Trade journalists; what they want, what they really, really want

Every different industry and market has a trade media.  These publications hold a mirror up to the industries they cover – the good, the bad and the downright ugly. But I have lost track of the time our PR clients have in the past dismissed their trade media as unworthy of attention or effort.  They always brief us to aim for bigger prizes – coverage in Nationals or international business media.  This is short-sighted at best and can be damaging.

Why? Trade journalists are the conduit to the bigger prizes – they have a great deal of influence with other media who will come to them for stories and to find out what and who is important in their industry.  A lot of senior journalists start out working for trade publications; get in with the right reporter now and you can find your stories covered much more widely in future. Within the research industry at least, the trade media is read by research clients so is a direct route to profile-raising and new business.  And the trade media gives you access to the zeitgeist; the new thinking and current topics that show what is going on in your industry – even if you disagree with it you cannot afford to ignore it!

So, looking after the trade media is rule number one in business-to-business media relations.  For these journalists, it is important to build and nurture good on-going relationships.  In order to do this, you need an idea of what these journalists want and how to keep them happy. Here are a few pointers to help researchers win the love of the trade media.

1. Understand what a journalist’s life is like

In a world of online daily news, most trade journalists face daily deadlines, are writing 1000s of words of copy in a very short space of time and making snap decisions about stories, images, quotes and headlines. It goes without saying that you have to be really fast and responsive to build a good relationship and make sure you keep them happy. Don’t waste time. If you need to buy yourself some extra thinking time, then call them back in ten minutes not two hours.

2. Keep it simple

Given point 1 above you must provide clear, straightforward information; avoid jargon; keep it simple.  Think about the two or three key points you want to get across. Provide short sound bites/quotes.  And provide exclusives – trade journalists won’t run a story that has already appeared in the national press, however, the nationals will run something even if it has appeared in the trade media.

3. Do your homework

Make sure you have read the latest issues of the publication you are talking to. You will look very stupid bringing up something as ‘new’ if they covered it last week. Don’t forget why you are talking to the press. There’s no point doing an interview if there is nothing in it for you so think about this first.

4. Build relationships

Get in touch; don’t wait for a big story to break before you make initial contact with your key publications. Find out who is covering your sector or topic and target them. Break the ice and establish an on-going relationship. Journalists are lazy and if they have a good, longstanding relationship with someone they will turn to them for opinions and quotes and in turn they are more likely to listen if you approach them with a story.

5. Sugar the pill

Make your good news interesting. You only get one shot at telling your story so tell it well. A headline on a press release that says “local furniture store creates 50 new jobs” is more likely to get attention than “local furniture store opens new branch.” Think about how to position your news to your advantage.

6. Don’t waste time writing features

If you have an idea or a piece of research that you think a journalist will be interested in, then write a synopsis. It should be concise, contain all the key facts and definitely not be a sales document.  Never write an article and then email it over expecting a magazine to publish it. They won’t; unless you pay for advertorial. If you send a synopsis the journalist can then work out how they want to use it, where it might go, who else they might talk to and if you or someone else should write it.

 7. The role of the press release

A press release is used to communicate news. Is your ‘news’ really news? Think about this from the journalist’s perspective first.  A press release is not a sales document; it is a useful tool for journalists. It should include: a headline that grabs attention; the key facts – what, where, why, how and when; a good strong quote that sounds like a real person speaking, not like it was lifted from a business management book.   It should be a page and a half of text at most.  Avoid jargon and write clearly – if you read it out to your mother/daughter/your barista, would they understand it?  If your press release doesn’t have a good title, it will not be read. Except in rare circumstances, do not expect your press release to be ‘published’, a decent publication will take excerpts or rewrite it including their own comment and references.

8. Avoid wire services and never spam the media.

By now you should have an idea of how specific and tailored your relationships with journalists should be. Treat them with respect.  Above all, journalists don’t read the commercial wire services like Market Wire and PR Web so don’t waste your money on them. These paid for services pay subscriptions to online publications to reproduce your press release. If you see ‘coverage’ on a site that is a reproduction of a press release then this has been sponsored. It is not true coverage; it will not be read by journalists and it will not improve your search rankings. Genuine news agencies, (such as the Press Association, Thomson Reuters or United Press International), should be handled in the same way as the National media – of which more in a future article.

This article was originally written for Quirk’s.