The often overlooked beauty of trade media

Floor shot of people mingling at a conference with the sun shining in

In the early days of our firm, we used to joke about how often clients wanted the “big three” – i.e. that trio of high-profile media placements that they thought would be their sure-fire path to fame and all that came with it. The actual three changed from year to year but typically involved a combination of the TODAY Show, The New York Times, the Associated Press, Parade, Time, Oprah, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. 

Yeah, they set a high bar.

Sometimes you make your own luck.  One of our first clients was a young company – just a year older than we were in 2002 – that was trying to raise its profile in the recruiting space. Summer job season was approaching, and we did some consumer and industry surveys on the topic and even set out to poll Fortune 500 CEOs on their summer job experiences. We found enough nuggets to create a newsy pitch, and before long, we had landed mentions of the research (along with the company name) in Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal and on the TODAY Show. That’s right – we hit the trifecta. 

The placements helped the client’s credibility immensely. It was able to send links to the coverage to large companies that hadn’t been returning its emails. The media exposure gave the company – which at the time was just seven employees and a server – the street cred it needed. And it was off to the races.

As much as that national exposure helped put the firm on the map, what came next was what gave it the traction it needed within the recruiting industry – and that was a focus on the trade media that covered the HR profession. The placements we were able to secure in this space enabled the company to more fully flex its muscles in the recruiting arena. These were the outlets that spoke its language, and the company could convey its expertise, to make the business case as to why it had a better mousetrap, to basically deliver the message that it was there to serve recruiting professionals. Many of the placements were actually guest columns authored by the CEO – sometimes a straight-up media hit, other times an advertorial. 

The point is, clients need to remember that striving for a “big three” hit may be an aspirational objective but focusing on trade media – especially for B2B companies – is what is ultimately going to create the most traction, deepen brand identity within an industry and help foster and sustain important relationships.

Here are some tips for a successful trade media strategy:

List building. The best way to build – and prioritize – your media list is simply to ask your customers (and potential customers) what publications or websites they are reading. What conferences are important, and does the organization sponsoring that conference have a publication? (Hint: the answer is usually yes.)

Subscribe. Get copies of the publications or spend time on their websites. Pay attention to which writers are covering which beat, and from that, you ought to be able to figure out who the best fit is for you. And see if there are opportunities for you to contribute an article or opinion piece yourself. 

Start slow. I’d recommend that you not propose on the first date. Once you’ve identified the right publications and writers, shoot them an email about one of their recent pieces (typically, complimentary ones work better).  Along the way, introduce yourself and your company, but don’t make it a hard sell. There will be time for that later. Even so, remember that these publications don’t exist just for you. It’s generally a good idea to space out your media outreach over the course of the year.

Consider spending. For many trade publications, there often is a fine line between editorial and advertising, and your pitches will be considerably louder and more persuasive if you are able to spend some advertising dollars within the publication, which may be a good idea in its own right. 

Beyond the pages. As I mentioned earlier, many trade publications are tied to a trade association that puts on annual conferences. You often can leverage your relationship with the outlet in securing a speaking opportunity at one of those conferences or trade shows.

Follow these tips and, chances are, your “little three” hits may be more impactful than the big ones. 

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Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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