Cair Lerion Blog #8: An Interview with Lisa Johnson

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

I’m a global marketing manager, who started out in government PR, spent a decade with a couple of advertising agencies, and have worked the last 17 years in the bulk materials handling industry. 

As the media and communications manager for a mid-size equipment manufacturing company, what are your primary responsibilities?

I have a wide range of duties from constructing our marketing budget to purchasing print and digital adverts, securing editorial opportunities, organising our presence at industry trade shows, and posting to the company’s social media, as well as writing and editing. 

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

I still recall my second day at Premier Pneumatics (now Coperion). It was raining heavily and, unfortunately, I did not have an umbrella. I walked into the building and was met by George Korbelik, the company’s president and founder. I remember being so embarrassed, a new marketing assistant, drenched in rain with water dripping from my face and clothes, talking to this legend who emigrated from Czechoslovakia and eventually started his own company. But my sodden appearance didn’t deter him from greeting the newest employee of his company. To him, I was an employee who deserved every bit of respect as the most senior veteran. Since then, I have striven to treat everyone I encounter the same way, no matter their status or appearance.

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

When trying to break into a new niche for your company, I recommend developing content that highlights the solutions you bring to the particular challenges of that industry. Your aim should be to answer any questions a potential new customer might have, while your content should be SEO-rich, so your answers are easily found by potential clients via Google and other search engines. Linking to similar stories that you have written and the companies/organizations mentioned in the article(s) is also a good way to emphasize that you are an expert in the field.

In a world where marketing has many diverse avenues and opportunities – from trade shows to social media, advertising and traditional trade media – in your opinion what are now the key marketing tools within the heavy industrial space?

You should use a little bit of everything to reach your audience! The industrial manufacturing industry is sandwiched between two generations right now. You have the 40-60 age range of experienced employees, who still prefer to get their information on a physical piece of paper like a magazine or a literature flyer, but you also have your new hires that are in the 20-40 age range, who grew up in a digital world. You need to balance your marketing across both print and digital to reach everybody.

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

The internet is amazing. When I first started working 30 years ago, straight out of college, we mailed press releases on photocopied paper. We even had to wait a day or two to receive the 4×6 glossy product photos developed from 35 mm film. Today, we can write a press release, snap a photo with our cell phone, and email it all, reaching our intended audience in a matter of minutes. I can’t wait to see what transformations occur in the next 5-10 years.

Do you have a favourite story or moment from your career?

While working at Vortex, a manufacturer of slide gates, diverter valves, and loading spouts for companies all over the world, I have been in several situations where I have had to revert to my foreign language classes from school. Thanks to my Spanish high school teacher I can easily fill out tradeshow contracts written in Spanish. One year I even had to rely on the German I took in college to coordinate a sales rep conference that we were hosting in Germany. Never underestimate the value of what you are learning in school. I’m a true testament of using foreign languages later in life. But I’m still trying to figure out when I’ll use geometry!

How do you see the future of marketing/PR for heavy industrial companies?

Heavy industrial companies have been behind the times when it comes to marketing. You don’t see the latest trends at heavy industrial shows, as you would at a gaming technology show.

I do predict augmented reality (AR) will become a valuable boost to heavy industrial companies’ marketing, however. Companies will no longer have to bring heavy equipment to trade shows or sales calls but instead demonstrate their products with life-size imaging, perhaps with cutaway views to see the inside of the product. Or they could visit a customer onsite and project images into the customer’s plant to see how their operation might benefit from the product.

If you could recommend one book (or other source of information) on PR/marketing, what would it be?

One source? It can’t be done! Marketing is continually changing. One day it is best to do it one way; six months from now, the previous way doesn’t work, so you need to change your methods. I’m constantly reading marketing trends from several sources: Exhibitor Magazine, Hubspot Academy & Neil Patel are at the top of my list.

Looking back, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self, just starting on your career?  

When faced with a life-altering opportunity that looks like a risk, view it instead as one of life’s inevitable changes. So many different outcomes are possible, but you won’t know what you can achieve until you do something different. Don’t ask, “What if I fail?”, ask, “What if I fly?”.

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

Relaxation starts the moment I start driving home in my car. I crank up the music to whatever mood I’m in: Journey or Bon Jovi if I’m feeling nostalgic; Beatles if I need something upbeat; and if it’s a rough day, some Jimmy Buffet to help me imagine I’m on an island far away. That music continues when I enter my home and greet my family.

Based in Salina, Kansas, Lisa Johnson is Media and Communications Manager for Vortex. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cair Lerion Blog #7: We can’t shake hands but we can tell stories.

Just a matter of weeks ago, the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world seemed a distant problem.

How that has changed.

Here in the UK, schools, shops and all manner of public meeting places are closed; offices are empty as many work from home; the government is asking us not to go out save for the most vital of reasons; the health service is recruiting retired doctors and nurses to help cope with the rising number of the infected… and there may be more to come.

In the business world, conferences and trade shows are being postponed or called off; foreign travel plans are being cancelled; face-to-face meetings (with colleagues, with customers, with… well, everyone) are starting to feel like something of a bygone era. Almost overnight, almost everything seems to have change. I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel more than a little discombobulated.

Yet somehow, the show must go on…

A time for telling stories

With the cancelling of events and curtailing of personal contact, this is the time to consider other ways of communicating with your existing and potential customers. What do I mean?

Well, your engineers may not be giving any presentations at conferences for a while, so why not turn those presentations into white papers for your website (or you could think about recording the presentations, something that could be done from the comfort of a home office).

Perhaps it’s time to launch that blog you have been thinking about? Or to start pulling together those customer stories? Or to revamp your company magazine?

In the book Storytelling for Startups, Mark Evans lists ten types of content you can use to start telling your company’s story:

  • Websites.
  • Customer stories.
  • Videos.
  • Social Media.
  • Blogging.
  • Infographics.
  • White papers.
  • Email newsletters.
  • Press releases.
  • Podcasting.

All of these occur at ‘social distance’ – you’re not going to infect or be infected by writing a blog, creating an infographic or sending a newsletter. But all of them will help keep your relationships with customers and potential customers going. They might even improve those relationships. Humans are social beings; we need communication with others. Now more than ever.

Pull together five of the most frequently asked questions faced by your sales team and post answers to them on your website/social media over the course of a week.

Adapting to change

It’s also important not to forget your employees and colleagues. In among your company’s official COVID-19 response communications, is there also stuff to keep moral up? Many are being plunged into home working who (unlike this writer) may never have chosen it.

How do you ensure they don’t feel entirely cut off?

Working from home sounds easy. But it’s not necessarily so. Especially for those who thrive in the busy and social atmosphere of an office (or simply depend on time away from the kids to keep their sanity in check).

Start a Daily Survival Email or internal blog that includes advice, hints, thoughts, ideas, even kids’ activities, to help people adapt to working where they live.

Don’t be an ostrich

The phrase ‘self-isolating’ has taken on an almost mystical power here in the UK. Very quickly, it has become the new normal. But self-isolating does not have to mean isolated. Indeed, it’s imperative that it doesn’t.

You might not think that now is the best time to be starting anything new or ramping anything up. You may be tempted to hunker down until this all passes (which t will, by the way; all things do).

That would be wrong.

Now is not the time to bury your head in the sand. Now is the time to start writing. To share your company’s stories. To make sure your customers and your colleagues know you’re still out there – and that you’re thinking of them.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Cair Lerion Blog #6: How much will this cost? My guide to why I cost what I do – including a price list

Every time I have a conversation with a potential new client, there is always one question that comes up. It runs something like this:

“So, Jonathan… how much will this cost me?”

There’s no denying It’s an important question; in many ways, it’s THE question.

It’s also not a simple question to answer. Google ‘How much does it cost to hire a freelance writer?’ and read through some of the results and they’ll pretty much all say something along the same lines. Essentially: it depends.

Now I appreciate that this not hugely helpful – so to try and offer some more clarity, I’m going to spend the rest of this blog explaining that statement. I finish with some guide prices.

I always start with an hourly rate of £75.00/US$96.00 in mind.

This might sound expensive. If it does, then I might not be right freelancer for you. And that’s OK. I’m not going to be the best fit for everyone.

You might be asking what that hourly rate will get you. If so, I’d ask you to stop reading this and go read my LinkedIn profile to get a sense of the experience and skills I bring to the table, as well as my Muck Rack portfolio, where you’ll find a range of examples of my writing.

But to summarise: I offer specialist technical content creation with primary experience writing about heavy industries and related topics (digitalization and Industry 4.0; sustainability and the environment etc.).

Lest this pigeonhole me, however, I’m also currently working for client in the social care sector. And having spent much of my career in industries I was initially unfamiliar with (after read History at university), I’m pretty good at adapting to and picking up different subjects as required.

Reading on?

If so, I’m going to assume that you’re at least a little interested in working with me. Let’s dig a bit more into those costs…

You know my starting point. Now how do I get from that to quoting for a particular project? The first thing to consider is what you want written?

It’s fairly obvious that the length of a piece of writing will be one determining factor in its cost, but the type of content is also important. A press release and a blog, for example, may be of roughly similar lengths but are very different types of content.

The former usually take a fairly predictable style and format, while the latter is much freer – and may therefore require more research and preparation to do well. That might take a bit more time.

Similarly, writing a white paper to post to your website or technical articles for a trade magazine (usually between 1000 and 2000 words or more) will not only take more time because it is longer; there is also likely to be more preparation required.

This brings up the second point: how much information can you provide as part of the initial brief?

Simply put: the more information you are able to provide, the faster it will be for me to prepare and write your content. This could be through a written brief, phone call or more formal interview (for example, of subject-matter experts within your company).

When commissioning SEO-friendly content for websites, have you carried out keyword research or do you expect me to do this? Similarly, for social media, do you have a list of hashtags to include or is this something you will need me to look for?

It is also useful to have a guide to your style or tone of voice (ToV). Although I will ask for examples of previous content, having a set ToV is a real help (as well as being essential to ensure consistency throughout your content. But that’s another blog in itself.) – and is one way of limiting the chances that the material will have to be redrafted later on.

One final point that can dictate the cost of a project is the extent of redrafting or revision required after submission of the first draft. I include light editing within the quote – but if there is substantial revision, e.g. if the brief changes, that can add significantly to the cost. In this instance, I’d make sure you’re aware of and agreed to this before proceeding.

With all of this in mind, it becomes possible to give an idea how much a specific job will cost. Note that this will be a guide and subject to change (either up or down). If you’re looking for more certainty, talk to me about agreeing a set price.

Notwithstanding the vagaries of the above, here’s a very general price guide for some of the more popular content I’m asked to create

  • Press release/blog (Up to 500 words): £225.00/US$288.00
  • Long blog/Short article (500-1000 words): £337.50/US$432.00
  • Short technical article (1000-1500 words): £450.00/US$576.00
  • Long technical article/White paper (1500+): £600.00+/US$768.00+

If you don’t see what you need up there (e.g. webpages, company/product brochures), don’t panic! I can still help – it’s just this type of material is much more variable, so harder to give a general quote. I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss these needs with you. 

In addition to writing, I can also edit and repurpose existing content (e.g. taking a presentation and turning it into a white paper). This takes less time than developing content from scratch and so will come with a lower price tag.

Why do I base my prices on an hourly rate rather than per word?

Another good question. I believe that hourly rates are a more transparent way of pricing, being both familiar to most people and therefore more easily understood that per-word rates. I also believe they’re more accurate and reflective of the work undertaken – and so ultimately better value for my customer.

Consider two 500-word blogs. One is on a subject I’m familiar with and for a client I have worked with often, so I’m able to produce the content in an hour and half. The other is more technical and requires more significant preparation. This takes me two and a half hours to write.

Pricing on a per-word rate, both would cost the same; pricing on a per-hour basis better reflects the work put in. And you – the client – receive an accurate assessment of the cost of that work in the final invoice. 

There it is. I hope this has helped explain why I cost what I do. As always, I appreciate your feedback and questions on anything I’ve said here. Contact me here or connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Cair Lerion Blog #5: Is this blog too long? Research suggests, no. If anything it’s too short.

Some interesting recent research from SEMrush has dissected the anatomy of top performing articles – with some interesting results. Most notable of these (at least to us at Cair Lerion) related to the length of articles. But before we get to that, here’s what SEMrush did.

On the SEMrush dissecting table

With millions of articles published online every day, there is obviously a wealth of raw material available for this sort of study. The SEMrush study collected a sample of 700,000+ articles, breaking them down by word count, and analysing them for different content metrics, including:

  • Length.
  • Title (H1 tag) length and type (how-to, lists, questions, guides/studies).
  • Structuring (presence and depth of subtitles, H2, H3, H4 tags).
  • Presence of lists.

The articles were then graded in terms of unique pageviews, backlinks and social media shares, enabling SEMrush to tease out the content characteristics of the most successful articles.

Short is not always sweet

Now to those results – and as mentioned above, one of the most interesting relates to length. Long-read articles of over 3000 words gaining three times more unique site views, four times more shares, and three and a half times more backlinks than articles of average length (901-1200 words).

Source: SEMrush Blog.

Moreover, shorter articles (of any length) are much more likely to receive no shares at all than their 3000+ word counterparts. Only 12% of long-read articles went unshared, but that jumps to about 50% for other length articles (the next best performer was articles of 2001-3000 words, at 43% unshared).  

 “The most unsettling part of this data is that if your articles contain less than 3000 words, there is, based on our study, only a 50-50 chance that you will get any social shares.”

Alina Petrova, SEMrush Blog.

As SEMrush note, this backs up findings from Backlinko (which surveyed 912 million blog posts) and HubSpot (on its own HubSpot Marketing Blog, some 6192 posts at the time) and suggests that “more people are driven and engaged by blog posts containing more information”.

These findings do raise questions, however. We wonder how the results might differ if comparing content for B2B, B2C and C2C consumption. In other words, are people as likely to read, recommend and share longer material of professional interest (B2B) as they are long-read content of personal interest (B2C and C2C). As far as we can tell, the SEMrush study doesn’t differentiate the two.

The HubSpot research may offer an answer here, as it only covered the HubSpot Marketing Blog, which we think could fairly safely be categorised as B2B. This found articles of 2250-2500 words earnt most organic traffic, while articles over 2500 were backlinked and shared most on social media. 

This is not what we expected – and it would be interesting to see a more detailed study on the impact of B2B content characteristics on performance (let us know if you know of one!). It’s also worth noting that Backlinko’s research found 1000-2000 words to be the sweet spot for maximizing social shares with diminishing returns thereafter. Even at that length and despite headlines to the contrary, it seems people are still interested in reading more detailed and discursive pieces and not simply the short, shouted rhetoric that is the stereotype of web content.

A final point on length relates to headlines (H1 tags) and here again longer may be better: SEMrush found headlines of 14+ words gained two times more traffic and shares, and five times for backlinks than articles with short headlines (1-10 words).

Content: loving the lists

Staying with headlines and turning to content, SEMrush broke H1 tags down into four categories (plus ‘others’): questions, guides, lists and how-to. Headlines containing lists were a clear leader when it came to shares on social media and also had a slender lead in terms of unique pageviews (although guides and how-to headliners were not fare behind. When is came to backlinks, however, headlines containing questions and how-to headlines performed better.

Supporting the use of lists in online content, SEMrush found that articles that actually contained lists performed better – with more lists correlating to more shares on social media and more unique pageviews. Indeed, articles with five lists per 500 words received four times more traffic than those with no lists, as well as two times more social shares (although the picture there was a little muddier – see graphic below).

Source: SEMrush Blog.

How a preference for lists and long-read articles play together, we’re not sure. Lists are the ideal format for presenting information concisely for quick digestion. Quite the opposite of long-read articles, in fact. If you were to take SEMrush’s findings to the extreme, including five lists per 500 words in a 3000+ word article leads to a lot of lists (30) and potentially not much room for anything else.

Subhead anyone?

Next, SEMrush looked at the presence of subtitles (H2, H3, H4 tags) in articles, noting that “36% of articles with H2+H3 tags have high performance in terms of traffic, shares, and backlinks. The conclusion is that well-structured articles (in this research, articles with both H2 and H3 tags) are more likely to be high performing.” While we’re sure content writers will be nodding away at that conclusion (as we are), we’re not sure the data are actually so clear.

If you take the percentage of articles containing some form of subhead (either H2, H2+H3 or H2+H3+H4) appearing in each of SEMrush’s three performance categories – high performing, medium performing and low performing –  there not a dramatic difference: 76% of highly performing articles contain subheads, compared to 71% of medium performing articles and 64% of poorly performing articles. The use of lists therefore seems to be a better metric for success than subheads – although we would argue that well-structured content is always a must, whatever the statistics say!

Before we move on…

A final point: although longer articles achieve better performance than their shorter counterparts, that is not to say that everyone who views/shares/backlinks actually reads them. We each curate a public online persona through the content we generate ourselves (posts, comments) and through the content we choose to link ourselves to (shares, likes, links). Who of us hasn’t linked to article we have only superficially read (or simply agreed with the title) because it supports the construction of that persona? This is perhaps one explanation of why articles with longer headlines and multiple lists perform well: both are easily digestible formats, providing a quick basis for a social media share or backlink.

So now what?

We’ve been through the results – but what are the practical take-aways?

  • You shouldn’t be afraid of including long-read articles in your content plan (hooray! – especially for those us that write on technical subjects).
  • List articles are popular to share but questions, how-to articles and guides also perform well for other metrics… so mix your content up.
  • It is more important headlines say what the article does than are short and punchy.
  • However long, keep your content as easy to digest as possible: lists are a good way of achieving this.

We also have some questions:

  • How long does a reader spend taking the content in (especially for longer articles)?
  • Is there a performance difference based on the nature of the content (B2B, B2C or C2C)?
  • Does the source of the content have any impact on performance?

Have you found this helpful? Do you have any answers or thoughts on the above questions? We are always happy to hear from you or, alternatively, connect with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Further reading and sources

The Anatomy of Top Performing Articles: Successful vs. Invisible Content – SEMrush Study – SEMrush Blog

The Anatomy of a Shareable, Linkable & Popular Post: A Study of Our Marketing Blog – HubSpot

We Analyzed 912 Million Blog Posts Here’s What We Learned About Content Marketing – Backlinko

How Many Blog Posts Are Published per Day – 2020 Statistics –

Cair Lerion Blog #4: An Interview with Rick Felde

Give us a brief history of your career so far. 

I graduated with a BA in in English Education in 1978, going on to work as a purchasing manager and technical writer for an industrial equipment manufacturer between 1979 and 1983. I took an MA in Creative Writing in 1985 and then worked for a Chicago-area PR firm until 1991, when I became a freelance writer, advertising consultant and PR pro. I’ve been doing that ever since!

How did you begin your career in public relations?

I was hired as an account executive for a mid-sized agency in 1986. I left as an account supervisor in 1991 to move to the Pacific Northwest and pursue a freelance career.

What are your time-tested strategies for pitching stories?

Content must be fact-filled and demonstrate expert knowledge, with minimal promotional language. Editors are looking for information that will benefit their readers, without overt commercialism. Having advertising responsibilities is helpful in my communications with editors, however, as their publications need that revenue in order to thrive. PR professionals must recognize that it’s a two-way street, even with magazines that publish strictly on merit.

You must have written your fair share of press releases over the years. What are your tips for creating engaging content on niche and technical subjects?

News releases must have content that goes beyond marketing client products/services, and they must communicate the key takeaways quickly and clearly. 

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

Online media has been gaining in popularity for several years, which has had its effect on print publications; I doubt however whether print will disappear altogether, at least not in the near future. But print publishers are developing new vehicles to reach their audiences, which helps broaden their reach and maintain readership. 

What opportunities has new media forms – websites, blogs, social media – created for companies in the heavy industrial space?

These are all opportunities for industrial companies to communicate with a wider range of prospects – and the most successful firms don’t rely too heavily on any one of them. The key is a broad range of communication tactics that reach users across print and digital audiences.

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

After 30+ years in the business, I’ve written hundreds of feature articles and worked on dozens of marketing campaigns. I don’t have a particular favourite, but I really enjoy working with engineers, as they have so much to teach us. So tutorial articles have always been interesting and educational for me. But I also take great pleasure in researching and writing success story articles, in which customer companies have used my clients’ products/services to resolve vexing industry problems.  These firms often have little exposure to industrial PR and they invariably love seeing their companies featured in the media.

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?

The trade media delivers valuable information across a wide range of topics, helping to inform and educate readers. It also serves B2B companies by developing brand recognition and enhancing reputation. Although it’s likely to continue evolving over time as technology and reader preferences change, I’m optimistic that it will remain an important resource for manufacturers, service firms and their customers.

Based in Bend, Oregon, Rick Felde is the owner of FelCom LLC. He has over three decades of experience in the industrial marketing and PR sector.

Photo by Soonios Pro from Pexels

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.

Cair Lerion Blog #2: An Interview with Ngaire Baker

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

I started as a newspaper and radio journalist before embarking on a thirty-year career in marketing communications and PR for mining companies and mining-related equipment suppliers around Australia and the globe.

You have spent much of your career in PR, covering heavy industries. What’s your experience of working PR in unfashionable or unfamiliar industries?

Unfashionable? I like that, mainly because I was never interested in what I call ‘red lipstick PR’. Even as a journalist, I was in the bar chasing the politicians or sportspeople for the story: practical and perhaps unfashionable, but it worked for me. I grew up on a large property in Western Queensland, Australia, where you asked a question and you got a straight answer. That has always been my experience of working PR in mining and heavy industry: you ask and they will tell you honestly what they think.

I relate to all types of people, from the CEO to the boilermaker on the floor; its just my personality. I have never experienced any barriers or issues with the people I have worked with and I have certainly seen all sides. From iron ore mines in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia to organising equipment for a global mining supplier at trade shows in Beijing and Moscow, I treat people how I expect to be treated – with respect – and it always gives me the answers I am looking for.

What are your time-tested strategies for pitching stories?  

Research, research, and research! Nothing puts me off faster than a journalist or advertising agency trying to get my business when they haven’t done their research. Be prepared and, although you can’t be an expert in every field, if you are trying to pitch a story, know your client, know their audience, and know how to have a conversation about the topic.

Heavy industries often receive negative coverage in the mainstream media. Do you have any top tips for controlling a negative narrative – and presenting a positive story? 

Honesty! Stick to the facts and look for the positive in the story. It could be a human aspect, environmental, social licence to operate, education, health, diversity in the workplace… a human angle can always go a long way to presenting a positive story. In the face of disaster – a tailings dam wall collapse, for example – yes, it is a tragic story. However, there are always lessons to learn from disaster: look at the progress made throughout history in the face of disaster; the people who carried out the rescue; the mining equipment used to save lives; the skills of a mine rescue team, who went underground for days on end to work to get their mates out alive. We are human and we make mistakes: present the facts and aim to end on a positive note.    

Walk us through your email inbox. How many do you get a day – and how many do you respond to?!

My role is so diverse, I average 56 emails a day and, if a response is required, I will respond to all on the same day, even if it means I stay late. I am a communicator and I pride myself on a full and comprehensive reply. I will not send an email after 7 PM or before 7 AM, if it can be avoided. I will compose the email and set to send between work hours. If I can get up and walk to another office and reply in person, I will. If I can make a phone call and answer in person, I will. I will not email the person sitting in the office next to me, if I can get up and go and talk to them. In my role, I do need clear and concise records of communication in some areas, so emails are unavoidable; however, nothing beats face to face or a phone call.

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

My favourite would be a campaign to promote a piece of mining equipment for a global organisation. It was the ugliest but most vital piece of equipment. Its job was to transport the miners to their place of work every day and bring them to the surface at the end of their shift safely. The machine went deep underground and only saw the light of day when it was on the surface for a maintenance overhaul or replacement.

I was asked on my second day with this company to organise a video/photo shoot with this machine in an underground mine. I would work with the selected agency to get this footage (something the company had been trying to do for eight months). I was able to organise the video shoot within 24 hours. Then I met with the agency, a group of red-lipstick PRs, who thought a group of 20+ people could “pop underground for an hour or so and film this machine”.

How wrong they were and I told them!

In the end, four of us went underground: myself, a cameraman, a sound engineer, and the director. The other 16 stayed in the city. Not only did we get some incredible footage of the machine in its work place, but the miners blew them away with their down-to-earth personalities, the conditions they worked in, their skill and expertise. I arranged some human interest stories while we were underground (see there is always a positive side to a story!) and left with far more than expected. The campaign about the ugly machine went viral; it was so unique that a major online ad agency in the US picked it up and wanted more; social media couldn’t get enough images and information. The campaign even had a full-page advertisement in one of Australia’s major daily newspapers!

Ngaire Baker has over three decades of experience in marketing and PR in the heavy industrial space – principally within the Australian mining industry. She is currently External Relations Manager – Mount Pleasant Operation at MACH Energy Australia Pty Ltd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Know your client (or your company)

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

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

2. Know your trade press (we specialize)

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

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

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

3. Listen to what they want

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

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

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

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

4. Know when to leave us alone

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

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

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

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

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