‘Take the lead’- how to prepare for an editorial lead time

It’s the end of June and summer is in full swing. School is out and pedestrians puddle on the sidewalks as the temperature surpasses 90 degrees. So why am I drafting stories about haunted houses for Halloween and the Great Backyard Bird Count schedule for December? The same reason fashion models suffer through swimwear photo shoots in the dead of winter and don fur-lined overcoats in July… to make editorial deadlines for long-lead publications.

Press outlets– print in particular– have what’s called a “lead time,” a (usually) reasonable time interval between the initiation and the completion of the production process of each issue. Lead times for publications can vary tremendously, but on average stand at about three to six months for monthly consumer magazines.

However, to say “lead time” to a television reporter or an online blogger could be like speaking a foreign tongue — most of their careers are spent in real time. A hurricane hits the Florida coast at 11:15 a.m.; it goes on the 12:00 o’clock news. They announce Michael Jackson’s death at 6:15 p.m. EST; it’s on the blogs at 6:24 p.m. This is because television, radio and online news outlets often operate with zero lead times. When breaking news hits, these news outlets need to instantaneously respond to stay on top. This is definitely different than the longer lead time expected with magazines, so it’s imperative that you know and understand the specific needs of your outlet type before you start the pitching process.

Now any media relations specialist worth her salt knows the pitch process for these long-lead publications. You want to:

  1. Identify your targeted media outlets
  2. Gather corresponding editorial calendars (schedules outlining specific topics the publication will address within each issue that year)
  3. Compare and contrast to find overarching themes in content
  4. Plan your story calendar accordingly

Or better yet, call your target editor directly and ask them what stories they’re working on in the next six months. You’ll be surprised how much they’re willing to divulge.

The media relations take on editorial calendars is this: if you know what’s coming up, you can plan for it – get the research done in advance, conduct any necessary interviews, polish the writing, make sure all the images are in place, etc.

You can also plan based on the type of coverage that you’d like to receive. Will it be a feature, a round-up story or a short blurb? Once you determined the coverage, plan for it. For example, a round-up story you’re after will require you to identify specific trends that editors will cover and then align your product or service with that trend. If your trend forecast research shows that periwinkle will be the new black next fall, it will be relatively easy to convince editors that your periwinkle-colored products will fit nicely into this periwinkle fad.

Wondering where you can find these calendars?

More likely than not, editorial calendars can be found with relative ease on a publication’s Web site.  Calendar catalogues can be found at PR resources like MyEdCals.com or MediaBistro.com. Media databases like Cision Media Source or Vocus often include editorial calendars as well.

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