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How to Work with the Trade Press

Exposure in the trade press can help you boost staff morale, earn some recognition and support your recruitment efforts. But there are some things to watch out for

One perennially popular question that editors seem to be asked with almost eternal regularity is, “How can I work with you to get some publicity for my organization (or company, practice, group, etc.)

In a nutshell, the answer is: get to know the editors or reporters who cover your part of the industry and work to become a reliable resource for them. But it helps to know the “lay of the land.” Here are some general guidelines if you don't have much previous experience working with the press.

Know the publication. Are you dealing with the general media or with the trade press? The trade press will generally be more knowledgeable about the issues and operation of your business, and more interested in stories that others in your business can learn from. The general media is more likely looking for some kind of news story of interest to the community, and may or may not be “investigating” a topic (like food safety or physical security) at your facility. When being interviewed, make sure your “ground rules” are clear (more on this in a moment).

Know what the publication looks for. In particular, study its various “departments”. Most publications are always looking for specific kinds of news items or contacts for these sections, and your understanding of what kinds of stories have run in the past is very helpful in pitching an idea to the publication.

If you prove to be a reliable source for department items, you are more likely to be used as a source on a feature, or to be a potential subject for a profile. Helping reporters find the department items they need is a good way to develop relationships with them that can lead to more in-depth coverage.

Know the style and/or format of the publication

Trade magazines are like any other product, and seek to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Each one tries to have its own style. One may be very feature- and photograph-oriented. Another may package all its stories as news items. The first publication will be looking for stories that can be “developed.” The second may only want the “Five W's” (the who, what, when, where, why, etc.) for a quick summary.

Don't try to pitch an editor without having a story angle!

Every operation trains employees, seeks funding for renovations, and tries to attract more servery traffic with “monotony breakers.” What makes your story different? Your ability to point out what makes your program or effort unsual, innovative or newsy is what will interest an editor in it.

Try to keep your story suggestions “exclusive.”

The temptation is always to try to sell your idea to all publications at once. But remember — magazines want to be seen as different from one another. If an editor sees the same story and picture in the June issue of his competitor's publication that he or she has just published in his own June issue, he'll be a lot more cautious the next time a lead comes in from your organization. Let an editor know you will try to place a story elsewhere if it can't be used, but that you are giving her first crack at it.

Give good quote. Give good background. And know the difference

Understand that reporters are looking for different things at different times. If a pithy quote is needed to help emphasize a point in a roundup story, try to find out if that's what the reporter really wants. If he or she is on a “fishing expedition,” trying to find out more about a topic, or is looking for examples of a particular trend, offer to speak “for background” with the understanding that direct quotes or attributions will be agreed upon before use.

The best reporters will always make sure such “ground rules” are clear before an interview begins. If he or she doesn't, it is good practice for you to bring the matter up. If you are 100% on the record, know that and act accordingly.

If a reporter wants facts and numbers, spend an extra few minutes confirming them

Although some reporters will call back to confirm key facts before publication, most will not. A good procedure is to ask a reporter to read back key numbers and statistics before an interview is concluded. Make sure they are accurate the first time around, and are attributed to the right things (e.g., annual catering revenue, not monthly department revenue!) and you will save yourself and the publication embarassment later.

Good photography can dramatically improve your chances for exposure

While a picture may not always be worth a thousand words, it will almost always increase the chances that your story idea will be used. The better the photos, the more leverage you have, particularly if your pictures add strong visual impact, give key operational details that are hard to describe in words, or provide human interest.

Try to find someone on your staff who is a serious amateur photographer and who understands issues like composition, lighting, use of lenses and photo resolution. You may be able to get that person a published photo credit for his or her work! Also, be cautious about sending digital images. Many images that look fine on a web page or a computer monitor are not good enough for the resolution required on a printed page.

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