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Deadlines Matter: Tips to Meet Them and Keep Editors on Your Side

If you have ever scheduled a handyman or plumber to do work in your home, you know the drill. You ensure that your day accommodates the appointment time, remove obstacles from the proposed work area, perhaps secure the pets, and wait. Then wait some more. It’s annoying, right? You expect people to meet agreed-upon times and obligations to you, no matter how big or small the project. And if the commitment is not met, the consequences are real: you are not likely to hire that plumber again.

The same is true for reporters and editors. When you fall short on commitments to them, the trust is eroded. The consequences are real: they are less likely to accept your outreach in the future.

It’s important to remember that editors map out their publications weeks or months in advance, and they often post an editorial calendar that outlines each issue’s theme and complementary feature articles. Editors identify the number of pages needed to satisfy the editorial content and then plan those pages accordingly. When your contributed article proposal is accepted by an editor, you have made a commitment to provide that article by a particular deadline. Failing to do so puts the editor in a bind for content – and could have serious consequences for your relationship with the editor going forward.

As you embark on an agreement with an editor for a byline article or contributed content, keep in mind a few key criteria that can make the process run more smoothly:

Abstracts Bring Clarity: You should write an article proposal – generally known as an abstract – to submit to the editor.  It should contain a synopsis of the article’s content, a brief bio of the author (name, title, experience, and/or area of expertise), a proposed word count, and the number of photos or graphics to be included. This is the standard information the editor needs to make an informed decision to accept your article, and it is the basis of your mutual understanding.

Take Deadlines Dead Seriously: Once your article is accepted, the editor will tell you the date both the copy and photos must be received. You should operate as though that time is absolute and follow through with that commitment.

Meeting Deadlines Requires Planning: Before you “pledge your troth” to the editor on the deadline, make sure to check with your content expert/author to ensure that date is realistic. Remember that client workload and summer or holiday vacations can impact someone’s availability to focus on the material. If you are ghost-writing the article, make sure to block off sufficient time to interview your content expert, write the article, and provide that person ample time to review and approve it.

Who’s Got the Graphics? If graphics already exist in presentations or on your website, you’re ahead of the game. If images such as renderings or BIM screen shots need to be created or new project photos need to be taken or secured, line up resources in advance to ensure they will be ready by the deadline. Check with the editor on the preferred format of the graphics (.gif, .jpeg, etc.) and size of the photos (dimensions, resolution, etc.) to avoid last-minute misunderstandings.

Don’t Hesitate to Nag: Once you have the internal commitment from your content expert and graphics creator, don’t hesitate to gently remind them to do their action items. Check in on a consistent basis ahead of the deadline to give everyone plenty of time to do their part. Communication here is key, as your content expert’s primary job is not the article but billable client work. Follow up and be aware of their competing priorities and deadlines.

 No Penalty for Early Deposit: It’s always a good plan to “pad” the deadline, telling your author and graphics creator that the article is actually due a few days earlier than the editor’s deadline. When the author inevitably asks for an extra day to review, you can say yes without putting anyone in a panic. And if the article is finalized a day earlier? Submitting an article to an editor ahead of an agreed-upon deadline is always a pleasant surprise.

Contributed articles are coveted opportunities, as they allow you and your organization to write the story you care about and control the final product with the publication. Treat the editor’s deadline with respect, and you’ll keep the relationship viable for the next opportunity.

Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency focused on meeting the unique needs of professional services firms. Rhino PR offers customized services based on each individual client’s goals and budget. Susan received the 2016 SMPS Boston Marketing Professional of the Year Award, which honors marketing excellence in the A/E/C industry. Follow her @RhinoPRBoston or visit for more information about how Rhino PR can help you take charge of your PR.

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