An editor at a biotechnology trade publication recently reached out to our office. She was writing a piece on flow cytometry, and none of her regular contacts was available to provide their expertise on the topic. So, she turned to us for help. Fortunately, we have created a solid network of affiliated experts and were able to suggest the names of two scientists with the expertise the editor needed.
“A lot of times, if I’m in a situation where I really need some scientific expertise or if I need someone to write a thought leadership piece, I like to have a good relationship with a PR person so I can call and ask for their help in finding experts on the topic,” she later explained.
This sort of success story is a goal of every PR professional. Like with any other kind of relationship, it takes a lot of patience and care to develop a strong, fruitful relationship with an editor. Here, we share the recipe for how to get there.
Step 1: Understand Your Audience
Wooing an editor starts with understanding what makes them tick - you must learn about and respect the demands of their job, and how they affect their editorial approach.
One attribute that connects all editors is this: they’re all very busy people. As publications’ editorial staffs have shrunk over the years, the editors who are left have had to pick up the slack – they have more work to do, and less time to do it in. Depending on the publication, editors may receive tens to hundreds of pitches a day, meaning only the cream of the crop will pass through their filters.
It’s your role to ensure your pitch is in tip-top shape and that you’re targeting the right editor.
Step 2: Find the Right Editor for You
You can write the most mind-blowing pitch ever, but if the content of the pitch does not match a publication’s editorial theme, the editor will look past your genius and throw your pitch in the trash. To gain an editor’s interest, you must demonstrate that you’ve chosen them for a reason. Don’t try to stretch your pitch too far to fit your favorite publication; instead, find a publication that fits your story.
“A good PR professional knows our editorial calendar and doesn’t send us random angles,” the editor from above told us. Sending an angle that is either off-topic or is not related to the target publication’s theme or editorial practices tells the editor you haven’t done your homework.
Another editor agreed: “Getting emails regarding content that’s not even remotely related to [our publication] says [a PR professional] can’t be bothered to do at least a few minutes of research on our publication before sending an email. It tells me they are just mass emailing as many publications as they can instead of choosing only the ones that actually fit the content they hope to promote. Do a quick bit of research on a publication before sending content to ensure it’s the right fit.”
To grab an editor’s attention, you must understand what they are looking for in a pitch. To find this out, you must ask the following questions:
- What topics is a particular publication focusing on in the next few months?
- Do they accept contributed content? Can that content come from industry, or only from academia or the clinic?
- What’s the publication’s lead time?
If you still cannot find what you are looking for online, contact the editor directly. In fact, an editor who has spent the morning wading through bad pitches may find your effort to seek clarification a nice refresher.
Step 3: Get Your Timing Right
Impressing an editor with your pitch starts with good timing: before you consider what angle you are going to pitch, you must consider when you should send your pitch.
By the time you’ve started writing a pitch, you should have done your research so you know when your story will best fit into an editor’s agenda.
“Don’t pitch a news story that happened three weeks ago. I need to know about it right when the news is first published. Also, don’t send me a pitch for a story that is running three days later. This is just a waste of your time,” said the editor we interviewed at the top of this story.
Nothing annoys an editor more than an ill-timed pitch. Most publications prefer to receive pitches two to three months prior to their deadlines, while some publications, such as Nature, Science, and The Scientist, require a lead time of three to four months.
Step 4: Craft a Compelling Angle
The next step in drawing in an editor is to give them a good angle. This saves the editor valuable time because they don’t have to perform research to come up with a new angle from scratch on an unfamiliar topic.
“If someone presents me an angle for a story before I assign it, that’s just awesome. Half the time when someone pitches an angle for a story, I tell myself ‘this is a good angle! I have to thank this person!’,” said the same editor as above.
If you can deduce an editor’s need, whether it’s a creative angle, the inside scoop on an event or recent discovery, or access to an interesting person to interview, and you can respond in kind, the editor will likely adopt your angle and bring you into their fold so they can depend on you for additional information.
Step 5: Build the Relationship
If you impress an editor with a great angle or a solid expert, congratulations – you’re in! Now, to keep up the relationship, you must continue to provide value. Be available to answer their questions and honor their requests.
Be a resource to this editor when they are in need, and give them space when they are not interested in what you have to say. If you learn about a new piece of information an editor may be interested, send it to them. If you are attending a trade show or conference, make sure to say “hi” to the press – it’s not only an opportunity to refresh old relationships but also to form new connections.
After all of this, if an editor calls you to ask for a favor, that’s when you know you’ve made it.