How to secure content publication if you’re not a PR agency
Back in the day, the only way to achieve widespread coverage for your brand was through published media in the form of printed magazines. While the rise of emails, the Internet and social media has created new alternatives, published media – now online as well as printed – still remains as an attractive part of a marketer’s toolkit.
Attractive, that is, so long as the cost of exposure doesn’t outweigh the benefits gained. And costs can be significant, since marketing in published media, as anywhere else, is a long game to build brand recognition rather than about placing a single advert in the hope of achieving instant business.
One way of improving your marketing budget’s ROI is to secure placement of editorial content as well as paying for advertising. Such content is not only free to place, but also has improved credibility for engineers simply by not being an advert.
But how do you go about this if you don’t have the services of a PR agency at your disposal? Below are some steps you can take to make the most of your circumstances, and maximise your success in placing your articles into published media.
1. Don’t rely on broadcasting press releases
At one time, I could achieve a satisfactory success rate simply by broadcasting a client’s press release to a selected subset of my magazine editor database. This approach is no longer so effective, though. While I may get a couple of hits, the pickup rate is seldom sufficient to justify the cost of drafting and obtaining internal approval for the release, organising a supporting image, broadcasting, and maintaining the database, which decays quite quickly.
You can improve your success rate by using a PR agency or freelancer that has the contacts and the expertise to secure placement, but this adds to the cost of marketing.
2. Consider more in-depth, technical articles
A better and more effective alternative is to consider a longer, more in-depth technical article that offers information of genuine value to a magazine’s readers. Although they take more time and effort to produce, the results can be rewarding. While editors are inundated daily with press releases, they are far more interested in hearing about quality, detailed articles, especially when an article is relevant to any theme that currently interests them.
3. When it comes to promotion, less is more
If you’re expending time and resources on generating an article, it’s because you want to raise brand awareness and/or increase sales lead traffic. Accordingly, it may be tempting to promote your products heavily within the article; however, it will be counterproductive to do so.
Firstly, the editor will probably refuse to publish it – in fact, many magazines refer to this in their editorial guidelines. After all, they’re seeking to deliver material that will be perceived as reasonably balanced and helpful, rather than as marketing copy. And readers want to be informed, rather than sold to.
It follows that an article that simply presents the pros and cons of the technology that you’re involved with will work harder for you than a more promotional piece. Readers will view it as credible, and if they find it useful it will contribute to your reputation as a ‘go to’ supplier within your sector.
In any case, you’ll be getting exposure. The byline at the top of the article will show the author’s name, together with his position as CTO (for example) of your company. You can also have supporting images, which could show your equipment with brand name visible. And finally, having said that overt product promotion is off limits, a single discreet mention – perhaps to illustrate a point within your technical argument – will usually be OK. As long as the editor allows it.
And, even more finally, you can always repurpose the article into a more promotional version to use on your own website. This will allow you to pitch to visitors who are already interested in your products.
4. Identify your target editor – and plan your pitch accordingly
A strategy to maximise your chances of success comprises several steps. The first, not surprisingly, involves deciding what to write about. Which aspect of your company’s technology or experience do you want to offer to an engineering or decision-making readership?
At this stage, it’s best to work up a synopsis, but no more; something to pitch to magazine editors. Which magazine is most likely to respond to your pitch? The (over) simple answer is: The one that finds it most relevant to their editorial schedule.
Accordingly, the next step is to review all the magazines that cover your market area, and, in particular, download and check their editorial schedules. Hopefully you’ll see at least one upcoming opportunity that will match your synopsis well enough – or could do, if you’re able to adjust your synopsis a little.
You can then pitch your synopsis to the relevant editor; an email followed by a phone call. During the call, ask if there’s any aspect of the story not mentioned in your synopsis that they’d like to see addressed. If there is, and you can accommodate them, your chances of placement are greatly improved.
This approach can work without any need for advertising, if the editor perceives the story as strong enough, and sufficiently relevant to his current editorial topics. However, expecting to place a number of stories in the same magazine without advertising may be somewhat optimistic. (Again, it does depend on the material you have and the interests of the magazine.)
5. Understand your target magazine’s attitude to editorial
So, what attitudes to magazines have to advertising and editorial? There’s no fixed approach, it depends on the magazine – but in my experience, their response aligns with one of three scenarios:
a) Editorial is independent of advertising: With some magazines, the editorial and advertising staff will insist that editorial is not influenced by advertising spend. So you’d better have a good story.
b) Editorial is ‘paid for’: Some magazines state explicitly that they charge for editorial – and when they do, it’s usually expensive. It seems to apply particularly to publishers of long, in-depth technical articles.
I’m not referring to advertorials, which are really a type of advert, and can be an attractive option.
c) A balanced relationship: Probably the most common scenario. There’s no stated policy, but it becomes clear that if you want ongoing editorial replacement, you need to reciprocate with some advertising.
6. Leverage your advertising spend
I have found that I can successfully place content by working directly with editors, using the approach described above. However, if you’re buying advertising in the magazine, it’s worth endeavouring to extract the maximum benefit accordingly. Enlist your advertising account manager’s help in proposing your article to his editor. He may or may not be willing or able to help you, depending on the publication.
At this point, I offer two observations about choice:
a) The editor’s freedom: Unless your content is advertorial or otherwise paid-for, it’s up to the editor to decide whether or not to publish it. They will also make any edits at their own discretion. You can’t control these decisions, even if you’re buying advertising.
b) Your freedom: However, while the editor decides whether to publish, you decide where to spend. If a magazine consistently fails to publish your content, you’ll naturally ask what the problem is. If it relates to a parameter like style, that’s easily fixed. However if you’re told that the content isn’t relevant to the readership, then you have to question the relevance of your advertising.
Maybe it’s time to find another publication whose outlook is more compatible with your, own, leading to a more mutually productive relationship.
This article is based on my own experience gained while acting for my clients. Yet I spend most of my time writing; editorial placement is a service I offer to my clients as an extension to my writing effort for them. My perspective may be different if I was working from a full-service PR agency or large marketing department.
However, I believe this perspective will be shared by many SMEs that don’t have a large marketing department or retained PR agency. I hope you find it useful if you are in such a position.