Public Relations 2.021 — Part One of a Three-Part Series
By Kelly Crane Winkler, PR Director at Alpha Dog Advertising
Long gone are the ye olde public relations days of “Dial and Smile.” Today’s PR professional needs to be equipped with a lot more than a sexy product to push and a few editor friends on the speed dial.
To get the results you’re looking for, it’s important to have a solid understanding of how the industry works along with an effective plan for success. This blog will provide both the background information you need to know and a starting point for your success.
As experts in PR strategy, Alpha Dog Advertising will continue this blog with parts II and III in the coming months. This three-part series will cover:
What Tools Do Publicists Use?
Understanding the Anatomy of a Publication
Identifying the Right Editor to Pitch
Crafting the Perfect Pitch: What Matters Most
You’re Only as Good as Your List: How to Build a Targeted Media List
Connecting the Dots: What the Editor Wants, You Have
How You Pitch Depends on What You Pitch
The Editor’s Reaction: Are You Ready to Deliver?
The Press Release: What Resonates
Reporting and Valuating: Best Practices in Measuring ROI
The Media Road Show
The Future of the Pitch
We hope you stay with us for the finale.
What Tools Do Publicists Use?
It is important to note that the right tools and methodology for your PR program are changing rapidly. The press release “spray and pray” technique (throwing your press release out there to a sea of emails to see where it sticks) is not going to work anymore. Releases need to get out, and you may have a lot on your plate, but don’t look for the releases to do the work for you.
For those of you with personal relationships with editors and journalists, hats off. Relationship building is the number one thing you must master in public relations. But if you don’t have the editor or journalist you are looking to pitch on your speed dial, then you need a PR software tool, like Meltwater, Cision, Muck Rack, or Agility PR Solutions.
These companies are growing more sophisticated and are competing for the PR pro’s business, offering all-channel media monitoring and a journalist database that is updated frequently. (Yes, ask your PR software company how often they are updating their database and whether you can work with someone to make sure the media you are watching is in their database.) All of these companies will be happy to take you through their demos.
Thanks to these tools, you’ve now identified the publication that has the perfect audience for your product or service. Before you pitch, though, you’ll want to dig a little deeper to understand the “book” (as editors call it) and where your offering best fits in.
Understanding the Anatomy of a Publication
Editors talk in terms of front-of-book (FOB), center-of-book (COB) — or feature well — and back-of-book (BOB). The FOB houses the table of contents, the masthead, letters from the editor and/or publisher, and if the publication is an association publication, you may see a letter from the chairman of the board of the association that publishes the magazine. The FOB usually houses quick bits and news about the industry and the movers and shakers to watch.
After the news bits, you might find a product roundup (think “Best Running Shoes for 2021”). The roundup may include a page of product with blurbs, websites, and prices. The FOB usually houses the monthly columns, and you may also find a favorite monthly column there.
The COB, or feature well, may open with the cover story, usually the longest of the features in this section. Most magazines will have one major, or cover, feature along with two or three shorter ones.
The BOB may have a go-to monthly column, a resources section, an index of the issue’s advertisers, and, always, a fun back page.
The Publication Details You Need to Know
It is important — and expected — for the publicist to understand not only the publication’s audience and demographics, but to really drill down and understand the publication itself. How does this publication differ from the next publication you are about to pitch? Know the distinctions. And know even the titles of the sections where your news best fits. Those section titles tend to stick year after year and only change when the publication undergoes a redesign or refresh. Section titles will be noted on the top of the page and are referred to as “rubrics” or even “eyebrows.”
If you notice your target publication has undergone a redesign or refresh, and you certainly should notice, that is the perfect time to break the ice with an editor. “Your book looks great; I especially love the change in the back-page theme. I have a few ideas for your new back page I’d love to share with you…”
For an editor, every piece of content, whether text or art, has a specific place in the publication — or it doesn’t belong in that publication. Your editor is going to know if you are actively and honestly consuming their content to know enough about suggesting future content.
Knowing exactly where your product or service would be featured in a publication is one of the first things to understand before you send your pitch.
Identifying the Right Editor to Pitch
Once you’ve located the media outlet with the best audience to receive information about your product or service, you are ready to make contact with the right editor.
The editor’s title will tell you what they are responsible for and where they fall on the masthead. Most magazine editorial departments are set up similarly, although one book might have editorial associates, while another might have associate editors.
From the top of the masthead to the bottom, arranged hierarchically, your editorial staff will include, usually in this order:
The Manuscript Team
Not all editorial teams are created equal, but here’s a quick study of roles and responsibilities.
Editor-in-Chief or Editor — The buck stops here. All content for the publication must meet the EIC’s specific set of standards that fulfill the following: the content is relevant to the audience, the content is interesting/unusual, the content is timely, the content looks at a problem or challenge in a unique way, the imagery provided is professional and engaging, the content will work well online and will entice the audience to click, read, and engage. Yes, that content must be a perfect fit.
Managing Editor — Knows where all the bodies are buried. This editor is a great go-to for questions and emails, as they know just the right editor to forward your email to.
Executive Editor — The editor-in-chief’s right hand on the content side of things. If the executive editor blesses the idea, the editor-in-chief will usually follow.
Deputy Editor — Another one of the editor’s hands, let’s say the left, the deputy editor will also filter ideas before they hit the editor-in-chief’s desk.
Senior Editor — An editor at the highest status just before deputy and executive.
Market Editor (Products/Services) — This lucky editor is sent all the stuff, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. The market editor is tasked with understanding the market they cover. If it’s beauty, then that editor will receive a lot of samples to sift through.
Digital Content Editor — This is a role that is evolving, with the digital content editor continually having more content to consider, manage, edit, and publish. This role is destined to become one of the top, most-coveted spots in the media outlet.
Associate Editor, Staff Writer, Editorial Associate, Fact-Checker, Editorial Assistant, Editorial Intern — All of these folks are the worker bees of the editorial team. Doing research, covering beats, and watching for news, they feed their supervising editor, usually a senior editor or the deputy or executive editor, stories they feel are good for the magazine.
Copy Editor — In charge of ensuring writing style is consistent and grammar and punctuation are correct. The copy editor plays no part in determining what content is considered for the publication.
Production Manager — This person works closely with the managing editor to get the magazine files to the printer on time. They supervise the rounds of proofing and package the final files for the printer.
The Art Department
Creative Director — Sets creative brand standards. Works with the editor-in-chief to execute the publication’s direction.
Photo Editor — Edits and presents the photographs, images, and illustrations to the creative director and editor-in-chief.
Art Director, Senior Designer — Works directly for the creative director and lays out the design of the article or feature, incorporating text and imagery.
In almost all cases, you will not be pitching to an editor on the art team. However, if you are representing a beautifully architected and designed home, for example, and the photography is out-of-this-world good, then the photography editor and/or creative director may help your pitch gain the editor’s attention, especially in a photo-driven magazine.
Text-Driven vs. Photo-Driven Publications
Fashion and shelter magazines tend to be photo driven. For example, in a shelter magazine, editors receive pitches from architects and/or designers that have the look the magazine is going for. The story or pitch is chosen based on the looks of the project and the design elements used. If your project is chosen to be featured, the editors will arrange for a photo shoot, complete with prop styling, and then the manuscript is assigned to a writer. Text-driven magazines work the opposite way. The article or story is the determining factor as to whether the pitch will be accepted. Once the idea is accepted, and the manuscript has been turned in to the editor, then the art department gets to work in deciding what images will go nicely and helps to bring to life the article’s takeaways.
Are you pitching a photo-driven publication or a text-driven one?
Getting to the Right Editor
If you are not pitching the editors in charge, you are pitching the senior and associate editors that gather and collect ideas to pitch to their higher-ups. In these cases, your task is to match the editor with the section of the magazine in which your pitch best fits. Sometimes this is easy — you might see that revealed with a byline, for example — but nine times out ten, you are going to need to don your Sherlock cap and do a little digging.
Treat Your Editor as You Would Any Other Professional Relationship
Always keep in mind this one thing: You are a person pitching another person.
Remember, the editor you are about to pitch is having a day, too. They could be having a great day, or, just as likely, a challenging day. Will the editor react differently to your pitch when they’re having a bad day? You can bet on it. The only way you can win this one is to make certain your pitch is concise, smart, well-researched, and indicative of your ability to pitch relevant ideas that will resonate with their audience. Anything short of that, and Delete will be the next key that editor strikes.
Furthermore, your editor is probably in the middle of something. Your email comes through. Your subject line is promising: “10 Tricks to Selling on Amazon.” The editor might go one step further and read your first few words or sentences. Simply, the editor is doing with their emails exactly what you do with yours: reading and reacting. If you’ve nailed it (see below, “Crafting the Perfect Pitch”), and your timing happens to be right, you might get an email back that day. But, more likely, your email will be read and filed or read and deleted. Your goal is to get the immediate reaction and a return call or email that day, of course. Your next-best goal is to get your pitch safely into the Pitches to Review email box. Every editor has one of these.
Additionally, watch the “going over your head” faux pas. If you are talking to the editor-in-chief, you are at the top, but be certain to circle back to the editor who will eventually do the sifting and due diligence. Your client, Awesome Tees, has a line of tee shirts that tweens will think cool and want to snap up! You’ve sent the samples to the editor-in-chief because you were not certain who was charged with New Products. The editor-in-chief will follow internal editorial processes, and any products pitched to them will most likely be forwarded to the editor responsible for that section.
Crafting the Perfect Pitch: What Matters Most
The third-party, nonpaid endorsement from an editor in your field is precisely what is at stake here. What you should know about your editor should read like a short résumé. Have you checked out their LinkedIn profile? Where have they worked before? What is their specialty or the specific beat they cover? Have you read their last piece and commented on it the day they posted it? Do NOT go seeking out your editor on LinkedIn, “like” one of their posts, and then hit the send button on your pitch. You’ll need to behave and engage with your editor on a natural, timely basis, not only when it is convenient for you.
Many hours of working sessions later, you have arrived at your messaging. You carefully advised your PR client that you are not going to refer to their product as the “best” or the “greatest,” the “newest” or the “latest.” You’ll be fighting a sea of superlatives because, you guessed it, everyone is the best, the greatest, the newest, and the latest, not just you.
The Important Question to Ask
The job of the PR professional is to craft the client message into a pitch that will see the light of day in a printed or digital publication.
If you get the ear of your editor — and secure the almighty one-on-one call — a great question to ask is “Are you familiar with my client?” If your client is an advertiser in their book, you’ll want to mention, “My client is also your client, as they are advertisers in your publication.” Although this was, for many years, taboo to even mention, these days editors are very aware of the fragile nature of the publishing business. Every advertising dollar that comes into the publication is important, so letting your editor know that your client is also their client could be a good opener for you as long as it is not presented as a tit for tat.
While remaining somewhat shielded by what is happening on the ad sales side, editors remain business savvy, and, yes, an editor is more likely to read your pitch if your client is an advertiser with them.
Should You Introduce Yourself?
Actually, all surveys point to no. Sure, there will be some editors who are likely to read your introduction, and they might even thank you for introducing yourself, but it is just fine — in fact preferred — that you cut to the chase. In other words, don’t bury your lead.
The other thing to lose and lose quickly is your small talk. Unless this editor is a friend, or you’ve worked with them before, it is perfectly fine to skip it. And definitely skip the “Hope this finds you well…” opener. That seems to be the most overused first sentence in pitches.
Your Subject Line and Lead: Making Your Words Resonate with the Editor
Write a subject line of six to ten words that gives precise details as to the nature of your pitch. Not an easy task. Since this is the first thing your editor will see, though, it is important get this right. Be concise. Offer the benefit the editor may receive if they proceed to open your email.
Keep this in mind, too: If your subject line is too lengthy, it may not be viewed in its entirety on a mobile device at a glance.
As part of your usual course of action, you will be securing the targeted publication’s media kit. (Part II will cover “Developing Your Target Media List.”) In the media kit, you’ll find the editorial calendar. This is the editor-in-chief’s plan for each of the coming year’s issues.
These pieces of collateral — the media kit and the editorial calendar — offer most of the information you need to know about the publication. (Yes, you do need to consume the actual print and digital content, too.) The media kit includes audience demographics, stats about the reader, circulation and reach numbers, and more. But as a PR pro who is tasked with crafting the perfect pitch that leads to an editorial placement, the kit provides other clues as to the publication’s overall tone, terminology, terms, and references. The photography and editorial examples they include in the media kit are what the magazine deems as its best work.
A good tip is to look at the covers they showcase in their media kits and zoom in on the cover lines (if you don’t have the mags in your library already). These are the magazines, the covers, and stories the editors are most proud of, so pay attention to that. Your subject line is where you can mirror their terms and references as well as their tone and voice.
The perfect pitch has a sharp subject line, a professional salutation, and three short paragraphs:
Subject Line — Make It Clear, Concise, and Compelling
It’s not easy to pack a subject line with clarity and conciseness and still compel the editor to open your pitch. But please do so in six to ten words.
Salutation — Keep It Professional
Especially with editors you are reaching out to for the first time, be respectful and professional, but no need to go with Mr. or Ms. First names are fine: Dear Mark, Hello Jill.
Paragraph 1 — Personalization That Is All About Them
One to two sentences are all you need. Include something about them, their work. You might mention their recent article that really (honestly) spoke to you. You will need to have done your homework. Be real. Be clever. But stay away from coming across creepy or Big Brother-ish.
Paragraph 2 — The Guts of the Pitch: Why, Why Now, Benefits
One short paragraph, preferably with bullets, that clearly lays out the benefits of the product or service to the publication’s audience. For the editor, be clear as to timing.
Paragraph 3 — Working with This PR Pro Makes Your Job Easy
In another short paragraph, illustrate how you will do the heavy lifting. Here’s where you think like an editor. What will they need to make your story happen? Here’s the hit list:
Dates and Deadlines: When the product is available to the audience, when the product will be launched, etc.
Images and Graphics: Set up a personalized Dropbox for your editor and provide a link to relevant images and graphics. Because they may not go to that link, you can attach a choice photo for quick reference, letting them know there are more to choose from at the link.
Additional Sources: Offer your editor a white paper (from a non-competing brand) that supports your idea. Provide a short list of key customers who have used your product and think highly of it. Include a link to a video demo. Editors need multiple sources to bring a story to life. If you have the sources, you will end up on the editor’s speed dial.
You are starting to build the foundation of a successful public relations strategy. Understanding the media landscape and the editorial team makeup, coupled with the right tools, puts you well on your way. In part II of this series, we’ll dive into developing an effective media list and a pitch strategy, as well as prepare you for when your editor gives you a thumbs-up.
Meanwhile, let Alpha Dog fill in the blanks. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about embarking on a public relations program for your brand or taking your program to the next level. Contact us today!