I am in unique position. I am editor of two regional magazines and also a freelance writer regularly pitching story ideas (mainly travel related) to other magazine editors. It’s an interesting place to be and it has highlighted to me how unique each magazine and publication is, whether it be a local paper, travel-related, all about parenting, an industry periodical or a magazine about crocheting hats for cats.
As I have been editing the Hills Independent Magazine since it’s inception in July 2015 and also took on the role at the Hawkesbury Independent Magazine a couple of months ago, I’ve had lots of emails pop into my inbox from businesses, individuals, event organisers, not-for-profit organisations and sports associations.
So I thought it would be helpful for me to pop some tips together for these smaller types of organisations that may not have the budget for a crack PR team to work 24-7 on getting them media exposure.
Local newspapers or regionally focused publications are fantastic for local exposure.
When you combine the Hills and Hawkesbury Independent Magazines for example, there is a distribution of 36,000 across a fairly large area of north west Sydney plus an online presence.
While it’s great to get some press in larger metropolitan publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald, sometimes local magazines and papers can give you targeted exposure more suited to your target market (especially if it’s local) AND you have a higher chance of getting your story in print as there is less competition for space.
So let’s start at the beginning….
As part of the editorial team at the Hawkesbury Independent and Hills Independent Magazines, I see all sorts of emails come in with story leads. Some of the emails I see, I read and immediately delete. They haven’t caught my attention. Why?
When I read a story lead or press release, I am looking for something that jumps out at me that says THIS is what people want to read about. We want to include stories that people will TALK about or ask their friends if they read THAT story in the Independent.
We love hearing about fetes, bake sales, special sales, people winning awards etc but we need more info – we need your email or press release to jump off the computer screen at us.
Make it impossible for us to say no.
And here’s how to do it.
1. THE ANGLE
What is the angle of the story? What is making your story stand out from all the other press releases or story leads I’ve received? We recently ran a story in the Hawkesbury Independent on a church fete. Big deal, you say. Dime a dozen, you say. Sure, but the story lead came through with a strong angle on WHY the fete was being held. Funds were being raised to build wells in West Papua. In fact, the church had already raised enough money to build two wells and were aiming for a third. There was a great back story of a Hawkesbury resident who lived in West Papua for five years and saw the need for hygienic water first hand, returning to the Hawkesbury to set up a not for profit organisation that raises funds and runs a Clean Water Program.
MUCH more interesting than just a church fete, yes? Look for your angle and give it to us.
It’s got to be local. I get emails about all sorts of things – new events, book releases, businesses etc – but they haven’t done their homework and given us a local angle. Once I received an email about a show happening at a theatre outside the distribution area of the magazines. I was a bit low for content that month so chased it up, gave the theatre a call and asked if they had anyone local in the production. As it turned out, the writer lived in the area so BOOM – we had our local angle and did a story on the writer with the show getting free publicity as a result.
Our publisher likes to print and write about events that are coming up as opposed to events that have passed. We deviate from that sometimes, but it has to be a very recent and really interesting event for us to do it. Think about it. We’re a monthly magazine. We are finalising content for our next issue four weeks in advance. So for our January issue, we finalised content at the beginning of December. We receive emails right up until deadline about events that have already happened. Not only do we now not have space in the magazine to include your story as everything has been finalised weeks before, it’s also about an event that has already happened.
I remember reading an issue of a magazine that had a story about an event in January in it. I was surprised. There I was in May reading about an event in January. The relevancy had gone. It’s not like I could GO to the event. It felt misplaced.
So get familiar with the production dates, editorial deadlines and lead times the publication works with – all it takes is a quick call to the editor or the office. For our publication, we like to get a press release or story lead at least 4 – 6 weeks before the event to give it a good chance of getting into the next issue of the magazine.
If your story is about something that has just happened, get that to the editor asap. Some local papers are daily or weekly so you have a great chance of getting a story in print if you do that.
The more recent, the better. I am running a story in the February issue of one of the magazines on a talented young netballer who has just been named in the Australian Indigenous Schoolgirls Netball team. The team was announced yesterday, we’ll distribute in two weeks so I’m comfortable the story is still relevant. Now if I received a press release about it in February and the earliest we could pop it in print would be the March issue, it’s lost it’s relevancy. It’s still a great story but it is ‘old news’ so it will lost it’s oomph.
The nature of working in publishing is all about deadlines and urgency. Yes, I edit a monthly publication but we are working on all elements of the magazine during the entire month. Not just editorial. There is distribution, proof reading, sales and advertising, content meetings, graphic design and desktop publishing. There is always something happening and happening fast. If I ring you because I’ve heard something fabulous about you, your event or business and I want to write a story about you, get your urgent undies on!
Make yourself available and help out with extra information. This is what Public Relations companies do really well but you can do it too. It’s just about understanding urgency. I once started working on a story about this fantastic, unique individual who had such a fabulous story to tell. Yet, everything was a struggle or hassle. There were excuses, interviews scheduled and then forgotten about, it became a difficult process that pulled me away from my other stories. We got close to deadline, passed deadline and then the person told me he couldn’t be bothered. He was raising funds for a great charity and this story would have given him free publicity, yet he turned it down. Because. He. Couldn’t. Be. Bothered.
And I had a blank half page I had to quickly fill up AFTER deadline. Grrrrrr! Remember, editors have memories like elephants!
I understand that some people just don’t like being the topic of a story or like dealing with journos etc. If that’s the case, find someone in your business or organisation that does and get them to deal with us. Or if, for example, you are raising money for a charity why don’t you get in touch with their Media / PR team and ask them for help on putting a press release together and dealing with media?
5. BIOS AND QUOTES
If you’re emailing a press release, ramp it up by including some extra information around a person within the story. Is the story about a local artist? Or a local business releasing a new product? Or a mini sports star? Then add a human touch to the story lead or press release by including an up to date bio on the person or business or organisation and a couple of quotes from that person.
In my past life, I wrote press releases and I always included quotes and a bio. It’s all about making life easy for the journalist. Not because we’re lazy!! 😉 But because we are on deadline, working on multiple stories and a press release that gives us extra information that streamlines the whole editorial process gets pushed to the top of the pile. And that’s where you want to be. At the top of a busy journalist’s inbox 🙂
Easy access to high resolution images that come with the press release are a winner too. If we’re on deadline and our photographer is out and about on other shoots, and you’ve provided a fantastic high resolution image with your story, once again you’ve pushed yourself to the top of that editorial pile.
Get familiar with the publication and approach the editor with ideas of how your story will fit in with the layout or format of the publication. At the Hills and Hawkesbury Independent Magazines, we have some themed articles. Every month we find subjects for articles titled My Other Life, My Favourite Place and A Day in the Life of. Last month for the My Other Life article, we featured a fantastic local business owner who also volunteers in Vanuatu. The story was about her other life, yet her business got exposure as a result.
Also check for feature pages such as travel, entertainment, out and about, sport etc. Your story idea may be a perfect fit for one of those features.
My final advice would be around confidence. Don’t just assume ‘it will never get in the magazine’ (I hear people say that a lot). Or ‘I didn’t think you’d be interested’.
If I don’t know about it, it most definitely will never get in the magazine but if you give it a crack, you never know what will happen.
And don’t give up after one go. If an editor hasn’t printed something you’ve sent through it may also be because of time or space issues. It’s never personal. That’s what publishers and editors are there for – to make the hard decisions.
Start with these six tips and start flexing your own PR muscles and see how you go!