The advent of Labelexpo is a perfect time to discuss one of the mysteries of business life. The mystery can be expressed in three short questions: “What is the trade press? How does it work? What’s in it for me?”
Everyone in business reads trade magazines, either in print or online. Trade media are the sources of information, knowledge and ideas for professionals around the world. That’s not news, nor is it a mystery. What many don’t grasp, however, is that the business-to-business press represents a method of communication for its readers and among its readers. It’s a two-way vehicle, not just a source of news, commentary and advertisements.
A trade publication has editorial pages and advertising pages. It’s a vehicle by which the industry’s suppliers advertise their products and services. In most cases, advertising revenue represents most or all of the magazine’s income. In our industry, the target audience is the label converter but, the publication is read by most vendors as well. Many suppliers submit news to the editor for inclusion in the magazine.
Hardly any converters send news to the trade press editor. Why? A couple of possible reasons come to mind:
• They probably focus more attention on the publications that feature their target audience, and which are read by their target audience: the end user, also known as their customer.
• They are unwilling to publicize any information about their companies, mainly because they don’t want their competitors to know more about them.
This second point has always struck me as peculiar. Your competitors already know a lot about you. If you doubt this, here’s the logic behind my statement: Over the years I have heard you tell me quite a bit about your competitors. I’ve had converters tell me that as soon as their company name appears in print, their competitors go right to their customers and try to steal them away. Wow. They actually wait for the magazine to come out and then do the nefarious deed?
Whatever the reason, at least half of all converters don’t like publicity in magazines that are read by their competitors (which, no doubt, includes the downstream titles). The other half enjoy the publicity, and some have an in-house marketing person whose job it is to promote the business to all the trade press. Others have PR agents. These converters do a pretty good job of getting their name out there, and I think that the higher visibility can help them increase their business.
The suppliers of materials, equipment and services to the industry are a mixed lot when it comes to press relations. Some have crack PR teams, and the magazine editors generally find that their questions are answered quickly by these savvy companies. Others tend to have a smart person within the company who can put together a decent press release. The rest are those who ask, “How do we get the word out?” These tend to be the busy leaders of smaller companies for whom PR is pretty low down on the list of necessities. Understandable. So for them, and for the converters who might be in the same fix, here are a few tips.
Know your audience
Successful executives know that good customer service is one of the biggest reasons they are still in business. They know their customers and what those customers want and need. Now, think of the trade press editor the same way. So you will want to find out what makes him tick. (Remember: The editor is not the final destination for your news. But he must be able to make sense of it and reproduce it factually.)
What does the editor want? What kind of news? Does he want ideas for stories? What is the editor’s day like? How do they get all this information for the magazine?
The job of an editor at a trade show is to learn about all the new stuff on exhibit at every booth; to be seen by the right people at every booth in order to establish or re-establish relationships, and to greet business friends and acquaintances; to encounter, meet with and interview attendees to learn about their purpose in visiting the show and to find out what they have learned; to educate himself about new or changing technologies and processes; to take photographs of everything; to visit customers and make sure that their show news is collected and that they are happy; to attend press conferences scheduled by exhibitors from dawn to dusk either at their booths or in the press conference room; to write up the news of the day for the website; to proofread that news over the next couple of hours; to attend cocktail parties and banquets in the evenings and to take notes on the proceedings; and to smile and converse with folks who interrupt him all day long.
Knowing your audience also means this: Don’t assume that what the editor wants is the same as what you want. I was at a press conference some years ago at which the sponsoring company hired a comedian to make the members of the media laugh. Trouble was, the CEO was the only person who found him funny. He didn’t know that his audience of business reporters were thoroughly footsore, fatigued, hungry, thirsty, and generally fond of cloaking themselves in dour sophistication.
Here is what the editors want when they visit your booth at Labelexpo: The latest news about your products. Quickly. Nothing more, nothing less. They do not want to know about your corporate vision, your marketing strategy or your customer service. Certain facts – such as market share, company growth and expansion – are worth noting, but not much else at this time.
Quite often – in fact, just about all the time – vendors seem to think that they have to make the editors believe what they are saying. This is a waste of effort. Editors are simply conduits for information, and because they are not practitioners in the industry most of them have no way of knowing how great your product is, or of figuring out where its flaws are. They can, however, be enticed to pay attention to you and your product if you make your pitch or your presentation factual, informative, simple, and direct. Remember those two words: simple and direct. Simple does not mean simplistic.
What is PR?
Public relations is the delivery of information to the public. In the business world, PR means disseminating news about your company’s achievements to those organizations that will spread that news to sizeable, targeted audiences.
In my 40 years as a journalist I have read millions of press releases. Allow me now to inform you, gentle reader, of what not to put into a press release. If you do these things, your brilliance will be trumpeted throughout the land.
• Avoid superlatives. Good editors are natural skeptics. Use the phrase “the industry’s best” to describe your product and they will excise it. Do not use the modifier “the leading” to describe your company, unless you are clearly and measurably the leader in your field. If you think you are, prove it.
• Avoid opinions, unless they are in attributed quotations. If you write that a new gadget “will increase profitability,” you are expressing a hope, not a fact. The editor knows this.
• Do not use the phrase “state-of-the-art.” Ever. It was worn out in 1985 and it means nothing.
In a paragraph above I outlined what the editor wants to know from exhibitors at trade shows. In press releases issued at other times, the supplier should maintain the focus on what is new among the company’s products or services. Other legitimate topics that might interest the editor include company financials, relocation, expansion, new personnel, acquisition of another business, and perhaps the sale of a major piece of equipment to a label converter.
With this last one, however, you’d better check with your customer. His competitors might steal all his business if you mention his name.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.