Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thinking like an editor

By Robert E. Sheldon, APR, Public Relations Director, Creative Communications Consultants, Inc. (and PRSA San Antonio president elect)

Power Gen International, Day-1

Any kind of media relations is an exercise in getting into the mind of the editor – understanding what he wants, understanding what his readers want, and knowing the kind writing that is appropriate for that publication. Most of these trade publications are aimed at educating and informing their readers about the latest products, latest technical and market trends and how various problems are being solved in the field.

The material we provide to these editors can never be a blatantly commercial for the client – unless it’s a simple announcement for a new product. Features or application stories need to have substance that transcends the client’s identity and provide a lesson in engineering, design, problem-solving or analytical skills. News releases need to be objectively written with facts clearly stated and opinions or analysis attributed to a company spokesperson. Materials that don’t follow these simple precepts end up in the “round file” instead of the editorial columns.

One-on-one meetings

On the first day of the show, I have visits scheduled for six editors representing such publications as Power Engineering, Utility Products, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Worldwide Independent Power, Modern Power Systems and Distributed Energy. While these titles may seem boring to the average lay reader, these trade publications reach important niches in the power industry and are read by tens of thousands of design engineers, consultants and building owners who own or operate on-site power systems. In addition, each one of these publications also has a web site which is an equally important outlet for content. In fact, the web is even more content-hungry that printed publications – a fact that is becoming clearer with every passing month. Getting into their editorial columns on a regular basis assures my client of a steady stream of inquiries from potential customers, as well as all-important brand name reinforcement.

What you want editors to do is to have their editorial columns fairly represent your client in the marketplace. There is no way to prevent an editor from giving your client’s competitors their due, but without a proactive public relations program and a steady stream of suitable editorial material, your competitors may be the only companies mentioned in publications. Through inaction on behalf of your client, you will create an editorial vacuum that the editor will fill with somebody else’s news and information. Gone are the days when editors had staffs that actually went out and got news!

When an editor arrives for a meeting, I first of all thank him for all the editorial coverage my client has received that year. Next, I hand off the press kit and then preview the four new product announcements and draw their attention to a new technical feature in the kit that explores the topic of noise control of generator sets. If the editor expresses interest in any one particular product or topic, I introduce him to one of several experts in the Cummins booth to help answer technical questions.

Staying on-message

As the Cummins expert explains a topic, I listen carefully in order to insert leading questions to the expert so we can be sure that the key marketing messages get mentioned. The engineers are experts on their topic, but they usually need guidance in staying on-message. That’s an important part of my job – helping to interpret or translate all the high-tech information for journalists while making sure that our intended marketing messages are conveyed.
There is often no predicting what editors will be interested in – and it often depends on what they are thinking about for their next issue. Before the day is out, I have gone through this routine for all six editors and reaction to the material has been very positive.

Customer traffic in the booth is light on the first day because many attendees are still registering and are busy standing in long lines outside the hall. But, by later in the day, we get busier. In addition to wanting to find out “what’s new,” customers also bring questions about their individual power problems and there is a constant scramble to find this right Cummins expert to handle the questions.

The first day goes very well and I even have some spare time to walk around the show floor in search of other potential clients.

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