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Short lead or long lead? Why you need to know the difference when planning your PR

The end of the year is fast approaching, and you may be working on or have already worked on your 2022 plans. If you are just doing your plans and including PR then the bad news is you may be a little bit too late for some publications, the good news is you are reading this and there is still lots that you can do.

PR needs planning, sometimes you can be lucky, and story just happens to reach the right person at the right time but more often than not there is a lot of planning, waiting for the right time, putting together different angles for different publications and so on, but having a strategy in place ahead of time definitely gives you a better chance of making an impact. You need to think about what publications you are targeting and how that impacts when you approach them which is why this blog is about long lead and short lead media.

Whatever sector your business is in it is vitally important you understand the difference between long and short leads. The apply not only to product-based businesses but also to those who want to pitch features (there is a bit about how to pitch in a previous blog) relating to certain times of the year. In some sectors this will be more important than others an in-PR timing is crucial.

For example, say you’re a product-based business and you have the perfect gift for Christmas it doesn’t matter how wonderful it is if you approach any of the big glossies with it in October or November it won’t be getting in. The December issue of the magazine will have been put to bed long ago. As I sit and type this, I have the December copy of Red full of Christmas ideas and it landed on my doormat two weeks ago.

To keep it simple Short Leads refers to media that’s working with a shorter lead time (around 6-8 weeks.) You need to factor in that amount of time when planning your PR calendar as this is how long it will take from your pitch to it reaching your target audience. This normally applies to weekly magazines, as well as TV and radio shows. However, as the number of digital channels increases it means that in many cases – especially daily newspapers and online media – you might be looking at less than a week’s lead time.

‘Long lead’ is exactly what you think it is a longer lead production time. These are usually what your favourite monthly glossy magazines are working to. This can be anything from 3-6 months. And don’t forget that their issues come out a month ahead too so the January issue will hit in December anything featuring Valentine’s Day will be seen by readers in January and so on. It sounds mad, but magazines take a lot of planning with page layouts, features, photography, shoots, and a whole heap of other stuff going into their production.

So, whilst you might now be focusing on Christmas the big magazines may already be deciding on what bikinis to feature in their summer issues

But if you’re thinking you’ve missed the boat for Christmas or even Valentine’s Day don’t fear with the acceleration of digital media it means there are more opportunities to feature online – especially for last-minute gift guides.

Here are a few ideas of when to start pitching.

New Year’s Resolutions – These need to be pitched to the long leads around September and November/ December for the short lead publications. Keep in mind that many journalists will be taking time off in December so get your pitches in before the middle of December.

Valentine’s Day gifts and ideas – You’re looking at September or October for long leads and December and early January for short leads.

Mother’s Day – If you want your audience to know about what fabulous gifts and experiences you’ve got on offer for them to treat their mums then get them over to long lead media in October or early November and for short leads January/February.

Father’s Day – Any Father's day content needs to be with the long leads around February and March, and April for short lead. Do think about when Easter will fall as this can move deadlines slightly.

Halloween –It may feel a bit weird to be putting all your spooky Halloween items together as the flowers start blooming all around you, but May is the month to start talking to those long lead magazines and then approach the short leads towards the end of August early September.

Christmas – You may hear whispers in some circles about Christmas in July and that’s because that is when you need to start pitching to those long lead titles that you want your products to be seen in. You want to get in early with the short leads to, so go for it in October.

So, as you can see, it is key to understand when you should be pitching what when creating your PR calendar. When putting your plan together plot backwards as from when your product, service or campaign is aimed at.

Also keep in mind that if you are a product-based business you will need all your images ready for when you pitch. The Bigger Picture service could be what you need to help with this.

Rebecca Slater is a PR Consultant with more than 20 years public relations experience. She is based in Staffordshire and provides support to businesses all over the country.

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