Is this is end for the business and trade media?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16th, 2009 by admin

Business and trade publications always get hit disproportionately in recessions. Whether it was the bursting of the dotcom bubble back in 2001, the early nineties housing-led recession, or the unemployment and industrial strife of the early eighties, businesses have reacted in the same way every time: slashing their advertising in trade and business publications.  Consumer titles also suffer, as do all media outlets, but trade and business titles tend to bear the brunt of it.

And this recession is no different. As we discover towards the back end of the noughties just how naughty we were with our unsecured loans, unrealistic mortgages and bloated credit card debts, as the global economy continues to contract, so trade and business titles have struggled. Advertisers have melted away, pagination has dropped, and a few have closed – CFO Europe and Training & Coaching Today to name just two.

As a freelance writer for these titles I’ve noticed it. In the summer of 2008 I was struggling keep up with all the commissions sent my way, but now I have to work hard to get the attention of editors and convince them to run with my ideas for articles. I’m lucky that Ive got the best part of a decade’s worth of work and contacts to fall back on, and that I know how to pitch to editors. Not every freelance writer does, and for many of us – as well as for our colleagues in the world of B2B PR – it’s really tough at the moment.

Our only comfort in these dark days of 2009 is the thought that economies always recover and the B2B media always bounces back.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if that really will happen. I really think that this might be the end of the road for much of our traditional B2B media.

For one thing this recession has come as the sting at the tail-end of a long period of sustained decline for these publications. We were already dealing with advertising budgets that were falling by between gfive and ten per cent a year. However, the real difference between this recession and those that went before it is that this time round we have the Internet. In 2001 the web was still in its infancy – only 8 years ago, but we’d never heard of Facebook, a large proportion of us were still on dial-up connections, and the concept of cost per click advertising was still alien to all but the most cutting-edge publishers. Now, advertisers are comfortable with online advertising. In fact they’re much more than comfortable – they recognise that online advertising can engage more people in a measurable and trackable way than print advertising ever could. And they’re moving their budgets online.

From my perspective I’ve seen clear evidence of this shift. As my income from offline publications has fallen, so I have been doing more and more work for online titles, most notably in my role as the editor of The Sales Professional. I fully expect this trend to continue, with an increasing number of my commissions coming from online titles. Many of them will be from publications like B2B Marketing, Personnel Today and Call Centre Focus, which have spotted this trend and spent the last few years moving more and more of their editorial and advertising online.

But I expect just as many commissions to come from online publications that have been set up to fill the gap left by the B2B titles that failed to spot or react to this trend. Many of them are suffering from this decline in advertising and are simply waiting for it all to pick up again. The danger is that it might not. The game might move on and leave them behind.

This isn’t necessarily bad news for me, as,  whether it’s online of offline, publishers still need well-researched and sharply-written copy. It’s not necessarily bad news for PR professionals, as there will still be widely-read and influential publications where they can promote their clients – they’ll just be online.  It might be bad news for magazine printers, but for the rest of us we simply need to recognise this change and adapt ourselves accordingly.

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10 things that PRs do that really annoy journalists – part one

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10th, 2009 by admin

Having worked in journalism for many years I have had the genuine pleasure of dealing with PRs who know their clients, understand the broader business landscape, think about what journalists need from them, and know exactly how to deliver that in an intelligent and useful way.

Sadly, I have also dealt with many PRs who have been a right pain in the proverbials.

And I am not alone in this. Ask any journalist what he or she thinks of PRs and the reaction will vary from a slight groan or a rolling of the eyes at best, to a tightening of the jaw and a low growl at worst.

This is a problem. Journalists need good PRs as much as PRs need journalists to write good things about their clients.  The two industries rely on each other, are in many ways just one industry. And yet between the two there remains a simmering enmity, an ingrained lack  of trust, and a profoundly damaging lack of understanding.

So, here is my contribution to this ongoing debate – a list (to be  revealed over the coming weeks) of the top ten things that PRs do to really annoy journalists. I look forward to your feedback!

NUMBER ONE: Expect us to operate as a free media monitoring service

When I first started out as a freelance journalist I did my best to respond to all these queries. When a PR called up or e-mailed and asked if the article including his or her client’s comments had been published yet, I faithfully went through my clippings, dug it out and e-mailed it over.

Then, as I got more and more work, I found I was doing more and more of this.  Eventually I got to the point where I spent an entire day doing nothing other than this. At the end of the day I sat down and reflected on the fact that I had been working as an unpaid media monitoring service for all these PRs.

I was not happy.

So, now I try to get hold of articles and post them on my site as PDFs or links. I even e-mail them out to PRs in a newsletter that you can sign up to here: www.alex-blyth.co.uk. And when PRs call or e-mail me asking if the article including his or her client’s comments has been published yet I ignore them.

I’m sorry to have to be this, because I do understand that PRs need to show cuttings to their clients to justify their fees, and I am genuinely grateful to all those PRs who provide me with helpful interviews, quotes and information for my articles. But, at the end of the day I’m not a cuttings service. If any PR needs a reference to one I’ll happily provide it, but they shouldn’t expect me to do it for them.

In defence of the industry I will add that most people from reputable PR agencies, when I grumble about this, look surprised that anyone in their field would do this. They advise me to have no truck with it, as the PRs who are doing it should be paying media monitoring agencies to do this.

But it still happens too often. It annoys journalists and it damages the relationship between PRs and journalists.

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How to keep your head when all about you are losing their training budgets

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3rd, 2009 by admin

“Training? Are you crazy – Haven’t you heard there’s a recession on?!”

This is something I’m hearing more and more frequently. Ok, so people are generally a little more polite than that, but the general thrust of these conversations is that in a recession the last thing a PR agency should be doing is spending money on training its staff.

You won’t be too surprised to learn that, as a provider of training to PR agencies, I strongly disagree. If previous recessions have taught business leaders one thing it is to remember that when recession end – as they always do – you need staff who are skilled, informed and motivated.

It’s encouraging to see that many business leaders aren’t making the mistake so many did in the last great correction of the early 90s and firing whole swathes of talented, capable employees – when the good times returned most of those companies were soon overwhelmed by their competitors with more enlightened people policies.

However, keeping your staff is not enough. You also need to keep developing them, so that they are able to help you survive the bad times and then really push the business forward in the forthcoming boom. And that means training.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you should carry on as before. Without doubt, this is the right time to review your training strategy. In fact the smart businesses are taking the following five steps to ensure they get the most out of every penny they spend on training:

1) Share existing knowledge

Rather than paying people like me to come in and train your staff, why not get your staff to train each other on their specialisations? If someone is an expert on social media encourage them to hold a lunchtime training session on the topic. If someone else knows Excel inside out then make sure everyone goes to him or her for advice on that. There will still be areas where you need to bring in external expertise, but don’t miss out on this sort of free training.

2) Focus on what matters

Identify your business priorities and ensure that all training is geared towards that. So, if you need to get in front of new business prospects, train your team on how to set new business meetings (see here for details of a new course I’m running on this subject: http://www.alex-blyth.co.uk/training_details.php?id=16)

3) Pick the right providers

In a recession everyone wants to be sure they are getting the best possible return on thier investment. It’s a perfectly reasonable response, but it does mean that supplier loyalty goes out the window.  You might be finding that your clients are reviewing their contracts with you – so shouldn’t you be doing the same with your training providers?

4) Get maximum value for money

Every supplier knows that times are tough, and so they should be willing to offer you a good price. If they don’t then look elsewhere (for example, I charge £285 per delegate for my open training courses, but if you mention this blog post when booking you can come for £250)

5) Reinforce with coaching

Classroom training is only ever a starting point for someone’s learning and development. It is too easy for all the knowledge and the good intentions to evaporate as soon as the session is over. Training needs to be reinforced with ongoing coaching. You can provide this yourself, or ideally you should find a training provider who incorporates an element of ongoing coaching into their training courses.

Those are five reasonable steps that are straightforward to implement. The smart PR agencies are doing exactly that now – look out for them in the coming months and years. They’ll be the ones hiring the pick of the staff, getting front page coverage for their clients,  and winning all the big contracts.

Crazy to be spending on training now? I really don’t think so.

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The 10 qualities of a strong pitch

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28th, 2009 by admin

Every editor looks for something different in a pitch. However, successful pitches do tend to exhibit common traits. Having spoken to many editors about what they want to see, and having spent a decade mastering the art of pitching to editors, these are what I believe are the ten most important elements in a successful pitch.

1. Delivered to the right person

2. Suitable for the publication

3. Explains why readers will be interested

4. Describes exactly what it will cover

5. Poses enough questions/opens up enough areas for exploration

6. Is concise and focused

7. Is free of basic errors

8. Describes who can comment on the subject and why they are well qualified

9. Offers clear next steps

10. Has clear commercial benefit to the publication

Any PR who delivers pitches that tick all of those boxes will find that more and more of those ideas are accepted. Furthermore they will also find that editors start coming to them for ideas.

However, knowing that that is what you want to achieve and actually achieving it are two very different things. In my masterclass ‘Pitching to Editors’ I show delegates how to create a pitch that has all those qualities. During the afternoon session every delegate actually builds a pitch which they can send out the next day.

Following the training I work remotely with delegates to reinforce the learning – each week for four weeks they work with me to build a fresh pitch that they can send. Usually by the end of those four weeks delegates are getting articles placed in publications that they thought impossible before the course.

If you want to find out more about this course click here:http://www.alex-blyth.co.uk/training_details.php?id=3

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Do editors want your pitches?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19th, 2009 by admin

The ability to pitch to editors is absolutely essential for anyone who wishes to use the media to convey a message. However that pitch is made – be it e-mail, phone or in person – if you can persuade an editor to run your idea for an article you will be very well placed to get good coverage in that article and so reach your intended audience.

However, it is not easy to do well. It is a large part of the reason why companies hire PR experts – in-house and agency. They need people who know how to pitch article ideas to journalists and editors. It’s the skill that marks out the PR professional from the amateur.

And yet, very few PRs know how to do it well. From my experience as a freelance journalist, and from canvassing the views of editors I know and write for, the vast majority of pitches from PRs are poorly conceived, clumsily expressed, and very often a waste of everyone’s time.

This is a problem, not just for the PRs but also for those editors. The first thing that any PR should bear in mind when building a pitch to an editor is that the editor genuinely wants to receive good pitches from PRs. They absolutely rely on them.

Put yourself in their shoes. Their publication is well-targeted – perhaps on a trade such as retail, a business activity such as human resources, a geographical region such as Brighton, or a hobby such as running. Even if they work for a national newspaper they will have a section they edit, such as the arts. The point is that there is only so much you can say about retail, HR, Brighton, running or the arts. And these poor editors need to fill an entire publication or section every month, or every week or every day.

After a while every editor runs out of ideas. Unless they can find a good source of new ideas they will start repeating themselves, their publications will become stale and their reader numbers will fall. Once reader numbers fall so does revenue from subscribers and advertisers. It is a vicious circle that can prove fatal to any publication.

So, they need to find new ideas. They try everything they can to generate them themselves – brainstorming in editorial meetings, asking ad sales colleagues, scouring the Internet for ideas, networking at conferences, and so on. But no matter what they try they will always be reliant on third parties for fresh article ideas.

That’s you and me – PR professionals and freelance writers.

Without us, most publications you see on the news stand would rapidly become very dull. We play a vital role in providing the editors of those publications with new ideas that will stimulate their readers and boost their advertising revenue.

So, they want you to succeed. When they open an e-mail from you they want to see a good idea that they can use.

However, this doesn’t mean that they’ll accept any idea you send. You are up against stiff competition – hundreds of PR professionals and freelance writers, to say nothing of the hundreds of amateurs who want coverage for their cause, story, or business. So, you need to know how to stand out from the crowd.

In my next post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on how to do exactly that (or to learn exactly how to do it, sign up to my course on Pitching to Editors – http://www.alex-blyth.co.uk/training_details.php?id=3) but for now, I’d like to offer this optimistic thought to every PR out there who is struggling to pitch an idea to the media. It’s always difficult, and with so many publications suffering from plummeting ad revenues and so dropping their pagination, it is more difficult than ever beofre. But it is not impossible. And the people on the end of the phone or reading your e-mails DO want you to succeed!

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