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Build an All-Year Publicity Machine

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If you’re like most publicity seekers, you probably think about one project at a time. You’ve got a new book coming out in July, so you send out a release in June. For hard-core publicity insiders, though, there’s a rhythm to generating coverage, based on the natural ebb and flow of the seasons. Such an approach can help you score publicity throughout the year.

Essentially, it embodies two strategies:

    • timing your existing stories (new product introductions, oddball promotions, business page features, etc.) to fit the needs of the media during particular times of the year
    • crafting new stories to take advantage of events, holidays, and seasonal activities

Before we run through my four seasons of publicity plan, a few words about lead time. In this age of immediacy (when a Matt Drudge or a CNN can write a story and put it before millions in only a few seconds), it’s easy to forget that lead time for many print publications and TV shows can be weeks–and sometimes months. For example, you’d probably have to send a story about a Christmas book to an entertainment magazine by September 15 at the latest, so that the editor can review and change the piece, the issue can be typeset and printed, and distributors can place it on newsstands before December. Lead time can range from a day (for hard-news pieces in newspapers) to a few days (for newspaper features), a few weeks (for weekly magazines), or many months.

The longest leads are for the domain of “women’s books” like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes & Gardens and other monthlies. Since these publications often have a lead time of up to six months, they need information for their Christmas issues as early as May.

To discover the lead time of a publication you’re targeting: call the advertising department and request a media kit. Make sure to request a current editorial calendar and two recent samples of the publication. Editorial calendars are schedules of what topics a publication plans to cover for a particular month. Many editorial calendars list the closing date for accepting advertising and editorial copy. For publicity purposes, you only need to focus on the copy deadlines.

If you feel that you can contribute to a particular topic, call or email the publication’s editorial department–try to reach the managing editor–and find out which reporter has been assigned to write the story. Email or call the reporter and explain how you can contribute.

Factor lead times into your planning as you look over the following sections. If you have a great story idea for Rolling Stone’s fall issue, you need to be on the ball well before the Fourth of July.

The Four Seasons of Publicity

First Quarter: January—March

What the media are covering: Early in the year, the media are looking ahead. It’s a great time to pitch trend stories, marketplace predictions, previews of things to expect in the year ahead, and so forth. If a new president is being inaugurated, you’ll see lots of “Will the new administration be good for the [textile/film/cattle/ranching/ Internet/ . . . or any other] industry?” pieces. This is a good time to come up with something provocative, or even controversial, to say about your industry that you can tie in with a book or books.

The media also like to run “get your personal house in order” sorts of pieces during this time of year–tax planning, home organizing, weight loss, and so on. Anything that’s geared toward helping people keep their New Year’s resolutions can work.

Key dates and events: Can you come up with a story angle that ties into an event that typically generates lots of coverage? Put on your thinking cap–I bet you can! Here are some key events during the first quarter: Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, Easter, the Academy Awards.

Second Quarter: April—June

What the media are covering: This is an “anything goes” time of year. With no major holidays or huge events, April is a good time to try some of your general stories (business features, new product stuff, etc.). Light, fun stories work here, as a sense of spring fever takes hold of newsrooms (journalists are human, you know; they’re just as happy to think about winter being over as you are, and it’s often reflected in the kind of stories they choose to run). As May rolls around, they’ll be doing summer vacation pieces, articles about outdoor toys and gadgets, stories on safety (whether automotive or recreational), leisure activities, things to do for kids, and the like.

Key dates and events: Baseball opening day, tax day (April 15), spring gardening season, Memorial Day, end of school, summer vacation.

Third Quarter: July—September

What the media are covering: The dog days of summer are when smart publicity seekers really make hay. Folks at PR firms are on vacation; marketing budgets are being conserved for the holidays; and reporters are suddenly accessible and open to all sorts of things. Get to work on short lead-time media with angles that are creative and fun. Entertainment-themed pieces do well in the summer; anything with celebrities works. Ditto lighter business stories, new product and trend pieces, technology news, back-to-school articles, you name it. Reporters are about to get deluged once again come September, so use this window of opportunity wisely.

Key dates and events: July 4th, summer movies, summer travel, Labor Day, back to school.

Fourth Quarter: October—December

What the media are covering: The busiest time on the media calendar, the fourth quarter is when business media turn serious and lifestyle media think Holidays, Holidays, Holidays. Business angles need to be hard news. Fluffy trend pieces won’t cut it, as business editors begin to take stock of the state of the economy and the market. For the nonbusiness media, think Christmas–Christmas travel, Christmas gifts, Christmas cooking, whatever. If you have a book that can be given as a holiday gift, get on the stick early.

Nail down lead times for the publications you’re targeting; call to find out who’s handling the holiday gift review article, and get your product in the right person’s hands in plenty of time–along with a pitch letter or release that makes a strong case about what a novel, unusual, or essential gift your book makes. After Christmas, you have a brief window for “Best of the Year,” “Worst of the Year” and “Year in Review” pieces. Find ways to make the format work for you–the media love these things.

Key dates and events: World Series, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve.

Bill Stoller is the publisher of Free Publicity, The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses and a publicist with more than two decades of experience. Free articles, publicity tips, and more are available at www.publicityInsider.com.

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