitch. Match the ideas to the issue, and then schedule each individual pitch in Outlook. Don’t assume you’ll remember; schedule it as an appointment using the timing determined in No. 4.
7. You’re not an Outlook user, or you want a secondary tool to be sure important dates don’t slip your mind? Create your own calendar that flags specific dates and publications you should pitch, and look at it every Monday so you know what’s coming up in the next week or two. Print it out and pop it in that folder with the printed editorial calendars; make it a habit to review it frequently.
8. Every time an Outlook alert goes off and it is time to pitch a specific issue of a publication, glance over the entire folder anew to see what opportunities you have for that month. This might seem too often, but it helps you get intimately familiar with these magazines and their upcoming topics. It also helps inspire creativity, because you’ll notice something new or gain fresh inspiration with every review. Many pros look at their editorial calendars once or twice a year, which isn’t nearly often enough. It also forces you to plan far in advance.
9. If you supervise a team, sit down and review the editorial calendars together. Brainstorm or review their story ideas that the editorial calendar stimulates, then don’t forget to look at the actual pitches. It seems like far too many agencies don’t supervise the team or work with them to improve their tactics—an epic failure for everyone involved. Pitches and the processes we all use are not a big secret; they should be continually improved and fine-tuned for optimal results. Don’t hesitate to get involved.
[RELATED: Find out about our November event that has instruction for your entire communications team.]
10. Start collecting next year’s editorial calendars in early fall. This helps you to avoid missing out on great opportunities early in the year simply because your timing is off and you start too late. Magazines, trade publications, large blogs, and e-zines—round ’em up and get those opportunities scheduled.
Time to share. What tactics do you use for editorial calendar searches? Any fabulous tips?
Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.