March 16, 2007

PR Interview: How to Appear in Harvard Business Review

SUMMARY: Wouldn’t it be great to be featured in a magazine that’s commonly referred to as the management bible? Harvard Business Review’s readers are exceedingly smart, inquisitive and sophisticated. We interviewed their Deputy Editor to find out how you too can influence the affluent leaders who read the publication.
Contact information:
Karen Dillon
Deputy Editor
Harvard Business Review
60 Harvard Way
Boston, MA 02163

Dillon's background
Dillon received her bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University and her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her first job after school ended up lasting for 10 years. She started as a fact checker at The American Lawyer, “a great place to learn the trade,” and worked her way up to being Editor and Publisher. Next, she worked as Deputy Editor of Inc. magazine for five and a half years. She joined HBR four years ago.

Dillon loves the many hats she wears at HBR: “I do a little editing and a lot of management of various layers of editors.” Her favorite publications include the digital edition of The New York Times. She reads People magazine for fun.

Circulation (for the six months ended June 30, 2006)
- Total paid and verified circulation: 242,761
- HBR is published monthly

Typical reader:
Dillon describes HBR's average reader as someone who is “in the C-suite or aspires to be in the C-suite.” Other stats:

- Is a college-educated (95%) male (59%) in his mid-40s
- Holds a managerial/professional position (73%)
- Has $157,340 annual household income
- Has in excess of $1.47 million total asset value
- Spends two hours with each issue (35% never throw away issues; 94% took some action after reading HBR)

Examples of current editorial coverage
o Features: The magazine publishes many articles “in the area of leadership, managing people, change management, strategy and innovation.”
o Best Practice: a thorough account of all aspects of successful management practices.
o Tool Kit: a straightforward description of a practical business tool and its possible uses.
o Forethought: 200-800-word pieces highlighting trends, stimulating research, fascinating individuals and innovative company practices.
o HBR Case Study: a fictional business dilemma written to illustrate interesting challenges and solved by real experts.

Web site
All print edition content is available online to subscribers. Plus, the site offers four free general interest articles and a free editor’s iTunes preview podcast presenting issue highlights. In the fall, HBR is scheduled to relaunch their website, an overhaul that will result in multiple novel features, including reader contribution.

How to pitch HBR
#1. Play by the rules

The best strategy when pitching HBR is to follow these guidelines:

Strict instructions are important since HBR receives hundreds of submissions a year. Dillon reveals that, statistically, you have a 2% chance of making it into the magazine if you have an unsolicited idea pitch. So, how do you increase your chances?

#2. Evoke the “Aha” moment and answer the “So what?” question

“We are not looking for a single company to tell its own story,” Dillon says. “We are looking for an academic who has pulled a lot of research together to draw conclusions. Why does a busy executive in another part of the world need to read this piece now? Who does this theory apply to? What are the implications of it?”

To sum up, make sure your pitch shows how a possible piece would matter to anybody other than your firm. “A very common mistake is to think that the fact that your company does X and Y will make an interesting story. That’s never going to be something we’ll run.” Again, the research part is essential.

#3. Tailor your message

It’s crucial to adapt your angle to the tone and scope of HBR. Dillon’s biggest pet peeve is when someone who hasn’t read the magazine makes a generic pitch failing to acknowledge that HBR “is *not* a classic journalistic business magazine that’s just interested in filling pages.” They really want people to take the time to try to craft something weighty that considers the nature of the publication.

“We don’t consider ourselves journalists,” she says. “We are editors and we are bridging scholarly work ... helping it become useful to business people.”

HBR is more of an academic publication that strives to be accessible to management. Editors there hate jargon. When composing your proposal, make sure you use clear language and include a 500-750-word outline focusing on “the ground you will cover” and on “how the logic will flow.”

#4. Think (and email) ahead

Pitch at least six months in advance. “We really work on pieces,” Dillon says. “We don’t expect things to be delivered to us ready to go. Our editors spend a lot of time talking with authors.”

Send your proposal to hbr_editorial(at)hbsp(dot)harvard(dot)edu. An editor evaluates all submissions. It usually takes about six weeks to get an answer. Email is your best medium -- phone pitches don’t work since HBR is looking for more detail.

#5. Don’t copycat other story ideas

Don’t assume that the magazine will feature another article on the previously covered subject. "They see that we've run a story on X and pitch us on X plus one. We're not interested in doing infinite permutations of the same story."

Are they looking for columnists?
HBR is not looking to hire any columnists. “All of our authors are brand names in their own right. They are mostly academics [45%]. Some of them are consultants [30%]. Our editors are pretty anonymous in the process. We like the system we have.”

Press kits
Dillon was very polite regarding press kits: “I always look at them. It becomes a mental note. I can’t imagine anything coming out of a press kit other than I become aware of the company I haven’t been aware of.”

Meet Dillon and other HBR editors
HBR’s editors don’t usually do brunch meetings. “We are way too busy to do that. It’s still many steps away from being something that may lead to appearing in a magazine. We are much more interested at looking at specific ideas.”

That’s why approaching them at conferences is a good way to get on the radar screen. “Our editors do a lot of industry things -- events that are about content, not necessarily about networking,” Dillon says. For instance, you’ll always find them at the National Magazine Awards.

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