Several years ago, I was getting the business and my team ready to be off work for the last two weeks of the year when I received a phone call.
It was the founder of a business that had had some initial success, and his product was featured in Target for the first six months of the year. However, he had just returned from his next year’s planning meeting with the buyers, and they told him if the product didn’t fly off the shelves by the end of the year, they wouldn’t be carrying it the following year.
Understandably, he was panicked. And he was trying to figure out how to get his product to sell out in all of the Target stores in just three weeks. Finally, he said, “If you could just help me get on the front page of The New York Times, I know we’ll sell out.”
I felt terrible to tell him that’s not how it worked—and that even if his product were worthy of a front-page story (it wasn’t), it wouldn’t all happen in time for Target to sell out by year’s end. Instead, I suggested that he mobilize his customers and incentivize them to buy the product. Three weeks were tight, especially at holiday time, but if anything were going to work, it would be that.
He thanked me for my time and told me he’d “find a PR firm who listened to him.” I don’t know if he ever got that front page story—I did some Googling and never found it. And I don’t know if his product sold out, but it’s always served as a great lesson for my team and me about how to educate our clients on what we do for a living—and how it’s not just as simple as calling a friend at the Times and having a story appear on the front page the very next day.
You Can’t Start at the Top
The story of the entrepreneur whose product needed to sell out at Target isn’t unique. Those of you who do any media relations in your role probably have similar stories. Nearly every executive in the world wants and expects to be featured in top-tier media outlets.
They all say they want The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The Atlantic, Forbes, Fortune, and Bloomberg. And we’ve certainly landed stories in each of those publications, but not consistently without A LOT of time. In most cases, the stories were accompanied by a celebrity board member or investor, and they took a long time to secure.
Most organizations don’t have the large guys’ media presence, and it takes years (YEARS) to build that. Just like with anything else, you can’t start at the top. The media presence must be built outlet by outlet—it almost always starts with trade media. Starting here allows the organization to build a steady drumbeat of media stories that increase its brand credibility, visibility, and point-of-view. It establishes the executives as thought leaders and provides back-up when you begin pitching top-tier media—proof of how reliable the organization and its leaders are.
Not only that, journalists who write for top-tier media outlets often peruse the trade publications to better understand the beats they’re covering, get story ideas, and collect potential sources.
So to ignore the trades is akin to graduating from college and expecting to be CEO of a fast-growing company the very next day.
Not how it works!
But let’s back up for a second and talk about trade publications and their importance, particularly to a B2B organization.
What Are Trade Publications?
For those of you who need help educating your boss or your client, a trade publication is a media outlet that focuses on a specific industry or profession.
There is a trade publication for nearly every type of industry—consumer, B2B, non-profit, and more. PR has lots of trade publications (Spin Sucks may even be considered a PR trade pub in some regards), and so does sports, HR, artificial intelligence, technology, IT, finance, franchising, politics, education, and more.
The trade publications provide information, resources, research, and background information that is valuable to the people who work inside those industries. These publications are typically more willing to write in-depth feature articles about organizations and their leaders. They’ll cover industry research and surveys. They may even also take some of your case studies and testimonials and turn them into articles.
There can be more pay-to-play with trade publications than with mainstream news media, but there also is an opportunity to create long-standing relationships with the trade reporters and their advertising colleagues.
But more than that, the value of a trade publication is that the reader is already bought in—and, in many cases, pays an annual subscription. They want to read what is published and often pass issues along to colleagues and customers.
This means that engaged readers have a higher chance of acting on their interests than a site with massive readership where your news could get buried amongst other sexier topics.
Top-Tier Media Should Be Last
I often joke that there must be some secret school that entrepreneurs attend where they teach the value of PR, but only from the perspective that if a PR professional gets you on the front page—above the fold, mind you—of The New York Times, you will exceed all of your sales goals.
It’s not far from the truth. I mean, I don’t really think there is some secret school, but there is a misguided perception that that’s all it takes. They think that their customers, potential investors, and prospects all comb the top-tier media outlets for information about their businesses. Look at the example I gave you in the intro. That poor entrepreneur really thought all it would take is a phone call to my friend at the Times, and all his worries would be solved.
My father-in-law still gets The New York Times delivered to his door. I often tease him about this, explaining that there is this thing called the internet where he can get everything in the print edition—and more—without waiting for the carrier to deliver the paper. But still, every weekend, he waits by the garage door for that paper to hit the driveway.
He is the ideal reader. He reads it from front to back. He reads it to understand what’s happening in the world and our country. He will often read sections out loud, particularly those pertaining to something he knows I’m interested in, such as the banned books list in certain states or the former Google researcher who claimed their AI was sentient.
But you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t comb the paper for information about local businesses or even businesses in education (the industry he’s in). He relies on the internet and trade publications for that kind of information.
The North Star for Earned Media Efforts
That’s why trade publications should always be the north star for organizations, much more than the top-tier media.
Trades not only go in-depth about the industry but often feature executives and their organizations. They also have active communities filled with competitors, customers, and prospects. And before you say, “But Gini, why would we want to network with our competition,” hear me out. Some of our best referral sources are from our competitors—and we’ve drilled this idea into our clients, too.
We know what they do better than we do, and they know what we do better than they do. And we refer business back and forth. It’s a mindset shift, for sure, but hanging out with your competition actually makes everyone better. And the communities among the trades provide that opportunity.
Trades are also a great place to learn about the latest developments in your industry because the information tends to be current. Every time we begin work with a new client, we subscribe to all the trades to better understand their industry and their competition.
To boot, they often publish opinion pieces, in-depth Q&As, and thought leadership pieces that a top-tier outlet would never even consider. And, as I mentioned earlier, they also provide fodder for the journalists who write for top-tier media outlets.
It’s a shift in strategy and it requires thinking differently, but it works in the earned media era of 2022. Think about how this affects your plans for next year and start to have conversations with your boss or client about the shift and why it’s important. Even pass this article along to them so I can help you tell the story. Doing so will set you up for a successful 2023.