Advice to Publicists
(As prepared for delivery at the International Christian Retail Show on July 9, 2006, in Denver.)
Too many publicists, it seems to me, treat their jobs like a trip to another big convention city: Las Vegas. They’re gamblers at heart, thinking that somehow, against all odds, they’re going to hit the jackpot for their clients. These publicists offer books, authors, and interview “opportunities” to as many magazines as possible, hoping one will come up a winner on the great roulette wheel of public relations. Most of the time, unfortunately, they don’t, wasting everyone’s time.
Here are a few tips to increase your odds of success, all starting with the letter “P.”
First, Know the Publication.
Not every magazine is the same. My magazine, Christianity Today, looks at ideas and cultural trends that affect how evangelicals live and do ministry. We don’t review children’s books, take strong positions on the end times, review music, or feature people seeking to tear down the Christian faith. Publicists should read us every month, especially the review section, and be prepared to discuss how their authors can help us serve our readers better.
Second, Know the Production Schedule.
We can’t even consider reviewing a book if it doesn’t get to us at least six weeks before our cover date. I was still receiving Narnia-related pitches last December—when I was working on the February issue. And just last week I received a book on how to turn The Da Vinci Code movie into an evangelistic opportunity. That’s a good idea. It would have been even better three months earlier, when we were finishing up our Da Vinci cover package!
Third, Know the Person.
Editors are all different. We have different issues that excite us—or bore us. We have different work styles and preferences. Facing hundreds of books and ideas every month, I like to keep my job as simple as possible. For example, I don’t like cumbersome, unbound galleys. I prefer personal e-mail contact, not phone calls, so I can respond based on my schedule, not the publicist’s.
The bottom line? Earn my trust, don’t waste my time, and I'll be glad to talk with you. Yes, you may think it’s a big gamble to do so much work in search of a great magazine story. But I’d say it’s a bigger gamble not to.
Stan Guthrie is a senior associate editor for Christianity Today. He edits The CT Review, the magazine's review section.