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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Cair Lerion Blog #17: An interview with Kent Henschen

In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke to Kent Henschen, an authority in the fields of international marketing, corporate communications, PR development and business development.

Can you give us a brief history of your career?

My professional experience includes marketing, communications, business, and public relations management in industrial and heavy manufacturing organisations, with particular expertise on integrated marketing strategy and application. Most recently, I’ve extended my marcoms experience into real estate and business advising practices.

You have worked in marketing and communications in various industries over your career – including for what was then one of the largest mining equipment suppliers in the world. How have you seen the marcoms space change in that time?

By its nature, heavy mining equipment is a very short-cycle business. It – and mining in general – is an early leading indicator of upturns and downturns in the economy. I learned the knocks of marketing from the very early stages of the last mining upturn and, like everyone else, gained great insight through the challenges of the steep downturn.

It was a time when in-house marketing people were fewer in number and wore numerous hats, so having diverse experience was key for me in moving into the heavy manufacturing environment. I had started in manufacturing as a tool design engineer (Associate’s Degree in Tool Engineering, later completing a BSc in Business Administration) and a product designer, then had moved into inside sales and product management. This background prepared me well for moving into a position of product management – for shovels and drills, at the time. I was able to work closely with engineering and field personal to support product development to build the product story, literally from the ground up. This experience allowed me to speak and write about the machines with confidence.

As new technologies were made available, the marketing challenge increasingly became how to educate and intelligently argue their benefits for huge multi-million-dollar pieces of equipment that needed to be not only fast and efficient but highly reliable. Marketing took on more roles inside and outside of the company, integrating marketing, communications, public relations, investor relations, and international and domestic sales support functions, through the application of new technologies, data analysis, field research programmes, and customer and employee communications channels. Integrating all of these functions became increasingly critical to the early success of the product.

Who/what were the biggest influences on your career?

My wife, my father, several co-workers, who became and have remained friends over the years, and my faith in Jesus Christ as a Christian Wilderness Theologist.

Would you say you had a particular philosophy or approach to communications that holds whatever the industry you happen to be working in?

In the early years of my career in manufacturing, there was always an integral link between sales and marketing. In fact, the sales function was, more times than not, the overseer of marketing and, in the extreme, marketing simply played a collateral support role.

I’ve always been of the philosophy, however, that marketing, in its most basic form, is and should be a primary driver of a company’s joint sales and marketing efforts. It only makes sense that the market research, data analysis, customer analysis, and product management side should lead and oversee those functions that then interact with specific target regions and customers. Marketing is tasked with the big picture and long-term product development and support. Sales is tasked with the more focused, regional and customer-specific development. Business has evolved to this model as a necessity for meeting market needs by the most efficient means. 

Do you time-tested strategies or tools for developing a marketing and/or communications?

Where marketing and sales are actually separate, a teaming approach needs to be developed to ensure sales receives guidance and relevant communications to support market development and penetration. To coin an old phrase, ‘centres of excellence’ are a primary marketing structure I have used and continue to use. It’s pretty basic: these are integrated centres of responsibility that include web design and e-management, copywriting and publishing (supporting both promotion and product publishing needs), brand/graphic design and event support, public and community relations and, when necessary, investor relations.  

You’ve worked with companies of different sizes. What are the different challenges and opportunities that come with larger global company compared to smaller companies?

Intuitively one would think that the larger the company, the deeper the pockets. But that is not necessarily true. The value in the larger companies is in the brand and brand support they wish to maintain and expand. Many times, larger companies are in ‘marketing maintenance mode’, meaning that they are not investing to expand; they are investing to maintain. They are not creating anything new, except in campaigns or events.

My preference is working with smaller growth-oriented companies that may not yet have the dollars to invest in large marketing programmes. They do know they need to develop their brand by setting goals and properly managing marketing communications. One doesn’t need to spend a lot of money on brand development; one needs to spend the right amount of money on the right channels to have the biggest impact. As a creating challenge, every new marketing manager’s creedo should be: do more with less.    

Social media, podcasts, YouTube, blogging… these have really changed the landscape when it comes to marketing and communications. Which of these would you have liked to have had when you were starting out your career – and, conversely, are there valuable ‘old-fashioned’ lessons we’ve lost sight of?

We can do more, reach more potential customers, with social media alone than anything that could ever have been done by print media, hardcopy distribution, and multimedia advertising. With minimal cost, a small business can hit thousands of people in a fraction of the time it took to create, print, stuff, and mail. And thanks to target marketing, a company has a better chance today than ever before that their social media ad will be viewed and the viewership can be tracked.

The video realm is phenomenal. There has been evolution, resulting in rather large production costs, but with the right tools a small business can still independently produce and publish at reasonable costs.

However, I always caution clients against putting all their eggs only in the social basket, so to speak. Depending upon the product, of course, there remains a relatively large section of the customer population that is not e-centric. There is still a place in the marketing agenda for hardcopy (pdf) documents and print ads. The best marketing campaigns address the communications needs of varying customer markets.  

What advice would you give to young marketers or PRs starting out on their careers?

Figure out early what your differentiator will be. Marketing technology, electronic graphic design, computer programming… these are all hot topics with lots of people in them and more entering all the time. If that’s you too, then you need to decide what will make you stand out from the crowd. Another option, if you are in college considering a general marketing major, is to consider a minor in business administration or better yet, psychology. In fact, as a marketing manager, a background in psychology can be your differentiator. It will certainly help you in developing a more accurate corporate (small “c”) marketing philosophy to apply in a career.   

You currently have a number of ventures on the go – from a business advisory to real-estate and helping set up a museum… all basically set up from scratch! Can you tell us how you’ve found the experience of building something new and what have your found helpful to know or learn along the way?

Well, my personal driver, if you will, is start-ups. Whether supporting the start-up of new small business or starting-up (remaking) a marketing or communications function in a larger company, I prefer the creation of something new. I had the opportunity in my corporate career to start, remake, and develop marketing and communication functions for several companies. As an independent advisor and mentor, I have worked with numerous people in both their career and business development to create and manage new and unique functions. I am an entrepreneur at heart, so starting and managing personal businesses is a natural extension of a creative nature.

And finally, how do you unwind at the end of the day?

The biggest part of my down time is spent in nature, hiking and bicycling with my beautiful wife of 35 years, Lisa, and sport fishing whenever possible.  For me nature, wilderness if you will, provides calm – and from there creativity begins.

Based in the Milwaukee area in Wisconcin, US, Kent Henschen has over 25 years of experience in the marketing and communications space. He is currently Principal Advisor at business advisory, Evergreen Ridge Business Partners LLC, as well as licenced realtor. He has previously held senior leadership positions with responsibility for marketing and communications at a number of international companies, primarily in the mining industry.

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Cair Lerion Blog #16: An Interview with Harry Edelman

In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke with Harry Edelman, an executive coach who, according to his LinkedIn profile, “gets satisfaction out of helping companies and individuals grow”.

Can you give us a quick overview of your career so far?

I’ve always had a strong business sense from a marketing perspective. I started out in my entrepreneurial career delivering the local paper and washing neighbours’ cars on a weekly basis. That taught me the value of recurring revenue. I went on to study commercial photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and, in my senior year, undertook an independent study into starting a commercial photography business.

As a photographer, I met and worked with the creative community, including graphic and interior designers, public relations and advertising agencies, and writers. I learned about tradeshows, collateral material, multimedia, and the design and printing processes. Working with writers, I learned about how to tell a story. I also learned the difference between working for a customer and being the customer from the agency or in-house standpoint.

I had a chance to join Heyl & Patterson, a manufacturer of large industrial equipment, primarily in North America, but with customers worldwide, as the in-house agency. That allowed me to be the customer that people wanted to work with by saying “you’re the expert, what do you suggest”. When I left Heyl & Patterson, I realised I got personal value from helping others succeed. That is why I now consult with businesses. On the side, I invest in multi-unit apartment buildings, because I still love the recurring revenue model of business.

Who or what are your major influences?

Beauty, good design, humour and enjoying the unexpected.

You must have seen a lot of change over the years. What would you say have been the most profound in terms of how businesses operate and succeed?

Businesses need to listen to their customer. They need to solve the customer’s problems and not have the customers bend to the products or services they offer. And the best businesses are the ones that figure out what the customer wants, even when they do not ask for it.

Take some examples – Steve Jobs figured out how to create a product that a customer did not even know they needed. FEDEX created an industry from people wanting or needing it ASAP. This was not a new idea. Manufacturing had been using just in time processes for years, but FEDEX figured out how to transfer that idea into another segment. Amazon started out selling books: a dying business for brick and mortar but they were online. Then they realised they could create the infrastructure to sell just about anything online.

Change is inevitable. But the importance of listening to the customer and providing solutions to their problems is constant.  

How can companies ensure they both embrace and make the most of the change new technologies allow – without losing their identity, their employees and their customers along the way?

I am going to start by questioning everything you just asked. Why do they have to keep their identity? A business is not a history museum (unless it actually is one!). The goal of business is to create a product or service that can be sold for a profit to benefit the owners and employees, and bring value to the customers. Employees and customers come and go, some faster than others. Societies evolve. Companies must do the same.

It starts with leadership. If the leader talks change, but still uses an abacus, it will not happen. The leader has to embrace change and the employees will follow. This does not mean the leader has to identify the new technology, but rather be able to recognise what new ideas or technologies will work for their organisation. This comes from many sources, including the employees, and they should be credited.

I was at a conference once when someone from another company’s marketing department was complaining about a new product that they were supposed to create marketing for. They were not enthused and said the engineers and salespeople were not enthused either. I asked why it was being pushed then and was told it was the company president’s pet idea. Marketing hates the president’s pet ideas because they always have to get pushed to the front, even when they are not great ideas. Embrace change and new technologies that make sense and, if they do not work, move on.

You spent a lot of time in heavy industry where companies can be more traditional and conservative. Is it still important for this sort of company to change and evolve with new technologies?

Yes, but it will be slower than in the pure digital world. Robots and CADD are two examples that have been embraced over the years. I think some of these companies will embrace change not because it is new and great, but because they need to do it to stay competitive and the return on investment is there.

Looking into your crystal ball, where do think the next revolutionary changes are going to come from?

Autonomous everything. I live in the Strip District of Pittsburgh near Uber Technologies and beside Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle partner of Ford Motors. In this area, they are working on self-driving cars, boats, and trucks. I know of one company that is working on a road train, where the lead trucks actions are controlled by a driver and will be duplicated by the autonomous trucks following. The question for everyone is this: is this an opportunity or a problem? If it is an opportunity grab it. If it is a problem, can your company solve it and make a business around it?

We’ve talked a lot about change but are there any timeless strategies for growing business success?

The basics need to be in sync. Finance, sales, marketing, engineering, purchasing, accounting and leadership all need to understand the plan. The leader needs a vision and the right people need to be in the right positions. The biggest thing a leader needs to understand is the numbers. To many small entrepreneurs do not understand their P&L and balance sheet. They think if they have orders and money in the check book they are succeeding. So the timeless strategy for growth is know your numbers and get your team on board with the plan.

If you were able to give young Harry Edelman, just about to start out on professional life, any advice, what would it be?

Chase your passion and the money will follow. If there is no money in your passion, it is a hobby so keep looking for your passion. It may not be as much money as you would like, but passion is more important than money.

How do you turn off and relax? 

I enjoy small groups of friends, my family, museums and I love travel. I love the serendipity of life. Last year, my wife and were driving to Boston and we noticed a sign for the Marcel Breuer House. We both like and respect architecture and it was near where we were staying so we spent an afternoon exploring the house and neighbourhood.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, Harry Edelman is an executive coach, specialising in helping small to medium-sized companies and individuals grow. He was previously Executive Vice President at heavy manufacturing company, Heyl & Patterson, with responsibility for strategic marketing and global business development. In his spare time, he invests in real estate in his home city and is a visiting faculty scholar at University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business, where he serves on the board of the MBA simulation programme.

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Cair Lerion Blog #15: An Interview with Erik Rancatore

In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke to Erik Rancatore, who describes himself as a “brand and creative strategist, data-driven marketer, visual storyteller” on LinkedIn, currently working as Director, Association Marketing, at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Give us a brief Twitter-sized history of your career so far. 

How do you end up as a brand and marketing strategist? You start out in broadcasting, shift to public relations, spend time in both the sports and government-relations world, before shifting to content and multimedia creation. Does that seem ‘traditional’? Sure.

You’ve worked in a fairly diverse range of industries through your career. What have been the key communications lessens you have learnt along the way?

It’s so important to always start by listening. In all of the places that I have spent time during my career, I start off with a listening-tour, sitting with as many people as possible to learn as much as possible. Taking time to hear about the opportunities, the pain points, and the internal expertise allows me to build a marketing and brand strategy that can best reflect the organisation. I’ve found that prioritising the time to build trust among your colleagues has to be top of the list whenever you approach a new organisation.

What are your top tips for developing a communications strategy that makes an impact – especially in an industry that is not necessarily in the public eye?

Have a solid brand strategy. Not only can that help tie in your messaging, creative, and digital efforts, but it can empower your team to know what your identity is and what you stand for.That guidance can also help you be more aggressive and forward thinking about the opportunities that lie ahead, putting you in a position to be proactive instead of reactive.

You describe yourself as a “data-driven junkie” on your LinkedIn page. How do you use data to empower your communications strategies – and what tools would you recommend?

Every brand and marketing strategy should be informed with data. Whether it be looking at the success or weakness of a campaign or at potential market expansion opportunities, everything can be better executed when you have the right data at hand. It also helps set the right internal expectations. Team members can see how their work is directly impacting a strategy and use it as a chance to notice new opportunities.

There are so many great free sources out there, but I’d simply start with using the data in your existing channels more purposefully. Look at your website and social media analytics. Where are users spending the most time? Are they leaving at a higher rate? What are they engaging with the most on social media? Are their demographics that certain content pieces are resonating with? These are simple things to ask and look at as you make more strategic steps.

Brand storytelling… content marketing… inbound…. What do these mean to you and how important are they in the modern industrial marketing and communications world?

There is nothing more powerful than a good story (wasn’t that the line Tyrion used to wrap up Game of Thrones?).

Building a strategy with storytelling as your output is what helps connect your customer to your purpose. It doesn’t matter how niche or specialised that industry is – your audience is always searching and in need of that connection.

But that also gets to another interesting piece. So often we think of those that we want to influence versus those that are already connected to us. Let’s take LinkedIn for example. Maybe you have 5,000 followers on your company page. Are every single one of those people connecting and engaging with the stories that you share? Is it just a small minority? If not, maybe the story your trying to tell is to niche. Broaden the scope and try to connect with those that have already opted into being a part of your community.

Do you have any tips for managing a negative narrative and promoting the positive?

You have to embrace it all. What is so amazing about this particular moment is that brands and companies are being forced to be their authentic selves. If you know what your values are, if you know what you stand for, then you are in a position to manage those negative narratives that come through.

What opportunities (and challenges) do new media forms offer and how important are they compared to more traditional media?

All media are critical, and one piece is not more important than another. Our customers are all over the place, consuming news and content across all of these channels. What is really amazing and exciting is to build programmes that fit each of those outlets.

Sometimes you’ll find that the engagement is stronger in one channel over another, or you’ll find that your message is better received in another form. But what is most important is consistency. Look at your resources and where you can deliver regular updates to your audience.

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

While at the National Marine Manufacturers Association, we started a series called ‘Memory Makers’, where we document the behind-the-scenes stories of the people that make our industry possible. These are emotionally-driven pieces and showcase the personal connection that these amazing people have to their work.

When we released the first instalment, not only did we see a strong supportive response from our membership and the broader industry, but we saw the local communities where these pieces were produced embrace and share that story.

Who have been the biggest influences on your career?

I have been so fortunate to have worked and learn from some of the most incredible people. From Mary Beth Deady in my high school years, to my current colleagues (and former internship supervisors) Ellen Bradley and Kelly Kaylor. They all encouraged curiosity and have always been willing to help me progress in my career.

Eddie Brambila and Jacqueline Moreno gave me more bandwidth and encouragement than I deserved in my very first job. Without them, I do not think I would have ended up where I am today.

Finally, Bonnifer Ballard and Holly Arthur taught me the importance of listening and being strategic. They both fundamentally changed that way that I approach process and I’m so fortunate to have had the chance to work for them both.

How you turn off from the day job and relax?

It is pretty easy for me – and I’m a firm believer in a work-life balance. I have an amazing wife and a brilliant son. My favourite moments are in the things that we do together as a family, whether it’s a hiking day trip, exploring new restaurants, or building the most amazing tent that we can.

But, when we’re having our own time, I’m a fitness-aholic, enjoy reading, and spend endless amounts of time fiddling on the ukulele.  

Based in the Greater Chicago region of Illinois, US, Erik Rancatore is Director, Association Marketing, at the National Marine Manufacturers Association. A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (BA Broadcast Journalism), and Northeastern Illinois University (MA Communications and Media), Erik has over a decade of experience in communications in industries as varied a nuclear power, cement and, now, marine engineering.

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Cair Lerion Blog #14: An Interview with William Larson

In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke to William Larson, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at CalPortland, a producer and supplier of heavy building materials to the western US and Canada.

You’ve had a long and successful career. Can you give us the highlights?

I began my career as a district director responsible for labour relations, government affairs and media relations at Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California, a trade association for general engineering/buildings contractors.

After five years, I joined US-owned cement manufacturer, Southdown, to lead its contract sales team. The company was purchased by CEMEX in 2000 and I led the marketing and communications programme in the western US as Vice President Marketing/Communications.

After 22 years, I retired from the CEMEX in 2008 and was subsequently recruited by CalPortland to lead the company’s corporate marketing and communications programme. I will have completed thirteen years as its Vice President of Marketing and Communications on my scheduled retirement in January 2021.

Over this time, you must have worked with editors and journalists of all stripes. What are your time-tested strategies for getting the message out?

In my early days of corporate marketing, getting the message out simply meant purchasing advertising space in a newspaper, magazine, or other mass media outlet. Today’s media environment is completely different – and must be managed with finesse and transparency.

Real-time reporting, full accountability, and strategic use of social media is now at the core of successful marketing and communications campaigns. Shotgun marketing does not work. Laser-focused messaging that targets readers, consumers, or carefully selected recipients, whose opinions count, is now the order of the day. This paradigm shift has led to a multitude of creative ways to interact with a company’s audience.

Shotgun marketing does not work. Laser-focused messaging that targets readers, consumers, or carefully selected recipients, whose opinions count, is now the order of the day – William Larson.

The digital world allows us to reach specific people based on their relationship with our brand, company, industry, or region. Our job is to ensure the target audience receives the message we want them to hear. But our messages must also resonate with and address our audience’s concerns. I use these “Three Ks” for message development: Keep it Real and Honest; Keep it Timely and Up to date; Keep it Consistent with the Company’s Style, Vision, and Values.

Do you have any top tips for creating engaging content on technical subjects?

Conveying technical information is the most difficult part of corporate communications: some readers are happy with catalogues or specification sheets – but many simply won’t read or listen to dense and highly-technical content. Which defeats the whole purpose of the communications endeavour! A message not read is a lost opportunity. The genius of effective communications is to make the complex simple to grasp, without insulting the intelligence of your reader. Simple language, creative analogies, real-life examples, images or videos can help the reader to learn and to remember.

How do you see the balance shifting between traditional print and online media?

Balancing the right mix of print and digital media is all about my readers or target audiences. I think about who my target audiences are, where they go to get their information, and what they look for in messages. Once I feel comfortable that I have figured that out, I develop my strategy and determine the best options for outreach, the frequency of messaging, and the impact I want to achieve. This helps to determine how best to reach my readers or target customers, using an appropriate mix of print and digital content that gets the most visibility in the right places. I look for the ability to create the greatest number of impressions, over a variety of media, to provide the greatest ROI.

What opportunities (and challenges) have new media forms created for companies in the heavy industrial space?

Continued growth and innovation in social media create opportunities for companies to bring their brands closer to their customers. For social marketers and communicators, a successful strategy involves tapping into audiences with compelling content that grabs attention over multiple channels.

I believe that heavy industry is currently breaking new ground in social media channels that, even a year ago, was not thought possible. But this requires companies rethink marketing strategies away from promoting products and services, instead addressing the concerns of their customers. Changing consumer demands, concerns about climate change, the need for greater resiliency in the built environment, keeping costs down, safety and wellbeing – these are the real issues that keep corporate buyers awake at night.

Corporate communicators also need to listen to other voices to address these concerns and to package messages that resonate on a level of trust and confidence. Transparency, honesty, and community awareness are vital for success – and these attributes must transcend sales pitches that are patently false (or at least significantly skewed).

These “Three Ks” help ensure content resonates with and addresses the concerns of an audience: Keep it Real and Honest; Keep it Timely and Up to Date; Keep it Consistent with the Company’s Style, Vision, and Values – William Larson

Today, industrial companies need to focus on channels that not only introduce their products and services to viable prospects, but that also generate interest and enable two-way communication. I have found LinkedIn to be an excellent social media platform to reach professionals in the heavy construction industry: architects, engineers, and ENGOs seem to have grabbed onto it with vigour for business-focused connections. Finding and focusing on the channel that brings you greatest reward is vital.

Various tools, such as search engine optimisation (SEO), and pay per click (PPC) SEM, allow communicators to optimise their exposure and to grow their outreach. Blogs also can be a very effective content marketing and communication tool. The world is currently embroiled in the COVID-19 pandemic and we are seeing webinars and internet-based events replacing long standing trade shows and conferences. To succeed in today’s marketplace, your company needs to have a strong online presence across a variety of channels, utilising methods such as those noted above, as well as social media content, and email, to generate greater brand awareness and credibility.

What advice would you give to PR/marketers starting out on their careers?

Interesting question! My perception is that technology is causing corporate reputation (PR) and brand marketing to merge. Communications needs to be a full partner with marketing and must go beyond just building the company’s credibility. Marketing executives must now deal with uncontrolled public tweeting and posting of reviews about their company. Marketers, editors and PR professionals all have a similar goal, but their methods of message development are somewhat different. More and more, PR professionals need to include social media skills, blogging, website and graphics skills in their quivers to compete in the workplace. I think you will see that communication professionals become joined at the hip with marketers. But honesty and transparency must take precedence over advertising hype.

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

Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, is a favourite read of mine. Although it is not really a PR guide, it is a great read that has instilled an easy to remember acronym in my mind: SUCCES – Simplicity, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotions, and Stories. The book illustrates how some ideas thrive, while other ideas simply fade away in people’s minds. I’ve successfully implemented the principles of “sticky ideas” to create content that is more likely to succeed and be remembered.

You’re now easing into retirement. Looking back, what have been your career highlights?

There are many memorable highlights, but the real highlights of my career are the many amazing people I have had the pleasure of working with, collaborating with, and that I have met along the trail. Communication is a cornucopia of enrichment. Having the opportunity to work on a global scale in my two most recent positions has been a gift that I would have never imagined when I began my career. People have always inspired me to reach a little farther into the unknown. Being forced to grow within the challenging landscape of the heavy construction industry, which includes climate change and all that it encompasses, has been a healthy catalyst for personal growth as a communicator.

Based near Los Angeles, California, William (Bill) Larson is Vice President of Marketing and Communications at CalPortland. A graduate of INSEAD, Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Bill has more than 35 years’ experience in corporate communications and marketing within the heavy industrial sector.  

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Cair Lerion Blog #13: From readership to audience in trade media

Text by Jonathan RowlandPhoto by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Following up my short(ish) guide to readership and circulation in printed trade media, we’re going broaden our horizons and look at audience… what it is and how it is useful in assessing the value of a trade media brand when looking to place content, be that paid-for (advertising) or non-paid forms of coverage (also known as earned media).

If you’ve not read that first piece on readership and circulation, I recommend heading there now before going on. If you have read it (or have just gone back and read it, in which case, welcome back), let’s go on and look at: 

  • What is audience?
  • Concrete Today: a practical (if fictional) example of audience
  • Why is audience important – for advertisers?
  • Why is audience important – for earned media?
  • Conclusion: Looking for a trade media brand’s audience

What is audience?

According to one dictionary definition, an audience is the “number of people or a particular group of people who watch, read, or listen to the same thing”. While not an exact fit for what we are looking at here, it does give us the structure for our definition in that it describes audience in terms of a ‘who’ (the number of people of particular group of people) that are somehow engaged (watch, read or listen) by a ‘what’ (the same thing).

When thinking about the audience, then, we need to think of the who, the how and the what.

Before I jump into that definition, however, it’s worth noting that we’ve now moved from thinking in terms of a printed trade magazine or journal to thinking in terms of trade media brands.

A brand may incorporate a magazine. In many cases, the magazine may be the foundational element. But it is so much more, including any media channel (or platform) through which that trade media brand connects with people, be that websites, social media, events (online or physical), newsletters, etc.

Concrete Today: a practical (if fictional) example of audience

For example, let’s take the (fictional) example of Concrete Today. Started as printed monthly trade magazine in the 1980s, Concrete Today is now a multi-channel media brand that includes: 

  • A website running daily news and features;
  • Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts;
  • Weekly newsletters highlighting the most important news of that week;
  • A monthly newsletter promoting the release of the latest issue; and
  • An annual Concrete Today conference and exhibition.

In addition, Concrete Today exhibits at a number of other third-party conferences and exhibitions around the world.

The audience of Concrete Today is therefore much larger than simply the number of people that read the magazine every month. It incorporates social media followers, subscribers to the weekly and monthly newsletters, attendees at the annual Concrete Today conference, and visitors to the Concrete Today exhibition stand at the various other events that it attends.

Audience is therefore the total group of people engaged by a trade media brand via at least one channel.

Why is audience important – for advertisers?

When it comes to assessing trade media (especially in more traditional heavy industrial sectors), it is easy to focus on who reads the magazines. Publishers often guide that: it is the readership of the magazine that is traditionally the headline figure in media kits, for example. Although this is changing, as trade magazines drop their printed formats and new online-only media brands become more common, there is still a danger of remaining overly magazine-centric when approaching trade media.

This is perhaps most obviously seen in the rates charged for print advertising when compared to online paid-for content. In my experience, there is the assumption that print advertising should cost more than its online equivalent. And while there is no doubt that print advertising has to cover a higher cost base (covering printing and distribution of the magazine), it seems to me that this doesn’t necessarily take into account the value on offer.

And this is where the ability to assess a trade media brand’s audience comes into play.

An online-only brand with a large and engaged audience may well be able to offer more value in terms of access to current and potential customers than a printed magazine with a poorly engaged readership.

Publishers, however, have a vested interested in tying the prices charged for their paid-for media opportunities to their cost base. That is to argue that printed adverts should be more expensive because printed magazines are more expensive to produce. Not to put too finer point on it but this is nonsense.

Value must be defined as what is best for customer and should be priced accordingly. Being able to accurately assess a trade media brand’s audience is therefore an important tool in assessing the value a trade media brands offers.

Paying for media coverage – whether advertising or in some other form – is not a charitable donation to help a publisher cover their costs; it is a business decision that should be driven by the ability of that publisher to bring your company to the attention of current and potential customer. That is value. And that is worth paying for. Wherever it is offered.

Why is audience important – for earned media?

Similar principles apply when assessing what trade media brands to target when thinking about earned media as when deciding where to spend your advertising dollars.

It is easy to go for the easy win when it comes to earned media. To try and ensure your company receives coverage from every trade media brand in every sector in which you do business. But this scattergun approach – while feeling productive – may not be so.

Let’s say you have just completed an innovative and original project with one of your customers. Not only that, but your customer has agreed that you are able to talk about this project to the trade media and has even offered to help co-author a technical article about the project for publication.

This is the dream. It does not happen often. You need to make the most of it – which means ensuring it gets out to the highest-quality audience. Wherever that audience is to be found.

Conclusion: Looking for a trade media brand’s audience

How then do you find the audience of a trade media brand? As with circulation and readership, this is information that the publisher should be willing and able to provide. At best, it can all be demonstrated by an independent audit of brand audience as presented in a brand report from organisations, such as BPA Worldwide and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)

See example brand reports from BPA Worldwide or ABC.

Otherwise – and when publishers either do not undertake an audit or only audit their printed magazine(s) – it can be a more complicated and time-consuming process. The publisher should still be able to provide the information. After all, they should know how many followers they have on their social media, how many subscribers they send their newsletter to and how many visitors to their website they receive. They should also be willing to share that information – and explain how they provide access to that audience.

If they cannot, it is worth asking how important their audience is to a publisher.

Because unlike the circulation of a printed magazine – which generally flows in one direction, from publisher to reader – modern audiences and the relationship they have with content is much more fluid and complex. An audience requires tending and cultivating or it will switch off, unfollow or unsubscribe.

The information age is changing what it means to be an audience. Audiences are no longer passive receivers of media texts. […] Audiences are learning how to be the media, how to network. This means that their activities as audiences are becoming increasingly diverse, and moving beyond the entertainment arena. […] Being an audience is now a much more active and interactive experience that in the broadcasting era. … The information age has brought about fundamental changes in the ways people approach the media and in their engagements with media texts.

David Giles, Media Psychology

I am not 100% convinced that the changing and expanding definitions of what an audience is have been fully realised within the trade media world – almost certainly so in the traditional world of heavy industries in which I have spent most of my career.

Yet there are advantages for both publisher and marketer in accurately measuring and describing a trade media brand’s audience. Perhaps if more marketers asked for and valued this information, more publishers will be willing to put in the time and cost required to provide it. In changing and challenging times for traditional media platforms, working to understand the true scope of a trade media brand’s reach is surely a worthwhile endeavour.

References

Giles, D., Media Psychology (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2003), p. 185. Quoted in: D’Antonio, E., “audience”, The Chicago School of Media Theory.

Cair Lerion Blog #12: An Interview with Pattie Sullivan

Give us a brief Twitter-sized history of your career so far. 

I spent 10+ years as a journalist – first as a business reporter and then as an editor for a technical online publication. After our entire editorial department was unexpectedly laid off, I turned my love of writing and media into a new career… PR.

You began in journalism, before moving into PR. What prompted the switch and how has your journalistic background influenced the way you approach PR?

I was fortunate to work at one of the first online publications. It was ahead of its time, but when we were sold to another company, our editorial team was laid off. It was the first time I faced this situation, and it was very difficult.

During that time, I explored job opportunities that ranged from a manufacturing reporter at a daily newspaper, to a technical writer at a B2B company to a writer for a PR agency. Ultimately, I chose PR because I liked the challenge of a new profession – learning about the media landscape from a different perspective.

I can tell you that my experience as a reporter/editor was invaluable. During my time as a reporter, I interacted with many PR pros, who were extremely helpful in fleshing out a story. But there were others who didn’t fundamentally understand news value and were frustrating to deal with.

Excellent writing is the foundation for all communications – whether that’s drafting an email, creating a strategic plan, writing a technical byline or crafting a LinkedIn post. I believe PR people who are strategic thinkers and smart writers can go far in this profession.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

I have been fortunate to work with many talented people, who have helped guide and nurture my career. But I suppose the biggest influence was my first editor, Henry Lenard, who led by example, had strong ethics and trusted my instincts as a young reporter. I’m happy to say we remain friends to this day.

You work with companies in the heavy industrial space. What’s your experience of working in PR in unfamiliar industries?

The first trade show I went to was a regional ISA (at that time known as the Instrument Society of America) event. I was one of the only women there… other than professional models, who were paid to bring attendees into a company’s booths and a contortionist who described the flexibility of the company’s products while she twisted herself into a pretzel (no, I’m not kidding). I remember one person saying to me, “what’s a nice girl like you doing at a show like this?”

While I don’t think it is for everyone, I really feel right at home in the technical/industrial space. I am a journalist at heart and I enjoy learning how things tick, and then conveying this information to others. The subject matter can be difficult, but I find it very satisfying. Plus, I always have good trivia for family and friends (let me tell you how wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are changing how coal and gas plants are dispatched!).

What are your time-tested strategies for pitching stories?

First and foremost, read the publication so you understand the topics it covers and regular features. Next, what has the reporter written lately? Can you build on a story he/she has written – offering a new angle? The key is to add value: bring him/her something that is relevant and compelling, something that will have readers turning the page or clicking links.

In your experience, how have heavy industrial companies responded to the proliferation of new media forms?

Companies in the industrial space are typically more conservative. I remember a time when clients didn’t truly understand the importance of social media and believed that, if they ignored it, it would simply go away. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While industrial organisations have certainly come a long way in their approach to social media, I believe most remain cautious and prefer not to charge ahead as quickly as you might see in other industries.

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

Ironically, my favourite story/campaign is not industrial, but consumer. It was the introduction of Heinz ketchup in the upside-down bottle. As part of a broader campaign, we created an interesting mailing for reporters – putting the bottles in packaging that resembled packing crates, but with “This Side Down” stamped on the top. These bottles are commonplace now, but at the time, the concept was a real sensation, and we secured coverage on national news and morning talk shows. 

In a rapidly evolving media landscape in which companies are increasingly their own publishers – via websites, blogs and social media etc. – are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the trade press?

That’s a good question. This is a tough time for all types of news outlets, from daily papers to trade journals. There has been a winnowing, for sure. But I do believe there will always be place and need for objective journalism and independent news organizations/publishers.

How you turn off from the day job and relax?

Turning off is harder these days, particularly since I’m among the majority of people working from home due to COVID-19. But I find a nice walk, working in the garden, listening to music (I have eclectic tastes ranging from the Jonas Brothers and Green Day to the Grateful Dead) or watching TV really helps me unwind. And as work life and personal life continues to blur, I find that disconnecting is necessary for me to do my best work.

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and with over 23 years in the world of public relations, Pattie Sullivan is Senior Vice President at Red Havas US, part of the Red Havas global network of more than 1300 PR practitioners that operates in nearly 50 countries.

Cair Lerion Blog #11: A short(ish) guide to readership and circulation in printed trade media

Text by Jonathan Rowland | Photo by Britta Jackson from Pexels

Trade media. It’s an odd world containing a huge number of titles that appear – at least to the outsider – spectacularly niche and yet trundle on, sometimes apparently oblivious to the dramatic changes happening the wider media world. Life is however getting harder for these publications. Many now make a home online only, having ditched the costs and other complications of print. They also face increased competition from their own potential advertisers, who can now easily act as media outlets in their own right.

Yet trade media continue to represent a potentially important avenue of communication between B2B companies and their potential customers. And with its claim to journalistic independence – at least superficially – they can provide valuable exposure for companies looking to reach a certain market. (Full disclosure: I was editor of a number of trade publications for over a decade and still write for a small number of titles.)

Of course, there is also a lot of drivel out there. So how do you tell the difference between a valuable media partner and a waste of paper and ink? It starts with the readers. These are the potential customers a company is looking to reach when they engage with a media title. The quantity and quality of a magazine’s readership is therefore the key factor in assessing its worth for both editorial engagement and advertising.

In this blog, I’m going to deal with some of the things to look out for when looking into the readership claims of a print magazine (although the principals are the same when assessing any media outlet).

Readership and pass-along rates

Quantifying readership sounds easy. Most publishers will release a figure for the number of people that read their magazines. Most also break this number down in a number of ways. For magazines published internationally, this may be by geography. It could also be by particular subsectors or readership categories within its particular industry. It all looks very helpful… so the first thing to keep in mind is that it is in the publisher’s interest for the readership figure to be as high as possible.

One traditional way to make sure the headline readership figure is as high as possible (while not bearing the expense of printing and distribution many more magazines) is to take a pass-along rate into account when calculating readership. This simply assumes that every printed magazine is read by more than just the subscriber. So, if 5000 magazines are sent out with a pass-along rate of four (i.e. four people in total will read the magazine), the total readership is going to around 20,000.

In itself, this pass-along rate makes sense: it is certainly a time-tested tactic in the world of publishing. And in the age of the internet, the pass-along rate is relatively simple to objectively track and calculate. But with printed materials it is harder and relies much more on the transparency of the publisher. The best will use regular readership surveys to try and determine the pass-along rate for a given publication. They’ll also publish their pass-along rate with the readership figure, as well as saying how they worked it out.

There is nothing wrong with using a pass-along rate to try to determine readership. But it is worth noting that they are always estimates – and I’d argue they are more likely to be over-estimates that under-estimates. Consider that, unless the reader survey makes particular effort to reach a random cross section of readers (expensive), respondents are more likely to be those enthusiastic about the magazines than those who place it, unread, in the recycling pile. This is likely to give an exaggerated impression of the pass-along rate.

It is OK to be sceptical about the claims that publishers make about readership – and to interrogate them on the assumptions that underlie them. A publisher should be able to stand up to such interrogation and justify how they came to their number. If they cannot, remember that it’s not difficult to simply make the pass-along rate up, knowing that most will be unlikely to question it.

Being certain about circulation

So much for the pass-along rate. What about the other number readership is based on: circulation. This sounds so easy. Surely it is just the number of magazines a publisher sends out.

Well, yes, at least in principal, but…

Ask yourself: where is the publisher getting their circulation number from? There are generally two options. The publisher could simply release a number on their own authority (a Publisher’s Statement). Or the publisher could rely on a third-party organisation, such as the UK-based Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) or BPA Worldwide in the US, to audit and verify their circulation figures.

(Another option – and one I came across only recently – is for the publisher to release copies of the most recent invoices for printing and distribution as a way of proving the number of magazines that were printed and mailed – see here, although the invoices linked to from the page are now several years old.)

Notwithstanding the above, publisher’s statements are just that: statements by the publisher. This is not to say they are wrong. But that there is no way of verifying their veracity. You simply have to take them on trust. Which makes them much more open to manipulation than audited figures.

In contrast, an audited circulation is one that has been verified by an external auditor to meet the standards of the audit bureau to which the publisher belongs (the International Federation of Audit Bureaux of Circulation maintains a list of such organisations). These standards should be available for you to read and question – such as those from ABC. An audit will also result in some form of audit certificate, a treasure trove of circulation information, that you can request from the publisher or from the relevant audit bureau.

Digging for treasure

An audit certificate holds all sorts of opportunities to drill down into a magazine’s circulation – and to better assess the quality and relevance of that circulation to your business. For example, both ABC and BPA Worldwide certificates indicate how the publisher has come by the names to which it sends its magazines. For example, whether they be paid subscribers or free circulation. Or whether that free circulation is to people who have requested to receive the magazine or who are just being sent the magazine because the have been identified as relevant (either by name or job title).

You’ll also be able to see who the publisher classifies as relevant recipients of the magazine (the qualified circulation). And the geographical breakdown, showing where in the world those receiving the magazine are based.

This level of detail may not be for everyone. Nor are circulation audits perfect. But when it comes to assessing the useful readership of a trade magazine, they offer an objective and verifiable measure – more so than other options. And if you have the time and patience to track through them, they offer a valuable insight into the publications that might offer the most return on investment – be that in terms of time or advertising spend.

Bonus distribution!

A final note on the extra distribution of magazines at trade shows and conferences. There’s no doubt this offers a potential boost to the readership for the issue in question. But again: it is important to think critically about any claims as to the size on that boost. Unless a magazine is given out as part of the conference literature to every attendee, no publisher can guarantee the number of magazines that will be picked up as against those that are simply recycled at the end of an event.

And even if they are a part of the official event literature, ask yourself how many are actually read. As depressing as this is for anyone involved in the world of trade media, I’d wager that a good majority end up – unread – in the recycling bins and trash cans of conference venues and hotels.

These are often also the issues that attract the most advertising and editorial contributions – which makes any particular contribution much easier to miss by the those who do actually take the time to read (or at least flick) through the magazine. So while trade show and conference distribution may look good on a publisher’s media kit, as with everything about circulation and readership, you don’t need to buy the hype. What works for the publisher is not necessarily what will work for you.

Conclusion: Readership as marketing

This may all come over as decidedly cynical. Perhaps overly so. I also don’t mean it to be an attack on the world of trade publishing, although some might read it that way. Rather, I hope that explaining the various vagaries of readership and circulation, this helps you to better evaluate the utility of the publications in your industry. It effectively boils down to this: readership and circulation figures are ultimately all weapons in a publisher’s marketing arsenal, deployed to make their magazines more attractive to buyers of advertising. It is therefore right to treat them exactly as you would any other marketing claim.

Jonathan Rowland is founder and principal at Cair Lerion. With over a decade of experience working for a variety of trade magazines covering industries such as mining, building materials, ports and shipping, he now offers specialist copywriting and editing services in the heavy industrial space. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Cair Lerion Blog #10: An Interview with Virginia Zuloaga

Give us a brief Twitter-sized history of your career so far. 

I’m a digital marketer with a focus on industrial B2B companies. Since I opened my agency, Brieffin, five years ago, I have been helping brands overcome the challenges of digital marketing through conscious strategies, well-thought-out content plans, and consultancy.  

You’ve spent your career working with companies in the heavy industrial space. What’s your experience of marketing in unfashionable or unfamiliar industries?

Funny that you mention the words ‘unfashionable’ and ‘unfamiliar’ because they match the look on people’s faces when they ask me what I do for a living. But I love challenges, so I’m happy to have ‘niched’ after so many years of online experiences with industrial engineering companies.

Industrial communication can look scary from a content development perspective, but the truth is that there is a lot of room for creativity. Engineering is the basis of the modern world. We are surrounded by it and almost nothing works without it. And we constantly take it for granted.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a total geek when it comes to TV shows such as Discovery’s “How It’s Made”. For me, the main purpose and the focus of industrial companies should be precisely that: in addition to tapping to the needs of the clients, engineering can appeal not only to future engineers but also to general audiences.

How important is social media for heavy industrial companies?

Industrial firms still have a very traditional way of doing things, but you see them moving steadily towards the digital side. And that’s important. Having a solid presence online sends the message to newcomers, to your loyal customers, and returning costumers alike that you are keeping up with the times. Influence, or thought leadership, also plays an important part in the way people engage with social media so it’s important to remain active and share your expertise.

Whether small but steady, or huge and viral, it’s important to make the leap. The sooner the better. Far beyond the benefits in cost reduction, amplified reach, and data benefits that social media brings compared to traditional marketing tools and practices, it’s important to note that the remains of ‘analogue’ media will themselves experience a radical digital transformation within the next decade.

In your opinion, what social media platforms have most value to the heavy industrial company?

Social media have always been and still is, subject to relatively quick transitions by trends and users’ behaviours – and this is not going to change! That said, to define what social media platforms offer more value to B2Bs, such as heavy industrial companies, I would start with LinkedIn, which provides more quality engagement, compared to the rest, for business-focused connections in this industry.

The growth in popularity of Instagram for brands is also proving to offer benefits not only for the food, fashion, travel and people-focused industries, but for the heavy equipment industry as well.

And last, but not least, I believe Twitter is a key platform due to its news-broadcasting nature. Although the interaction is not as close as LinkedIn, for some, Twitter works well for driving traffic to websites and increasing brand awareness to the mix. It’s the most demanding platform in terms of content creation, but it’s worth the investment of time.

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

In my experience, heavy industrial companies’ communication is based on their expertise and technologies, in addition to a branding approach that highlights the company’s mission and values and, of course, the people behind the brand.

Nobody in the social media world can move as fast in terms of content creation as an around-the-clock news broadcaster, a personal brand or a celebrity. It is why I always recommend working on a content strategy beforehand that will bring a level of consistency at its own pace and according to the amount of content that is available.

Competing to reach a sweet spot is becoming harder with the over-production and over-sharing of content and can become an overwhelming situation for some companies and social media managers, who face the challenge of what to create to stand out. My recommendation is:

Use what you have.

Start where you are.

Be who you are.

And keep it creative.

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

Yes! The idea was inspired by a Facebook community member, who sent us a selfie from a cement plant with one of my client’s vertical roller mills, so we saw it as an opportunity to create something fun and change the machine-focused profile into a people-focused adventure.

For the past three years, engineers around the globe have been sharing their selfies and on-site photos to be published on my client’s social media profiles. With this amazing collection of photos, we thought it was a great idea to open an Instagram account to showcase all these experiences. And we haven’t looked back since then.

What has been the biggest influences on your career?

Books… and a lot of writers. I’m committed to learning everything I can about everything.  As a content developer, an ongoing learning process is what keeps my mind active.

Coming up with demanding content calendars require a lot of thought flexibility. Industrial profiles can be a bit more challenging when looking for creative ways to tell brand stories and feature products and services. It’s why I also look for inspiration in other industries.

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

It’s very difficult for me to stick to one single book! I usually read four to five books at the same time, as I look for different perspectives on a specific topic to make the best out of the learning experience.

I also recommend 30-day challenges, as it’s a fun way to spice up daily routines, while improving an aspect of your life or work in the process. There are a lot of resources out there for creating challenges about anything you can think of – and content is one of the most popular nowadays, right after diets and exercising.

How you turn off from the day job and relax?

I create small moments to unwind throughout the day. I like to meditate at least three times per day but, when I can’t, my morning and before-to-bed meditating sessions are a must.

I also practice yoga, four to five one-hour sessions per week, usually in the evenings, as it helps me clear my mind before going to bed, in addition to the muscle strengthening and stretching benefits it has on the body.

I keep up my 30-day challenges and I take short breaks to read between work time blocks.

I discovered that keeping my head and body active with different activities that I enjoy throughout the day helps me to be more productive and reduces the mental exhaustion that can come with long hours of work.

Virginia Zuloaga is the founder of Brieffin and a digital marketer, who specialises in helping B2B industrial clients build their online and social media presence.

Cair Lerion Blog #9: Is it time to call time on the press release?

Back in November 2019, I wrote a blog for Muck Rack that explained the art of writing a press release for trade publications from the perspective of an experienced trade press editor (11+ years under my belt). It was a fun piece to write – and allowed me to work through some of the grievances I had developed working on the receiving end of countless poorly written or simply irrelevant press releases.

Since beginning my own copywriting journey in July 2019, I’ve now also been asked to write a number of these peculiarly stylized bits of corporate communications. So it was challenging to see “the press release writer” included in Doug Kessler’s list of the fifteen B2B copywriters he doesn’t want to be.

Press releases aren’t writing. They’re typing.

Almost anyone can fill in the blanks of this highly constrained corporate template (“We’re thrilled to welcome Atilla to our growing Hun team.”) but no one will ever read a press release even though lots of places publish them.

So, writers, if you’re briefed to write a press release (or any other over-templatised format), ask about the goal of the exercise and recommend one of the dozen-or-so better ways to achieve it.

Doug Kessler, Creative Director, Velocity

What struck me about Kessler’s deliberately provocative comments was not that press releases are predictable and derivative. With only rare exceptions, that is true – although he admits later, in the comments that follow the article, that “it’s possible to write a fresh, original press release”.  

No, what struck me is the idea that no-one reads them.

And that he’s probably right about that.

Writing to be read

Ask yourself this: who is the press release’s target readership? Not your customers, either current or prospective. Rather, the aim is most likely to stir up some media coverage, perhaps in the news pages or (more likely today) on the website of the relevant trade media. And given how most trade press editors are in need of content (particularly those with websites to fill!) there’s perhaps a fair chance that any given press release is going to be published somewhere.

But again, who is the reader?

Is a press release printed verbatim – or perhaps slightly rephrased – in the printed or online trade media likely to be read by your customers? I’d suggest not. Because something that is dull and formulaic is dull and formulaic wherever it’s published.

And while it may please, even impress, those within a company – especially if they’re called out by name – that’s not the point of what is (at least ostensibly) an effort of external communication.

Is even that hypothetical beast, the fresh and original press release, worth the effort? Fresh and original content is always the goal but, to quote Kessler again, would you “want to call it a press release”?

On the surface, this latter comment says something about the rather poor reputation press releases have acquired. But I think there’s more to it than that. It’s also again a comment on readership (or lack thereof). To my mind, it would be better to focus what is fresh and original on your customer-directed content rather than sending it out, scattergun, hoping some harried trade press editor will take the time to read it and then publish it (or worse, not read it and then publish it).

If you do want to land some media attention, sending a trade press editor a personalised pitch explaining what fresh and original content you’re able to provide to them is going to be better received than an oh-no-not-another-one-where’s-the-delete-key press release – and will likely result in much better coverage.

Are we wasting our time?

If truth be told, many companies churn out press releases because they are easy. There is no thought to what the reader might find interesting. There is no thought to what the customer might want to know. There is, in fact, very little thought.

Which makes even the shortest time spent on them a waste.

There are today so many ways for a company to talk directly to its customers. With the ability to publish across multiple platforms in multiple formats, even the smallest business, manufacturing the most niche of products, can become their own media house. Buyers meanwhile are savvier: they want information and they want it… well, yesterday. This is both exciting and daunting – especially in the more traditional heavy industries in which I have spent most of my careers.

But daunting does not mean impossible. And the way it’s always been done is not the same as the way it should continue to be done. So the next time you’re asked to write a press release (or commission someone like to me to write it for you), follow Kessler’s advice and pause a moment to ask: can we do better?

I’d be surprised if the answer wasn’t, yes.


PS: Doug Kessler’s article, The 15 copywriters I don’t want to be is, is worth a read in full – as long as you don’t mind your writing sins being rudely exposed and judged.


Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 from Pexels