Media Kits: Perusing for Profit By Christine Venzon

As writers, we naturally check a market’s writer’s guidelines before submitting material. And they usually answer all our questions regarding content, story length, and (ahem) payment. But not every publication is so kind as to share its guidelines on its website, or even for the asking. Even when it does, you may need more information to fine-tune a query or decide between one market and another. It could even be a new venue, without a stack of back issues or archives to read as market research.

Writers are members of the media. Why not check the publication’s media kit?

What’s a media kit? It’s that packet of information aimed at persuading advertisers that this magazine (newspaper, website) offers the best placement for their products.

Advertisers sell products. So do we: we sell our writing. No surprise then that much of the information that interests them, interests us. In fact, sometimes their information is more thorough, since publishers spend more effort attracting advertisers (who pay them) than writers (who cost money).

As you dissect the media kit, pay attention to:

Readership. Income, age, gender, education, home ownership, even investment and healthcare decisions-these demographics can help you visualize a potential reader. The editor doesn’t have to explain who reads her publication. Instead, you explain why your story, credentials, experience, etc. would make you and your idea a hit with her audience.

Content. Publishers describe their regular features and departments to impress advertisers, but these can hold clues for writers as well. Golf magazine, which features Gold and Silver Medal courses with tips from the 100 top teachers, is definitely a market for serious golfers with the means to pursue their passion. Good to know, for both Mercedes-Benz and the golf writer. Also notice how a market tries to distinguish itself from others. For instance, SmartMoney points out that it devotes more space to lifestyle topics and less to personal finance than either Money magazine or Kiplinger’s does.

Distribution. Where do most readers live? In big cities or towns under 10,000? Would you stand a better shot pitching a story on Southwestern spas or New England B&Bs?

Audience segments. Obviously, Taste of the South celebrates Southern cooking. But its media kit boasts: “We deliver travelers!” Readers take 2 or 3 vacations and about 20 weekend trips a year. Sounds like the place to pitch a story on dining through the backroad blues towns of Mississippi.

Advertising calendar. Timing a story to match a special ad section can tip the editorial scale in your favor. (Don’t mention this in the query, however. It has the whiff of bias. Unless the publication is an advertorial, like a local dining guide, editors want to please advertisers without catering to them.) And the publishing schedule may help you spot an opening–or closing–window of opportunity.

Press releases. A press release is the publishing equivalent of the holiday family newsletter, updating you on new editors, revamped departments, and the number of unique visitors to the website. Pile on the praise, but paraphrase, to show you’ve targeted that specific market. For instance, a release on Creators Syndicate website about a recent, controversial column by one of its writers might lead you to delve into her earlier work. The resulting pitch: “I applaud Lenore Skenazy for promoting self-confident mothering. Fathers aren’t immune from experts and well-meaning advice givers, however. That’s a subject I tackle frequently in my own column, ‘Father Knows Best.’ I’ve enclosed four samples, as per your submission guidelines, for your evaluation.”

So next time you scour a site for market information, clicking on “About Us,” “Contact Us,” and “Write For Us,” don’t forget “Advertise With Us.”

Christine Venzon is a freelance writer whose published credits include Brio, Sasee, and Pockets magazines. She is also a well-paid if anonymous contributor to family and consumer economics textbooks read by a national, captive audience of high school students.