By Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM
Public relations is an invaluable marketing tool, creating visibility and brand recognition, credibility and third party validation through editorial placement, and ideally, lead generation. Unlike paid advertising, direct mail and other communications vehicles, editorial placements are vetted by a neutral third party (the media), lending credibility to your news and expertise. Using local, national and industry trade publications – both print and digital – to educate and inform potential clients is a proven step to build a successful brand and drive continued sales growth.
How do you land coverage in key publications? Here, we decipher the different editorial opportunities out there and how to pursue each one to publicize your project.
- Press releases are written and distributed by your firm to disseminate information to the press. They follow a generally accepted format, with a headline and sub-headline announcing the “first-best-only” of your news; three or four paragraphs highlighting the who, what, when, where, and why of the story; a relevant client quote; and boiler plate of consistent company information. A project press release should highlight your firm’s role on the project and include a client quote as testimonial. Distribute the press release to your media targets via email, aiming for mid-week days when editors’ inboxes are less full and more likely to be read. For greater national impact, issue the press release on a wire service where it will get pick-up on hundreds of news aggregate web sites.
- Editorial opportunities are articles that have been scheduled according to a publication’s editorial calendar. Unless noted otherwise, these articles are written by editors or freelance writers hired by the publication. There is no cost to participate in these opportunities. In fact, straight editorial opportunities like these constitute public relations in its purest form: information gathered by a neutral third party (the writer or editor), who crafts the article with the most relevant and interesting information provided by you and other experts, for the benefit of their readers.
To take advantage of these opportunities, research editorial calendars for your target publications (usually found in the online advertising/media kit), and pitch your project news or company as a source for the publication’s upcoming article. Offer to set up a phone interview with a designer or project team member, and send a relevant project summary, ideally with photos. An email pitch is fine. Most monthly magazines work two to four months ahead of the publication date, so be sure to leave yourself enough time to contact the editor.
- Byline articles may also appear on a publication’s editorial calendar, but may not be marked as such. This is where you need to do your homework: scan the publication, check the editorial guidelines online, or email the editor directly to ask if the publication accepts contributed – or byline – articles. Bylines are planned well in advance of the publish date, so pitch with plenty of time to ensure that your proposal gets read.
For byline articles, the author (your firm) drafts the article (word count depends on the publication) and provides a few photos and possibly a headshot. Think like an editor and a graphic designer: the article with the photos should tell a story and create a pleasing layout consistent with the publication’s design. A byline is a perfect opportunity to showcase your expertise on a given topic or highlight best practices with a project example or case study. It is not an opportunity to plug a product, use marketing jargon or give kudos to yourself or your project team. In its published form, a byline article can become a valuable piece of marketing collateral – with the benefit of the publication’s masthead at the top.
Your firm didn’t complete the project on its own, and it doesn’t have to approach PR on its own either. Other project team members want to receive recognition for their role as well. So share the love: work together with the key players on the project to create a mutually beneficial media strategy. Draft a joint press release and divvy up the editorial opportunities. The collective effort will broaden your media outreach of the project and increase your chances of PR success.