Cair Lerion Blog #1: How to pitch a trade press editor

B2B trade magazines — whether in print or digital — represent an oft-overlooked part of the media industry.

These magazines may elicit blank stares (or worse) at dinner parties but, in their niches, they remain a key resource for PR professionals. This is particularly true in the more-traditional heavy industries in which I have spent my career to date.

Ultimately, having a piece published in a recognized magazine is often more appreciated than pushing it to a company’s own website or via its social media channels.

Despite this, PR pitching to trade press editors is more scattergun than rifle-like in its quality. Given that PR professionals now significantly outnumber editorial staff, while trade press outlets are a shrinking breed, having your pitch or press release cut through the noise is a challenge. The challenge grows when trying to enter a new industry with its own set of trade press and (often slightly cranky) editors.

Over the past decade, in my role as an editor of trade magazines covering the coal mining, shipping and cement industries, I have been pitched numerous articles, interviews and press releases, dealing with more PR professionals than I can remember. The best of these have become trusted collaborators; I have come to welcome their emails or phone calls. Many, however, end up in my deleted mail.

How do you make sure your PR pitch doesn’t end up joining them in the junkyard? Here is my advice for catching a trade press editor’s attention (well, at least this one’s).

1. Know your client (or your company)

When pitching to a trade press editor, make sure you know at least the basics of what your company or your client does.

This is perhaps an easier task for in-house PRs than for those at an agency — but that is not to excuse poor preparation. This author has lost count of the number of PR professionals he has spoken to that did not know the basics of what they were pitching; the subject may not be glamourous or exciting but you do need to be able to hold up one end of a conversation with an editor, who may well be far more knowledgeable about your company or client and its products than you are.

2. Know your trade press (we specialize)

The trade press are often very niche; so if you are pitching a story about a new product, technology or project, make sure it can actually be used in the industry the editor’s magazine covers.

As an example, this author has covered the cement industry for the past couple of years: that is the cement industry and NOT the concrete industry. To a layman, there may not be much difference, but if a PR pro pitches a story about concrete, that pitch is useless.

If in doubt, find out what trade press the experts at your company or client read. Or — even better — your company or client’s customers. There can be a (sometimes dizzying) number of trade press within an industry (five at last count just covering cement): not all are created equal. There may be one leading magazine that commands more attention than others. Make sure you are pitching the right content to the magazine that people most read and respect.   

3. Listen to what they want

If all this is gets too confusing, talk to us!

The editor knows what will work for his or her readers: this author would rather be asked what he needs than being forced to hit the delete key on numerous irrelevant pitches. It may be that the pitch is relevant to the magazine but the form offered is not useable. If an editor needs 800-1,000 words, give him or her 800-1,000 words. If he or she wants 2-3 images, send 2-3 images. If she or he wants an opinion piece, don’t send an advertorial (in fact never send advertorial).

This editor has been forced to reject material that would have been relevant to his readers but the form it was offered in did not work for the magazine. Trade magazines are unlikely to have large editorial teams to take un-useable content and work it into something useable: receiving material on-spec (and on time) is always a good way of making sure your content is used — and your phone call is taken or email read next time.

The case study is perhaps the most valuable content – at least in my experience. Case studies are more likely to be read (which the editor will appreciate) and are a far better way of demonstrating a company’s expertise than simple press releases. They are not always the easiest content to prepare: as one long-time PR professional once told me, “the tough part in an industry B2B setting is getting a customer to agree to do it”. But they are “great stories if you can get them”: more than worth the extra effort.

4. Know when to leave us alone

It’s nice to be liked — but the follow up phone call half an hour after sending a pitch or press release is overkill.

You are not the only PR pro pushing a pitch. Give the editor time.

Or start things with a phone call: let us tell you what we need, when we need it and how we want it. Then follow up with an email to confirm what you are offering. Remember there is an inverse (some might say perverse) rule at work here: the more a PR pushes, the less likely an editor will be to look kindly on your offering.

No one doubts that a PR professional’s job is difficult — there’s a lot of noise to cut through to reach the ears of the editor best placed to use your content. But it’s also true that some PRs don’t make life easy for themselves. So if you forget all else, remember this advice from Sammy Nickalls, Departments Editor at Adweek, speaking to the MuckRack blog last year: “Make an editor’s job easier, not harder, and that’s the way to get your foot in the door.” 

First published by Muck Rack as ‘Tips of the Trade: How to Pitch to a Trade Press Editor‘.