Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On The Cover of the Rolling Stone!

A rose is a rose by any other name.  This poetic ditty may hold true for flowers, but sadly, it doesn't necessarily hold true when it comes to public relations.  In other words, pitching isn't pitching isn't pitching. 

Another way to state that is this:  The way you pitch your story to one media outlet isn't necessarily the way you should pitch another media outlet.  If you have a story you're pitching to a local television news station, that particular pitch should appeal to the particular audience that the news station caters to. 

You'll also have to keep in mind the timing of the pitch, the visuals involved and, ultimately, the personal preferences of the individual producer, reporter or editor you're pitching to.  Heck, a pitch could vary form person to person within a single news organization, let alone different organizations.

As an example, I offer this situation.  

I recently pitched a client to several New York media outlets, including the NY Times, WNBC, WBCS, The NY Post, the NY Observer, as well as several network outlets.  For the NY Times alone I sent seven different pitches, appealing to the specific beats those reporters covered.  I didn't rewrite the entire release, I simply had to tweak each pitch letter to make sure the opening sentence caught their attention.  Each pitch letter had to address the particular nuances of their beat and areas of interest. 

The point is, you can't simply write a release and mass email it and expect journalists to beat down your door in an effort to cover your organization. 

This holds true if you're pitching a TV outlet or a print outlet.  It will matter if that print outlet is online, is published only once a week, or once a month or what kind of audience it services.  And, as I pointed out above, you won't only have to keep in mind the audience, publishing schedule or delivery method, but you'll also have to keep in mind timing, which is so very important and can vary greatly from outlet to outlet.

But this is all stuff that we've covered in one form or another in older posts.  I just wanted to rehash this information as a bit of a refresher, because today, we take on the beast we in public relations call, "Magazine Pitching". 

Unlike pitching a daily newspaper or tv news outlet, pitching a magazine is way more involved in terms of research, preparation and lead time.  This is where experience, networking, relationships and knowledge of your audience becomes vital to your pitching success.

I have been published in various magazines and let me tell you, it wasn't easy to get those articles into print.  In every single case, writing the actual story was ten times easier than actually getting an editor to agree to publish.  Here's why:

1.  Magazines rarely employ full time writers.  They generally have a small staff of editors and some writers, but for most magazines, their content comes from freelancers. 

2.  Magazines tend to be very niche oriented.  In other words, you story may be very good, but it may not fit in exactly with the kinds of story they believe their audience wants to read. 

3.  Most magazines have lead times of up to six months.  This means you have to have a story idea ready to go and be able to pitch it up to six months in advance.

4.  Most magazines tend to work with individuals they have experience with and trust.  While this may sound like a lot of media outlets, daily newspapers and tv newscasts simply have to push out way too much content to rely solely on a handful of trusted sources.  Because of this, they are always on the lookout for new, reliable sources, giving you a greater opportunity to break into one of these organizations.  Magazines, on the other hand, come out once a month, maybe twice a month, sometimes weekly.  In the first two cases, they can afford to be way more picky about who they work with.

5.  Most magazines are geographically out of reach.  In other words, unless you live in New York, Chicago or L.A., the chances of you being able to walk into their offices with donuts, pizza or a case of beer as a way to establish relationships is very slim.  It might work for your local outlets, but it's not really possible for magazines.  Plus, the fact that these outlets are based in those large cities, their focus tends to be on these cities and surrounding areas.  If you're in podunk Iowa or Kansas, you're just not on their radar.

It's Not Impossible:

Any one of these five reasons can be a formidable wall to try to overcome.  Put them together and pitching a magazine starts to seem like Ahab's White Whale; always there, taunting, menacing, but never quite within reach.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  There ARE ways to pitch magazines that will result in coverage and help boost your brand recognition and bottom line.

Before you do anything regarding magazine pitching you have to do a few things first, before all else:

•  Make a list of your dream magazines - This is your goal and your benchmark
•  Decide what audience you are trying to reach
•  Look ahead to any stories you might have coming up within the next six months

Now you get to fun part (sarcasm); the research.  This can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.  The way I normally worked was to find a story first.  Based on that story, I would then start researching what magazines are out there that would be in the market for the story.  The next steps involved narrowing the list down to a manageable number, maybe ten, identifying specific reporters and editors to pitch and then I would go out and actually read those magazines to determine style and focus.  I would then try to determine what kind of lead time is involved in pitching the various magazines.

This process generally would take up to a week or two.  It CAN be a long process, so make sure you set aside some time when deciding to pitch a magazine.

You can approach a magazine pitch from two different angles.  First, you can pitch it as you would a regular story idea, or you could pitch it as a freelance writer.  In both situations you'll face different obstacles.

If you pitch it as a regular story, from a PR perspective, you'll be facing the daunting task of pitching to an organization that doesn't know you and will be leery of your story at first.  In this case, your story had better be fantastic, otherwise, you'll likely get a rejection letter.

If you pitch as a freelancer, you'll be asked to submit writing samples from previous published articles.  If you don't have any, you chances of having the story accepted is close to zero.  Again, this may seem daunting, but there are ways to work around all of these obstacles.

Let's start from the beginning and go step by step:

1.  Find your story.  You can't pitch anything until you have a good story in place.  Since magazines publish feature stories, you'll have to have all the elements of a good story such as a strong character, conflict, movement, relevance, impact and timeliness.

2.  Think globally, act locally.  Let me say this right from the start, while you may want to be in Forbes or Vogue or Time, you should put those ideas out of your mind at the beginning.  You can pitch them, you SHOULD pitch them if you think your story is good enough.  But your primary focus should be on smaller and local magazines in the beginning.

3.  Do your research.  Once you have your story fleshed out, start thinking about the magazines out there right now that might be interested in your story.  Go to the library, your local bookstore, go online and start making a list of all the magazines that fit your story idea.  Next to each title on your list, make a note of how this magazine reflects the audience you are going after.  Will your potential audience be reading this magazine?  If so, put a start next to it.

4.  Narrow down your list.  You'll likely end up with 30-50 magazines on your list.  That's too many.  Start narrowing it down using a set of criteria:
          •  Audience
          •  Lead Time
          •  size

5.  Prioritize.  Once you have the list narrowed down, start to assemble the magazines into an order that you choose.  You may choose to list them order of circulation size, or by chances of being accepted or by location.  This list will be used to determine how important each magazine is to you. The magazine at the top of this list should reflect the one you want to be in the most (of your narrowed list)

6.  Research the magazines.  Again, go to a bookstore or library or online and start reading these ten magazines.  Take a look at the style of the articles.  Are there sidebars or smaller articles in the mag?  Do they have specific themes for specific times of the year?  Do they focus on particular kinds of stories?  Are there any writers that you particularly like or dislike?  Make a note of all of these things.

7.  Find out the lead time.  Some magazines have this information in the pages of the mag itself.  Others have that information online, for others still, you have to request this information.  This is as simple as e-mailing a magazine and asking for a copy of their yearly calendar or submitting guidelines.  I would recommend sending an email to the editor asking for this information regardless, since you're only dealing with ten magazines and it's a good way to get your name in front of an editor before you even make a pitch.

8.  Figure out if you have time to pitch your story.  If not, move on to another magazine that will allow you to pitch your story within your established timeline.  This might narrow your list down even further.

9.  Identify specific individuals to pitch to.  Just like you would do with a newspaper or tv outlet, you should note the names and contact information for writers and editors to send your pitch to.

10.  Write your pitch letter and then follow up.  Because magazines work so far ahead in time, simply sending an email pitch doesn't get the job done.  Even if they like a story, you may get lost in the shuffle.  Once the email pitch is out, wait a couple of days and then follow up with an email to make sure they received your pitch.  If you don't get a response, then make your phone call.

Because these are magazines, you'll have to offer thoughts and ideas for visuals, you may even offer to provide photos yourself, depending on the magazine.  Make sure the editor knows if you are a freelance writer wanting to write the story yourself, or if you're pitching from a PR perspective.

It's Not About You:

In any pitch you make to a magazine, your story has to have a big picture feel about it.  In other words, it can't JUST be about your organization.  It has to be about an idea, a concept or new type of service or product.  Your organization, service or product will only be a part of a bigger story most of the time.  While you CAN get feature stories written solely on your organization, service or product, this is rare and you'll have a better chance if you pitch a larger picture story.

You can also break into magazines by offering information that would be useful for smaller articles, or sidebars.  A lot of times new freelancers break into magazines this way, by writing the smaller articles and sidebars.  The same thing can work for you pitching your small business or non-profit.

My personal hints are these:  

Start with smaller and local magazines when you start pitching magazines.  
Do your research diligently, know as much about the magazine you pitch as possible before actually pitching.
Keep your pitch letter short and to the point.  Use facts but don't overload with them.
Really focus on why your story is a good fit for their magazine.
Provide contact information and offer to provide them with whatever they need to make the story successful.  
Be flexible, be patient.  You might not hear from a magazine for weeks after you pitch, but that doesn't mean they don't like your story, they might come back a month later and tell you they want to publish.
Take a long term approach to your magazine pitching.  You can start small with local and smaller magazines, but keep your bigger dream magazines in sight.  Eventually, you will get there, it just takes a little time.

So that's it.  Yes, magazine pitching is one of the most difficult aspects of pitching and PR.  But there are so many magazines, both in print and online that you should be able to garner at least a few magazine hits if you follow the steps listed above, put together a good story and pitch and are methodical about your approach.

Magazines are a great way to reach large masses in one fell swoop, so there is real benefit to putting in the time and effort to get published in a magazine.  So get out there and pitch a magazine.  It's worth your time, especially if you end up on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

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