There’s no right or wrong answer about when to start a PR campaign.
Actually, there’s definitely a wrong time. It’s after something newsworthy happens, something important for your brand with a degree of popular appeal or relevance to a trending topic, and you are two weeks late in getting the news to the local or national media and don’t have any timely pictures or video to share. When that happens, what you typically hear from most reporters and editors is “geez, I wish you had called us the day it happened or given us some prior notice.” Then all you hear are crickets, because you just blew it.
So when should you start a PR campaign? Is there a point in time in the build up to a big event or announcement when you should bring on outside PR help?
A lot depends upon the nature of the news itself (hard or soft), as well as what kind of media (print, TV, online) you want to pitch.
Soft news concerns itself with less urgent matters related to the community at large. Say, for example, you are small retailer in your hometown and you are opening up a 3rd store. You are planning a grand opening and ribbon cutting and have invited the mayor and town council to attend. In this case, your news is tied to an event and because it involves some VIPs like the mayor and is about a local business doing well and expanding then there’s a good chance it will be of interest to a local reporter.
If, however, there is an urgent news story about, say heavy rains and flooding Main Street, and it turns out your business was impacted by the flooding, then the media will be on the lookout for interviews with local business owners. Your chance for media coverage is immediate and requires prompt action.
When you should start a PR campaign also depends upon the kind of media you are targeting. If you own a specialty hearing aid store, then you would be smart to go after TV and print news rather than online media as many retirees tend to spend more time watching day-time TV and reading the newspaper compared to millennials.
Each media outlet, however, has its own lead-time when it comes to accepting suggested story pitches. Here are a few examples:
TV News: TV news is still a wonderful way to get your business or nonprofit noticed by thousands of viewers looking for what’s going on in the community. The lead-time it takes to pitch your story to a TV news reporter is typically not longer than a week, possibly even just a few days, as many TV stations don’t know what they will cover until each morning’s news meeting. [Radio is similar to TV.]
Newspaper: if it’s a daily newspaper, then plan on a lead-time of one to three weeks depending upon whether your news is tied to an actual event like a product launch or just an evergreen story that is tied to an annually reoccurring event like Spring Break, Labor Day or Halloween. If you want to be included in a list of tips like “Spring Cleaning Tips” or “Where to Plant a Tree on Arbor Day” then it pays to contact a reporter one to two months in advance depending upon how big the holiday is on the calendar – Christmas being the 900 lb. gorilla of holidays.
Blogs: blogs can be very nimble and turn out content fast, especially ones like Mashable and TechCrunch. But some smaller blogs are not as well staffed and may take longer. A typical lead-time on a submitted news pitch could be anywhere from 48 hours to two weeks. Best to err on the side of caution and at least give yourself a week.
Magazines: the bigger and glossier they are, the longer it takes to get published. I once heard of People Magazine taking over a year to publish a story. Now that’s an extreme case, to be sure, and there were some odd events surrounding it but what is true is that magazines source content for upcoming editions as far out as 4-5 months. If you have a nifty educational toy for tots and want to be included in a list of suggested Christmas gifts, then you would have to start pitching in June or July. If it’s a local magazine, the lead-time may be less, but not by much. Bottom-line: allow yourself a three-month margin when pitching local glossies.
When considering how soon to start a PR campaign, you should clearly identify your target audience, where it resides and what media outlets serve it. Also, decide whether you will pitch locally, nationally, or a mix of both.
I always encourage my clients to start one month in advance of a major announcement or event to allow enough time for media research, message design and media outreach. After all, it can take several weeks to get an email answered by, or land a coveted phone call with, a busy reporter. Why, I just got off the phone with a business reporter in Dallas after three weeks of emails and voicemails. PR isn’t called “earned media” for nothing!
Moral of the story? Start early, don’t expect immediate results, and keep plugging away.
About Dave Manzer: Dave Manzer founded Manzer Communications, an Austin PR & content marketing agency for startups and fast-growth businesses in 2009. He specializes in highly integrated PR & inbound marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare, consumer and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. If you have any PR questions about your startup or small biz, feel free to tweet him at @davemanzer or email him at dave(@)manzercommunications.com.