An editorial calendar is an annual or semi-annual calendar of articles or topics that a media outlet or social channel will be covering. Since organizations are increasingly becoming publishers of in-house organs or content for social media, you probably are creating (or should be creating) your own version of these schedules. I’ll cover that in the future, but right now, I’m referring to the calendars put out by magazines, newsletters, some of the larger blogs, etc.
So why should public relations professionals make the effort to find and review editorial calendars? Because by knowing what’s to come in publications or blog posts, you can tailor pitches, query letters and articles to better suit the editors’ or bloggers’ needs and so increase your chances of obtaining coverage for your clients.
How to Use Editorial Calendars
Below are the steps for strategic use of the editorial calendars:
1. Since public relations professionals create client media lists and/or a list of publications for targeting, use those lists as the basis for selecting which editorial calendars to investigate. (You can also get important information from the reader demographics in the general media kits, if available).
2. Create a spreadsheet to help you track your efforts. This spreadsheet may list all the topics in all the publications by month. You can also include article submission deadlines for each issue, or, after looking at the ad submission deadlines, calculate and include a general note about how far in advance articles, query letters and/or pitches need to be sent. Other practitioners prefer to use the spreadsheet format to simply track which editorial calendars they have obtained and which ones they are still waiting on.
3. Review the upcoming topics for each publication or social media channel and write down story ideas for pitching or articles. Make sure that you match your ideas to the appropriate issue or proposed posts so that you schedule them accordingly.
4. When you’re ready to contact the editor or blogger, reference the topic and timing that you see in the calendar. For example, start your pitches this way:
“Dear [Editor’s Name],
I noticed that you’re planning to cover [topic] in your [specific issue or post]. …”
Editors and bloggers love it when communication professionals do their homework (sadly, it’s not as common as it should be) so that beginning will win you points.
Where to Find Editorial Calendars
If you want a one-stop resources for editorial calendars, look for databases of calendar listings. One of the best-known resources is Cision’s editorial calendars. You can also find editorial calendars in the Wooden Horse Publishing database, which as of this writing charges $149 for annual subscriptions. Wooden Horse also offers subscription options for the day, week, month and half-year. A cost-free option is EdCals, powered by CisionPoint (at the bottom of the web page).
If you prefer to invest time rather than money, then you (or an intern) can visit the publication websites or the blogs for that you’ve targeted. The websites’ advertising section is usually the place where you’ll find these types of schedules because they’re often designed to help the sales department attract prospective advertisers. If you don’t find a calendar there, see if the website has a section containing writers’ guidelines; sometimes the themes are presented as part of the information package for contributors. If you can’t find any type of calendars or writers’ deadlines online, contact the publications’ editorial or advertising departments.
Sometimes a publication that you’re targeting will not have any sort of editorial calendar. In those cases, study back issues to determine editors’ interests and see if there are any patterns to the topics they cover at particular times.
Final Things to Keep in Mind
However, even if you do obtain editorial calendars, remember that these plans are not set in stone. Publications can and do change their editorial calendars, so check for updates regularly. One of my clients has me do a monthly check of the calendars of the magazines she targets, and I always find at least a couple of changes.
Also, don’t assume that editors will focus only on the topics listed in their calendars. If you have a topic that you believe fits the publication and will be of interest to its readers, go ahead and suggest it.
While experts advocate starting to look for the next year’s editorial calendars in October, a lot of publications don’t actually post their calendars until November/early December. So, don’t get frustrated if you only find a small percentage of the calendars at first. Just keep checking back.