Last year I received this email:
‘Thank you, we will keep your email on file. At present we are not considering doing any features on property as we are in the middle of bumper Christmas issues.’
Now, when would you think I received this? November? September?
Actually this was an email I received back while pitching a property client and I got it in June. Yep, you read correctly – June.
When we begin working with clients, often one of the first things we find ourselves educating them about is lead times. Lead times in publishing describe the amount of time that a journalist has to put a piece ‘to bed’ – i.e. publish it. Depending on the publication, lead times can be anything from a couple of hours to many months.
For instance, if you are working with an online publication, the lead time will be much quicker than in print. A journalist or blogger can write something and once posted, it’s live and published. This can be done extremely quickly, especially with live webcasts and social media.
In print, it’s a little different. There is a lot more to publishing than completing a content management system (CMS). Pages have to be laid out. Artwork (at the right resolution) needs to be sourced. Depending on the print run and the advertising booked, the pagination (number of pages) can vary. All of this takes time – let alone the time needed to commission out articles, interview people, review products, research stories and then write them.
Many publications will have a day or time when they ‘go to press’. This is the window that the printer has left open to get all the pages printed, folded and stitched so that a publication appears on the newsstand or arrives through your letterbox when you expect it. If a publication misses this print window, it can cost the publisher a lot of money. Because of the importance of this window, you might get bawled at by journalists if you contact them on press day with stuff that isn’t urgent!
Depending on where you are pitching a story, whether it is a news piece or a feature, you may have some leeway. News needs to feel new, so isn’t as planned out in advance. When a publication, even if it is a weekly, publishes its news, it wants it to have the latest available information. At the most, the news covered by it will be a week old. However, a feature in this same publication may well have been planned for six weeks or more.
Here is a rough guide to lead times (although these can vary depending on the publication). It’s always wise to check when copy and information is needed, and when the press day is.
These tend to work three to four months in advance, with the exception of bumper issues (such as the email at the start of this post).
One week for news, four to six weeks for features.
One to three days for news, two to three weeks for features.
One to two days for online sites. One to two weeks for radio programmes. TV programmes we will deal with in another post!
One more thing to note – even if you think you have pitched in a story, there is always the chance that it will be bumped for more important news or something that is a better fit with the publication.
There are no guarantees with PR. Often it’s a case of luck, having the right story for the publication and of course, timing.