Spotting the red flags of an underperforming international trade magazine publicity program
By Steve Campbell
First published in BCTIA’s The Monitor magazine
It was American retailer John Wanamaker who first said, back in 1885, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.” It was a lament modern-day business leaders can strongly identify with.
Product publicity and corporate promotion, like advertising, are vital components of every marketing strategy aimed at selling products across North America in today’s competitive business climate. But evaluating a program aimed at obtaining the non-paid placement in trade magazines of your company’s new product announcements, projects and company-bylined articles is much like performing an advertising review. Since it’s often hard to tell what the maximum potential results could be, that age-old question from the CEO – “How do we know we’re obtaining good results for our trade press budget?” – is difficult to answer.
The following red flags are indicators your trade magazine promotion program is not performing to its maximum potential:
1. Your superior products receive less coverage in the trade press than your competitors’. One of the most grating, and deflating, moments in marketing occurs when you open your industry’s leading periodical – the opinion leader that circulates to 60,000 readers across the U.S. market – and find, once again, that your latest product release did not make the publication. And, to make matters worse, a competitor’s less advanced product has been featured in the new products section. Keeping track of the coverage given to comparable firms and products helps you understand how much your company should receive. The emphasis on trade magazine coverage also speaks volumes about the marketing strategies used by your competitors.
2. Your competitors regularly publish bylined articles in the trade press. If you consider trade press coverage valuable, this is an ominous sign. Put simply, it means the competitor is committing the resources needed to submit quality articles. Don’t believe they are simply buying the coverage through advertising. Restructuring has hit the magazine business hard in both the United States and Canada. This has culminated in the elimination of staff writer positions, often forcing editors to perform double duty for different publications.
As a result, these busy editors are always in the market for well-researched articles dealing with important industry issues. If they require little editing, the article has an excellent chance of being published. By submitting quality features on a regular basis, your competitors are not only gaining coverage for their companies, they’re also cementing a relationship with the editor. That can only help the next time they submit a product announcement notice for publication … regardless of the quality of the product.
3. Your editorial pieces are not published by trade magazines. Take an objective look at your articles and news releases versus what has been published recently in the targeted magazine. Are they quality pieces, written in the style exhibited in the publication? A well-written and objective submission containing original information and research is much more likely to win the battle for placement. Has your company committed the time and energy necessary to make these articles winners?
4. Trade magazine editors make few unexpected calls looking for product feature submissions. A well-planned program of regular contact with the trade media serving your markets – an effort similar to that used in a sales program – generates awareness and interest among journalists. This often leads to unsolicited calls from them down the road, offering valuable, non-paid exposure for your products. In media coverage, if you’re not top-of-mind, then you’re at the bottom of the list. However, it’s not just a matter of calling and mailing information. These busy editors must be approached professionally – or they’ll quickly learn to avoid you and your company like day-old coffee.
5. Your in-house communications manager has too many duties. When they’re consistently busy working on a variety of communications tasks (brochures, newsletters, etc.), it will be difficult to set aside the time to pursue and obtain magazine coverage. Leaving out for a moment the time required to keep in regular contact, there is still the fact that magazine editors demand high-quality, well-researched articles that take time to produce. It is unreasonable to expect overloaded marketing staff to obtain coverage more than just a few times a year. If this is one of your company’s red flags, it’s a key reason your trade press program has stalled out.
The solution to many of these problems is to devote an employee position solely to this specialized task. If your firm cannot do that, or if the workload consistently exceeds their capacity, consider outsourcing the work. Either way, your company will have taken an important step forward. You’ve obtained a specialist to focus on one objective: generating your maximum share of coverage in the trade press.
If, after that, the program is still flagging – and you can’t find a legitimate reason for the problem – your red flags might begin turning into visions of pink slips. After all, there’s no reason why a market leader with quality products shouldn’t regularly receive good coverage in the trade press. Anything less and a CEO has a right to see red.
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About the author:
Steve Campbell, APR, is president of Campbell & Company Strategies Inc., a communications and public relations firm based in Vancouver that helps its advanced technology and knowledge industry clients obtain national and international media coverage for their products and services. He is professionally accredited as a PR professional by the Canadian Public Relations Society. Steve can be contacted at (604) 888-5267.