A lead time is the time between when a newspaper or magazine is ‘put to bed’ and the time of its actual publication.
And why should that matter to you?
Well if you want to persuade a newspaper or magazine to cover your story it is pretty important that you’re aware of lead times.
If you have a fantastic idea for a feature about barbeques for a monthly woman’s magazine, it’s no good telling them about it in June. The editor’s will have decided what is going on each page months before.
The ‘lead time’ for glossy magazines is sometimes six months, so at the moment, they’ll be turning their thoughts to Christmas features.
And it’s not just with the glossies that it’s important to consider the lead time – every single publication and broadcaster will have a set deadline by which the journalists have to file their reports, or they don’t run.
Deadlines in the media are NOT flexible!
Of course on a daily newspaper, the lead times aren’t going to be six months. The deadline for the front page will be sometime on the evening before, but the deadline for the feature pages will be far earlier, perhaps earlier in the week (for example it might be that the deadline for Wednesday features is Monday lunchtime).
On a weekly newspaper that comes out on a Friday, the final deadline will probably be on a Wednesday – giving a two day lead time.
Broadcasting works in pretty much the same way: a daily programme will have a preliminary idea what is going into the programme the evening before, but always on the understanding those items may well be ditched and replaced with more recent news.
The final deadline for any news item can be just seconds before it goes on air – I’ve been known to produce news items where we were winding back the tape (in the old days of tape edits!) while the link (introduction) was being read by the presenter.
But of course all the elements for that item will have been gathered together beforehand so the lead time for a breaking news item is essentially how long it takes a very quick editor and producer to pull it together.
In a programme like the One Show, the producers may plan a skeleton outline of each show perhaps a week or more before, even if the final decisions are not made until the day.
So, the reason why you need to consider lead times if you want media coverage, is that you don’t want to miss those all important deadlines. If you know where you want coverage, make it your business to find out the lead times for the news and feature pages, or for news items.
And make sure you submit your ideas and stories in time for the reporter to get the story done!