As a public relations junkie, sorry practitioner, I’m often approached by firms who want to generate publicity for their products or services but have become tired of issuing press material only to be confronted by a request for payment before it is used.

Right: "Some magazines. No reason they are here really, except to look pretty. And the post is about magazines, albeit not these ones specifically," explained PRefect.

Often a regional or local newspaper or trade magazine will ask for something called a ‘colour separation’ before publishing an article or news story. Consumer magazines will often suggest that a business uses advertorial as a vehicle if it doesn’t feel that the story is right for publication as it stands.

The former practice isn’t great for publishing, but as pragmatists we have to accept it. I believe that if magazines and newspapers ran only editorial that had been selected or written by the editor or another journalist, the value of the magazine would be greater. Readers would give it more credence and ultimately it would be able to charge higher rates for its advertising. As a result, it wouldn’t then have to charge colour separations for editorial. However, I’m not here to argue with the business case of individual magazines – I’m sure they have a better understanding of their business models than I do.

But that still leaves plenty of businesses out there facing the dilemma of what to do if they can’t get publicity without paying colour separation requests. So here’s my practical advice to them:

- Make it interesting: The main reason a journalist will not run the material you send them in the news or features pages for free is that it isn’t interesting enough. The best thing you can do is make sure that your press releases aren’t short adverts for your company but rather news stories you could envisage one of your customers finding interesting enough to read.

- Target the magazine individually: It’s much better to generate one really strong piece of well targeted coverage than several poor quality pieces of badly targeted press. To this end, read the magazines you want to appear in and make sure the copy you send them is appropriate to their readership.

- Tackle every opportunity in the magazine: You should be producing news for the news pages, features for the features pages and letters for the letters pages - and so on. Don’t simply presume that a press release about your new widget will be perfect for the front cover. Instead find a home for it in the right part of the right magazine.

Finally, as a caveat, advertise. Most magazines that charge to run editorial do so because they can’t generate enough revenue through advertising. By choosing the right magazines for your advertising spend, no matter how small it is, you will find that the magazine is much healthier when you come target it via PR. This doesn’t mean that, by advertising, you gain the right to appear in the news pages - merely that those news pages will still be there when you have the right story for them!

I would like to conclude this month’s rant by inviting your stories and anecdotes, advice and complaints about the worlds of publishing, promotion, journalism and PR. I would love to hear about your experiences – so leave a message and get the debate going.

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