Editorial boards maintain coveted status

Knowing the nuances of each outlet is key in seeking placement in this popular section

Knowing the nuances of each outlet is key in seeking placement in this popular section, finds Craig McGuire

Though newspapers are suffering through a downward spiral, their editorial pages are still highly coveted placements for PR pros.

Yet, when pitching across this fractured landscape, one size does not fit all.

Prior to accepting a post as The Karma Agency's managing director, Kate Philips spent six years as press secretary to Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), building relationships with editorial boards across the state.

“Relationships vary from paper to paper depending on the size..., political bend of editorial board writers, and how each issue of the day relates to the demographic,” Philips says. “Understanding the nuance of each of these helped me to communicate effectively with editorial board writers, and ultimately help move the governor's agenda forward.”

But don't expect an editorial board to always support your agenda, Philips notes. “Cultivating those relationships and understanding the writers helps to ensure that when a board falls on the opposite side of the issue, your point of view is ultimately included.”

When approaching a major publication like The Wall Street Journal, make sure to not only read it, but also truly understand it.

“I am always surprised by the number of requests we get from individuals on topics we are not very likely to write about,” says Melanie Kirkpatrick, deputy editor of the Journal's editorial page. “The Journal board has a set of principles, which we stand by and issues we've weighed in on over decades. Anyone who reads us knows what they are.”

Newspapers usually post what methods of submissions are preferred.

“Don't call us,” Kirkpatrick says. “E-mail is so much better at providing a concise description that is more effective for circulating. In your request, tell us who will be attending, give a short summary of why you want to come in, and what you want to talk about. We are very public-policy oriented, as most boards would be. If an issue is in the news, we are more likely to be interested, but not always.”

Also, find out how much time is allotted and plan a brief presentation, Kirkpatrick advises. The best sessions evolve into thoughtful, interactive discussions, so be able to speak knowledgeably on all sides of the issue. And remember, you are speaking on the record, unless you clearly establish otherwise.

For those not able to land an audience with regional and national editorial boards, local dailies are easier to approach, says Jason Ledder, director of media relations at R&J PR.

“This does not mean we do not approach regional and national editorial directors,” Ledder says. “While we are trying to get on the calendar for regional and national editorial board meetings, we can... get local coverage.”

The key, Ledder says, is to tailor the pitch so it is relevant to local readership.

Ultimately, editorial boards are more challenging than ever to approach. So, don't hang expectations on a single pitch.

“In today's environment, you need to transform your client from a disseminator of information to a strategic purveyor of content,” says Billee Howard, EVP and MD of the global strategic media group at Weber Shandwick.

Tactically speaking, Howard says, this involves tracking multiple trends in which the client plays a relevant role.

“The days of trading on who you know in your Rolodex are over,” Howard says. “It's... about... understanding the entire trend landscape, then gauging what is impactful and appealing for the publication. Instead of trying to put clients into existing content, help the client become a creator of content.

“There are fewer places to place stories today,” Howard adds. “But the need for quality content continues to rise. You can no longer just focus on one specific issue. Unless, of course, you happen to be the focus of a crisis.”

Technique tips

Read the title and understand opinions of the board

Approach national and regional newspapers, and local dailies

Be knowledgeable on the issue and how it's relevant to readers

Walk into the meeting unprepared

Call the board when they specifically ask for an e-mail

Focus on just one specific issue. Instead, concentrate on multiple trends

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