The Art of (Not) Predicting Earned Media Run Dates

  • Categories:

    Public Relations

  • Date:

    January 29, 2019

The Art of (Not) Predicting Earned Media Run Dates

Public Relations

In the world of public relations, strong news media relations is still a crucial tactic for telling a brand’s story. In many cases, it’s not a get-rich-quick course. The process involves strategy, time, relationship building and persistent pitching. With a little tenacity, stories make it online, in print or both, but not always at a time that can be accurately predicted. For many of our clients, that’s the million-dollar question: when can you expect media coverage?

Earned media coverage is difficult to predict because:

  • Publishers can shift their editorial calendar topics, so what’s listed isn’t necessarily what’s covered.
  • Editorial calendars outline planned topics, but how editors decide to cover these topics can vary widely, and your hook may not be a fit. Coverage could include a new product roundup, bylined articles and case studies or only one of these types of coverage.
  • Timelines can be a moving target, with a reporter’s story being pushed back, pushed up or sometimes scrapped completely by their editor.

Given these circumstances, our public relations team manages media relations like a project manager tracks timelines and deadlines — with persistence and practicality. And we use established editorial relationships to learn what’s actually being covered and how it’s being covered as well as deadlines and publication dates. Meanwhile, we constantly balance various lead times.

Here’s a closer look at the different types of pitching and related lead times.

Editorial Calendar Pitching

Each year, monthly print and digital publications assemble an editorial calendar to guide their focus areas for editorial content. It’s used by both our agency’s media planners to select insertion dates and our media relations team to form our first layer of outreach to editors. We pitch editorial calendar topics two to eight months ahead of the issue date, depending on the publication’s lead time.

However, you can’t assume you’ll get an earned media placement just because you pitched a topic the publication included in its editorial calendar. How an editor decides to cover a topic may differ from what you can offer them, or the sources may have already been identified, sometimes even before the topic made it to the editorial calendar. Remember, editors receive many pitches that are aligned with their editorial calendar and will not always select yours. Coming up with a unique angle can give you a leg up on the competition, but it won’t guarantee an interview.

You may also pitch a topic based on an editorial calendar listing only to have the “story” placed on hold. For example, an editor held our recent pitch because she decided to cover the topic as a product roundup of new products. We didn’t have any new products to offer, but because we have a good relationship with this editor, she suggested we refocus our pitch into a bylined article for an upcoming issue due out a few months after the original editorial calendar date.

Editor Requests

Despite the fact that publications use editorial calendars to guide coverage, sometimes editors make urgent requests. In these situations, it’s important to respond quickly, so editors working hard to bring their vision to life will view you as a helpful contact.

You can get on an editor’s radar by nurturing the relationship before the editor needs something. Then, if you do receive an urgent request that makes sense for your product or a client’s product, jump on the opportunity. The request could be for an image, a product sample, background facts or an interview. It’s important to be nimble and have a sense of urgency when these opportunistic stories arise. We recently pitched a blogger about a new product. He just happened to be scheduled for an interview on “The Today Show” in two days, and our client’s product was a perfect fit for his topic. Our client moved mountains to get the product to New York City in time. The result of being on the national morning news program — whether measuring ad equivalency or the benefit of content created by that earned media — was powerful.

Plus, if you’re successful at providing the editor (or influencer, as was the case) what they need that one time they’re on a tight deadline, you’ll not only secure valuable coverage, but the editor will also remember you as a good partner and important resource.

Breaking News

Sometimes our clients have breaking news, whether it’s product-related or company news. The news is shared with consideration for all outlet types — daily, bimonthly and monthly. Regardless of their issue date, most media outlets have digital platforms and e-news distributions that make them all day-of news sources when it comes to breaking news. In these situations, our public relations team aims to provide same-day responses to editor needs. Always remember that planning behind the scenes for a big announcement may have been months in the making, yet it’s just as important to respond to same-day requests you receive as a result of that announcement.

Long-Lead Pitching

Topics that aren’t driven by a calendar event are called long-lead stories. They can include profiles of people, companies and projects; how-to stories; thought leadership topics; or case studies. It can take as little as a few weeks or as long as several years to get a reporter or editor engaged in a long-lead story idea, simply because timely stories take priority over evergreen stories. Then, it can take even longer for the story to be published by the media outlet.

For example, we have been working with an interior designer and influencer for one of our clients. Working with an influencer can help brands gain access to editors, but it can still take time for a placement to appear. In fact, it took three years to secure coverage of this influencer’s story in a top shelter publication, even though the influencer is widely recognized and respected in the home category. (The story is slated for a 2019 issue, so check back here in the coming months for a behind-the-scenes of that story.)

If there’s anything to be learned with news media relations and forecasting earned media coverage, it’s that run dates are often unpredictable and getting your story out there is an art of patience, persistence and the ability to be nimble.

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