3. Contacting the Editors

3.1. Letter of Introduction

When contacting an editor for the first time, you should take pains to get your relationship off to a good start. This is best accomplished by sending a well-crafted letter (or email) of introduction prior to issuing your first news release.

Even if you have been involved in media relations in another capacity, a letter of introduction can help establish a new era of cooperation between you (in your new public relations role) and the editor. After all, a successful public and media relations program is all about relationships—successful ones.

What must your letter accomplish? Consider your goals carefully, because this letter can do a great deal for your organization.

First, reaching the right editor or reporter is extremely important. Then, you will want to get that editor's help in identifying other professionals who may be interested in receiving and conveying Linux news. These professionals include freelance writers (who write speculatively or on assignment, then sell specific stories to publications), editors in related areas (business and feature editors), industry spokespeople, and so on. Your letter also needs to articulate why this editor will likely be interested in your organization's story and why his or her audience will be interested.

The primary purpose for the letter of introduction is to open the lines of communication and to make yourself or your designated spokesperson available. Be sure to give your full name and contact information. Most importantly, do not forget to include your email and website addresses. Email is the preferred method of communication in the journalistic community. Make corresponding and dealing with you easy for your media contacts. This is critical to the success of any media and public relations program.

If you include broadcast in your public relations program, you will need to adjust the terminology accordingly. Instead of editors, you will be corresponding with news directors and producers; instead of readers, you will be referring to listeners, viewers, or an audience. No matter what their job description is, remember that you are dealing with actual people. The more personable you are in your correspondence, the more likely you are to see results.

3.2. Using the Phone

Regardless of the size and scope of your media relations program, look for an opportunity to directly contact at least some of the editors and journalists important to your organization. The telephone is a tremendous ally in any public relations program. A phone call establishes person-to-person contact, lends credibility to your public relations effort, and helps your contact to associate a name to the news releases you subsequently send to them. A few moments on the phone, either as a prelude or a follow-up to a news release, not only draws attention to your organization but can also impart a sense of immediacy and urgency that may provide the edge you need to acquire editorial coverage of your story.

When calling an editor, always immediately identify yourself and your organization. Next, ask if the editor is on deadline. If their answer is Yes, don't tie up their time but offer to call back in a day or two and then do so. Editors are known for their extraordinary memory—they never forget a nuisance or a courtesy.

If the editor is not on deadline, then state immediately why you are calling, saying something like this:

Hello, I'm (name) with (my organization), and I'm calling to alert you to our announcement of (news topic). I want you to know that I'm available to you for any additional information or an interview, now or any time in the future. Give me a call at (phone number) or email me at (email address).

Look what the dialogue above accomplishes. You have identified yourself and your organization, stated your business succinctly, and offered your services as a liaison. Now let the editor decide what to do. If they seem to want to get off the phone quickly, don't worry. They may have something urgent demanding their attention or a story that needs to be filed immediately. You can always call back or have the editor return your call later. Listen carefully to the editor's recommendations for calling them at another time.

While most editors and reporters are busy, they are seldom rude (in fact, the contrary) and usually cooperative. If the editor asks why you are calling, or has other questions, be prepared to answer. As in any business situation, always do your homework. If necessary, write down potential questions and answers and rehearse beforehand. Nothing irritates a busy editor or reporter more than dealing with a public relations representative who is unprepared to answer basic questions.

If you cannot answer all the questions, promise to find the answers and send the information by email. Be sure to do this in a timely fashion. Editors appreciate quick responses and will give more attention to people who can give them the information they are seeking in a timely manner. This is a very important consideration.

If the editor gives you a No thanks, not interested response—which may happen quite frequently at the beginning—you should ask if there is someone else on staff who would be interested in your information. If there is time, and the editor seems receptive to sharing information (listen carefully to their tone of voice and phone manner), you might also ask if there is anything special about Linux they are looking for, now or in the future. After all, the less you waste of each other's time, the more productive your relationship will be.

Once editors know of you and your organization, there may be times when they contact you directly. For example, the publications you have targeted may occasionally feature an editorial focus on Linux. Check the editorial calendars of these publications on a regular basis. Periodicals plan their issues two to three months in advance of the publication date, so you need to be proactive in pitching (telling) your organization's story ahead of time. Editorial calendars are often made available on the publication's website. They are also usually available free of charge from the publication's advertising department. If all else fails, contacting the publication's editorial assistant and making a polite request should yield positive results.

Another important way to use the phone is to find out who you should be contacting at a specific publication. The receptionist is usually cooperative and very knowledgeable about this. You may end up talking to a lot of different people before you get the answers you need, but public relations is far more effective when you deliver your news to the right people.