You know that crazy organized chick who loves systems and procedures? The one who has the messy desk but is irritatingly efficient? Yeah, that’s me. How else could I possibly get in twenty hours of work in the typical 10-hour workday? It takes a plan!

If you’re the kind of uber efficient PR pro who organizes Outlook into client-specific folders, keeps client folders for years after they’ve evaporated and alphabetizes books and CDs… this post is for you.

Or if you’re a new PR professional still learning the ropes, this might help.

It’s October 1st… if you aren’t thinking about 2014 editorial calendars, it’s time to shift into gear!

I’m not talking about creating editorial calendars for your blog or social content – but the traditional PR tactic of using editorial calendars created by magazines, trade publications and other media for securing placement opportunities. Newspapers and broadcast media don’t typically have editorial calendars.

Ed cal searches are a basic PR skill, but one that waaaay too many pros gloss over it, only do it annually, or forget entirely. That’s a mistake, given how fitting your pitches to an editorial calendar bumps your success rate way up.

It’s time to kick off the process for next year. If you wait much longer, it will be too late to pitch January/February issues. And there is nothing worse than a client calling to ask “Why am I not in this issue? It’s a perfect fit for what we do!”

For the PR newbie, read this part… Everyone else, skip down to the next header.

Every magazine (and many other media outlets, including the larger blogs) publishes an annual calendar of upcoming articles or topics they’ll be covering. It’s a smorgasbord of opportunity and a foundational public relations skill. It’s also an opportunity for YOU to let your PR skills shine, because most agencies and PR pros don’t spend enough time with them to gain maximum benefit.

1. If a team is handling the client, ask if editorial calendars have been collected, and what your agency or department procedures typically are for handling this part of PR. You don’t want to re-invent the wheel if someone is already on top of it, but YOU DO want to show everyone that you are getting the foundation in place for fantastic results. That you are covering the basics.

2. Assuming you’ve already built your client media list and/or a list of publications you’ll be targeting, check their website first to see if it is available for download, then contact every outlet on that list and ask for a media kit. Traditionally this includes the editorial calendar, demographic information about readership, ad sizes and specs, and ad due dates. Why is this better than asking for just the editorial calendar? Because the ad due dates tell you when the publication goes to press. It helps you plan the timing of your pitch so it isn’t too late to be considered.

Here is an example of an editorial calendar for Arizona Foothills magazine (the full media kit versus just the calendar.)

3. Keep a spreadsheet so you can easily track who you’ve spoken with, which ones you have and which ones you are still waiting on. It also gives you a tickler file to get started with the next year.

4. Print out the editorial calendars, put them in a clearly labeled folder AND KEEP IT ON YOUR DESK. Plan on referring to it often. Tuck a copy of your spreadsheet in the folder, too.

5. If you don’t already have a relationship going, CONTACT each publication individually to specifically discuss their print schedule. When do they typically close out their issue? How far in advance should you pitch them? What is too late? Do they prefer to be pitched via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or phone? Do they have special issues with different print schedules? If it’s a blog or ezine and not a print publication, look at their website to see if they prefer post submissions that are ready-to-publish (it’s usually an obvious page). Note all of this information on your spreadsheet.

New “next steps” for the more advanced PR pro and newbie alike

6. Spend time going over each ed cal and writing down story ideas to pitch. Match the ideas to the issue, then SCHEDULE each individual pitch in Outlook! Don’t assume you’ll remember, schedule it as an appointment using the timing determined in #4.

Many pros miss pitching a great opportunity because they get so busy that it slips off their radar. Don’t let this happen – use Outlook to help you remember.

7. Not an Outlook user, or want a secondary tool to be sure important dates don’t slip your mind? Create your own calendar that flags specific dates and publications you should pitch, and look at it every Monday so you know what’s coming up in the next week or two. Print it out and pop it in that folder with the printed editorial calendars, but make it a part of your normal habits to constantly review it.

8. Every time an Outlook alert goes off and it is time to pitch a specific issue of a publication, glance over the entire folder anew to see what opportunities you have for that specific month. This may seem too often, but it helps you get intimately familiar with these magazines and their upcoming topics. It also helps inspire creativity, since you’ll notice something new or have fresh inspiration hit with every review. Many pros look at their ed cals once or twice a year, which isn’t nearly often enough. It also forces you to plan ahead.

9. If you SUPERVISE a team, sit down with them and review the editorial calendars together. Brainstorm together or review their story ideas that the ed cal stimulates, then don’t forget to look at the actual pitches. It seems like far too many agencies don’t supervise the team or work with them to improve their tactics – an epic fail for everyone involved. Pitches and the processes we all use are not a big secret, they should be constantly improved and fine-tuned for optimal results. Don’t hesitate to get involved.

10. Start collecting the next year’s ed cals in early fall – September and October. This helps you not miss out on great opportunities that it early in the year because your timing is off and you start too late. Magazines, trade publications, large blogs and ezines – round ‘em up and get those opportunities scheduled. They are the low hanging fruit!

Time to share! What tactics do YOU use for editorial calendar searches? Any fabulous tips?