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Small business PR: what are media lead times, and why do they matter?

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

You’ve probably heard the terms long lead and short lead in relation to small business PR and promotional activities, but do you understand the difference (apart from the obvious) and how they can both be used when planning the best time to send press releases.

When you launch a new product or event, you need to get the word out.

That means trying to get press coverage in the most effective way possible as well as any advertising and marketing that you’ve got lined up.

Lead times can influence the best time to issue a press release

Media is a multi-channel landscape though, so deciding where to place your event or product might be a challenge. Should you look at getting an article into a magazine or local paper? Could you get on a radio show or TV? And what about blogs and websites?

Your decision might be influenced by the lead time – whether the media plans its content out a long time in advance, or whether things can be slotted in at short notice and still be topical and relevant. It'll certainly help you decide on the best day to send out your press release.

Newspapers coming out of the printing machines.
Research print deadlines as part of your PR planning

If you’re aiming for a print magazine, you need to be proactive and find out what the publication’s lead times are. You might be able to find the information on their website – look for their media pack which will usually have a list of contacts.

Monthly magazines can be planned up to six months in advance – it’s not unusual to find journalists pitching Christmas stories in June or July. This is always useful to know if you have an event coming up; there’s absolutely no point trying to promote an event next month in a magazine that needs several months’ notice. Local magazines may have a slightly shorter lead time but not always. The best bet is just to call or email in advance.

Short leads are last minute news stories – think about a new product, an award or something your company has done that you want to tell people about as soon as possible. Places that might be interested in that sort of content are lifestyle websites, topical blogs and daily news sites/papers.

Local radio stations often put shouts out on Twitter for people – follow your local radio presenters and get to know them, they may think of your brand when they need a ‘voice’ for a segment on a current topic. Even though they will still have a plan, they can usually slot things in and move them around, so if your story is interesting enough they should be able to find room for it!

A young man relaxing whilst listening to an 80's style radio
Local radio is a great way to raise your profile in your region.

Decide who'll you send your press release to...

When choosing where to focus, you need to decide who'll you send your press release to...

· How much time do you have? If your event is a long way away, try for magazine coverage well in advance. If it’s next week, you need to think about digital channels.

· Where will your ideal customers be looking? They may not buy magazines, instead preferring websites or podcasts. If you’ve already carried out market research you’ll have a head start.

· What do you have to offer a publication? If you have good quality professional images, that will score you points with print media, while digital media can be less picky over image quality.

· More coverage or more in-depth coverage? Short leads can be better for quick and wide coverage in more than one place, but if you want a full, in-depth profile piece you may have to wait until you catch the attention of a print magazine. Don’t ignore local radio or TV media either.

Getting the best type of press coverage for your brand can really help to get you seen, so don’t be afraid to try different avenues and experiment with different types of coverage to see what works.

For more expert guidance on how to do your own PR - take a look at my online courses.

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