Cair Lerion Blog #18: An Interview with Katherine Guenioui

In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke to Katherine Guenioui, copywriter/editor extraordinaire and expert at turning specialist and technical subjects into compelling stories. In what feels a lifetime ago, they also used to work together.

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

I started out as an Editorial Assistant on World Cement in 2005, progressed to Editor in 2008, and left to go freelance in 2016. I now write and edit for companies in the cement, steel, computing and cyber security industries.

How did you begin your career in trade journalism?

There was no grand plan to get into trade journalism. I saw a job advertised for a publishing company and went for it. I had no idea that I’d end up on a magazine called World Cement and, in the first few months, assumed I would move on to other things. As it turned out, I loved the company and the people I was working with, so I stayed. Even now that I’m freelancing, I still choose to do much of my work in this area.

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

The biggest challenge for me in the beginning was not really understanding the manufacturing process. It’s difficult – but certainly not impossible – to edit an article you don’t understand! Once I’d visited a working cement plant, that became a lot easier.

The other big challenge was editing an international magazine with submissions – and varying standards of English – from all over the world. Fair play to the authors, though. Writing a technical article in a foreign language must be really hard!

The biggest highlight for me was attending the industry events and getting to know the people who read the magazine. Having taken over the editorship from a gentleman who had been doing it for 35 years, it was a real thrill to feel like I was being accepted by the industry and helping to provide a platform for new ideas.

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

I honestly can’t remember the best – it’s been a while! But I received countless pitches for articles that were not a good fit for the magazine. Basically, almost anything that came from a PR agency at that time was unlikely to be a good fit, as so few of the suppliers and manufacturers we were working with had an agency!

You made the switch to PR a couple of years ago now, working mostly with companies in the heavy industrial space. What’s your experience of working in PR in unfashionable or unfamiliar industries?

I’ve never really thought of myself as working in PR – but I suppose I do! I think of myself as a content creator, first and foremost. And working in heavy industry that means acting as a kind of interpreter, translating tech speak into engaging content. I also write about computing and cyber security and it’s the same there, so it’s not just a heavy industry problem! Of course, my friends think it’s funny that I write about these ‘strange’ things, but the companies I work with have always been very welcoming. I don’t really worry about unfashionable and I’m not put off by unfamiliar.

What are your tips for creating engaging content on niche and technical subjects?

Top tip: put the customer at the heart of your content. By putting the customer’s interests first – ahead of whatever it is you want to say about your product or service – you force yourself to answer their questions, to entertain their curiosity, and basically provide them with all the information they need to make the decision to buy. The job of content is not to sell; it’s to facilitate a purchase. Inform. Persuade. Help the customer weigh up their choices by being as transparent as you can.

That also means not putting people off with jargon-dense or overly complex language. Remember you are writing for a person. I like to imagine it’s going to be read by someone I know, so I want them to enjoy it!

Why should industrial companies – especially those of small or medium size – make the effort to produce content? What is the value of sharing their stories?  

Apparently, the average customer is 70% through the decision-making process by the time they talk to a salesperson. If that’s true, what are they basing their decision on up until that point? It’s got to be content. They’re looking at your website, your competitor’s website, trade magazines, blogs, LinkedIn groups, YouTube. They’re attending trade shows, speaking to their peers, and generally keeping their nose to the ground for information that is going to swing them one way or another. The more content you put out there, the more information you’re laying down for them to sniff out. That’s why it’s so important to share your stories and do it in such a way that the customer feels empowered to make the best choice for their needs.

In your opinion, if a company focused on just one area of content generation, what should that be? 

Based on my experience from the magazine, I would say case studies. In a case study, you can lay out exactly what the product does and how it works, but more importantly you can share a customer’s experience with that product. How did it work for them? Why did they choose it? How easy was it for them to implement? What have the results been like for them? Reading a good case study is like receiving a recommendation. Case studies are invaluable.

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

I expect that the trade press will gradually move entirely online, probably in the FlipBook format so many are already using. There’s a lot more flexibility with that format, compared to print, especially when it comes to adding video and audio files. I hope the trade press will look at this as an exciting opportunity and not mourn too much.

After that, who knows? Do people still want to look through a whole magazine once a month, or are they happier receiving a weekly newsletter? How much of the magazine’s written content could be replaced by video? I think the trade press have a role to play in aggregating news and stories, having a (semi) independent voice and providing that platform to share best practice. But their staying power really depends on their willingness to adapt and invest in new ways of doing things.

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

Optimistic. I think there are real opportunities for the trade press to support this idea of customer empowerment. But of course, they also need to keep an open dialogue with their readership about the best ways of meeting their needs.

Who/what have been the biggest influences on your career?

One of the best things I’ve done since going freelance is work for a sales enablement company, writing their thought leadership content. It meant a lot of research into sales and marketing best practice, which has been invaluable in everything else I’ve done. I can’t imagine what kind of writer I would be now if I hadn’t gone through that process. It was such a great learning experience.

If you could recommend one book on PR, what would it be?

They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan continues to be a huge influence on my writing style. I would recommend it to anyone whose work even vaguely relates to content creation.

How do you turn off from the day job and relax?

The truth is, I’m only just getting to the point where I consider this a day job. Up until my youngest started nursery, it was an evening, weekend and nap-time job. I have become very adept at switching my brain from mum mode to work mode! Now that I do have a bit more time to myself, I relish going to work and getting stuck into my projects – and I’m able to be much more present with the kids. Having that separation between work and family is great. And when the work is done and the kids are asleep, I spend my evenings on creative writing projects or watching truly terrible TV.

Based in the south of England, Katherine Guenioui is the owner of Clear Skies Content, where she works with companies to create compelling content that tells their stories. Before that, she spent 11 years working for a specialist trade publishing company, eight of those as Editor of World Cement.

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