Cair Lerion Blog #3: An Interview with Carly Leonida

Give us a brief Tweet-length history of your career so far. 

Mining editor with a decade of experience turned freelance writer and consultant. I now run an independent consultancy called The Intelligent Miner and serve as European editor at Mining Media International.

How did you begin your career in trade journalism?

I fell into the job really. I graduated from university just as the Global Financial Crisis hit and no one was hiring geologists, so I had to get creative with my skills. I’ve always loved writing. When I saw that Mining Magazine was looking for an assistant editor, I jumped at the chance. I spent 10 years working my way up to become editor-in-chief and left in April this year to start my own company.

What have been some of the highlights – and challenges! – of editing a trade magazine?

International travel has been the biggest highlight of the job. I’ve walked the Great Wall of China, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, held lion cubs in South Africa, and raced in a NASCAR at the Las Vegas Speedway. I’ve been very lucky that my job has provided such amazing opportunities.

In terms of challenges, when you’re editing a niche title in a small and quite specialist industry, it takes time to build up your expertise and contacts. Longevity counts for a lot in the trade press and it earns you respect. Also, being a young woman in a male-dominated industry was a challenge at first. I was often referred to as ‘just an assistant’, which drove me nuts. I wasn’t collecting anyone’s dry cleaning; I was helping to run the title.

In your time as a trade magazine editor, you did a lot to build up the online and social media presence. Can you talk us through some of these initiatives  and how they were received in such a traditional industry as mining?

One of my first jobs at Mining Magazine was to make sure that we published news online every week. We built up gradually to publishing stories daily, setting our own quotas, and then took the leap to set up Twitter accounts for each of the editors, as well as the magazine. We made sure our Twitter handles were all aligned, and that we had the brand colours showing. We agreed to try and post a minimum number of tweets everyday from our own accounts and then used the Mining Magazine account to promote features, events etc. Consistency was key.

Once we got into the swing of things it was pretty easy to integrate social media into our daily routines and Twitter actually became a useful tool for finding leads as more brands joined. The website went through several iterations over the years and we eventually committed to publishing everything online first. Linkedin was the other platform that we used a lot.

To be fair, building out the Mining Magazine brand online was very much a group effort. People only see the editors as the face of the brand, but we had a digital team, production, marketing, and advertising, who all pulled together to produce what you see online. It’s definitely not the work of only two or three people.

Our online efforts were always well received by clients, although we did get a few questioning looks from our peers, particularly those who were older than us. But there’s a new generation of editors in the mining industry press who now ‘get’ social media and its uses in publishing, so it’s become commonplace to have a strong online presence.  

How do you see the balance between traditional print media and online media within the industrial trade press space?

I think there will always be a place for print within trade, but online and digital are slowly but surely starting to inch ahead. Lots of brands are now publishing their articles online first and then cherry-picking content from their websites for print. Print used to be people’s go-to place for news but the availability of smart phones, tablets and laptops, plus the 24-7 work culture, means that online has overtaken it in this sense. There is a balance to be struck though: trade titles still need both a strong website and print product at this stage. Not just for readers but for advertisers too.   

What were the best (and worst) pitches you received as a trade press editor?

I’m not going to name and shame anyone, but the worst ones are when a PR person calls and is clearly reading info off a sheet, with no real clue what the product actually is. As soon as you ask a question, it’s obvious as they start to panic.

It’s also annoying when people haven’t done their research and try to pitch a story that’s totally unsuitable for your publication. Always do your research! It takes five minutes and can make a huge difference as to whether your story is accepted or not.

If you want to make your pitch stand out: find the editor’s name and direct email address and send them an email (spell their name correctly). Anything without a name on it, or that has clearly been copied and pasted to multiple publications will be deleted straight away. Keep it short and factual, no waffle about how wonderful a product is. And give a few lines about why the story would be suitable for their publication specifically – show the editor that you’ve done your research.

If you don’t get a response, wait a couple of days and send a follow up. After that you can call. It just annoys editors if you call straight away because they’re so busy and juggling a thousand different articles. If the email is in their inbox with all the necessary info, then they’re much more likely to respond.

Do you have a favourite story or campaign that you have helped develop?

I really loved working on the 100 years edition that Mining Magazine published in 2009 to celebrate its centenary. I worked together with the then editor to create profiles for vendors and mines that had also been operating for over a hundred years. We wrote about their histories and dug through the archives to find old photos of machines, as well as special adverts and magazine covers. The articles were so different to what we normally produced.

In a rapidly evolving media landscape, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the trade press?

I’m optimistic, but I think the trade press as we know it is changing fast, and the way that titles promote themselves and interact with their audiences will look very different in five years time.

The way in which we consume media is changing and so are our lifestyles, and this is blurring the lines between consumer and trade titles. Everyone has a smart phone now, we work long hours, and it’s only natural that we combine our professional and personal interests when we look at social media. That’s where most people get their news from now.

I think trade publications could learn a lot by looking at their consumer counterparts and considering using some of the tactics and tools that readers are engaging with in that sector. For example, there are very few mining publications on Instagram right now, but I’d put money on all the big names having accounts within two years and using it as regularly as Twitter and Linkedin.

Carly Leonida has over a decade of experience working as a trade press editor within the mining industry. She is the founder of The Intelligent Miner and current European editor of E&MJ. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.