Most marketers of professional services are under pressure to produce the maximum results for the minimum time. They may also have difficulty getting time from their firm’s leading subject-matter experts, due to those experts’ need to produce billable hours.
So, wouldn’t you want to pick work-getting methods that are the best able to attract the clients your firm most wants to serve?
In my experience, the two most productive ways to use your marketing efforts are:
- Public speaking, because it helps your client-service professionals (CSPs) reach people outside their circle, and for them to get a chance to see what your CSP is like as a person
- Publishing informative content in niche media your CSP’s prospective clients already know and trust – specifically, printed and online professional and trade publications
I think it’s necessary, because I see more professional firms putting more reliance on publishing content on their own platforms, sidestepping the established channels. Of course, your business-development strategy should focus on bringing potential clients to your firm’s blog, website or other channel, so you can nurture the relationship.
But to build your firm’s business, you need to cast its message out so to attract qualified clients who haven’t heard of you yet.
This means that learning to work with trade and professional third-party media is a vital skill for building your firm’s profile. That’s because in some ways, these media are ideal for getting your ideas in front of prospective clients. While these media have their downsides as vehicles for your content, those issues are (usually) manageable.
So, are you ready to learn how trade publications fit into your firm’s client-finding machine?
Seriously, trade media? Are they still even a thing?
Oooooh yes, trade and professional publications still rock. In print, no less. They’re one of the few categories of print media that consistently make money.
Moreover that matters – without a sustainable business model that includes revenue, no venture can last. At this time of writing, investors seem quite happy to throw money into the black hole known as Twitter’s balance sheet, but I hope that none of the investment funds I own, hold shares in that company. The problem is that so many people want information, but don’t want to pay for it. Or pay anything like what it costs to produce – hence The Guardian’s constant pleas that if you read their stuff online, chip in (and I do).
But trade media provide information that is in demand by markets that are narrow, and since it’s not available elsewhere, there is a revenue stream involved.
I’m not talking about mainstream business media like Fortune, Wired or Fast Company. I’m talking about media that are much more narrow, and generally not found on newsstands. Some are focused on a specific industry – media like Pipeline & Gas Journal, Shopping Centers Today and Roads & Bridges. Others focus on professions or occupations – The Lawyers Weekly or Engineering Inc.
I get it, you’ve probably never heard of any of those. That would be the case if you’re not involved in pipelines, retail property management, road-building, law or engineering. But if you’re in those fields, you might well consider these publications to be required reading. Think about it – who else would be reading a publication called Pipeline & Gas Journal? Senior people in Enbridge, El Paso and Kinder Morgan, that’s who. Quite possibly, your firm’s ideal clients.
You can see this in the eye-watering fees major companies pay, repeatedly, year after year, to put their advertisements in front of these readers. Many publications charge north of US$10,000 a page. Does this mean that a two-page article is worth $20,000? Well, given that the only other way you can get this much real estate in front of these readers would cost that much, what do you think?
While their main presence is in print, these media have a healthy online presence, so your CSPs’ ideas published in them are available to readers who don’t have their print copy handy.
These media are mostly advertiser-supported. They may charge a nominal price to subscribers, but most of them don’t want the cost to be a barrier to readers. What they do care about is who their readers are – they want to show advertisers that the pages are read by senior-level decision-makers. For this reason, many publications have an online form for would-be subscribers – if your title is august enough, they’ll consider you worth sending copies to; otherwise … not so much.
The publication’s need to get maximum advertiser “bang” for the “buck” it spends on printing and mailing each print issue, means that only the most qualified readers actually get a printed copy. And if you want to get your message in front of highly qualified clients for your firm, you should rejoice that the publication’s circulation department is so picky about who gets a print subscription.
What are your ideal clients looking for as information sources?
Which brings us to the question of what role, if any, trade and professional niche media should play in your firm’s thought leadership program. To do that, let’s turn this around and consider the needs of someone you’d consider your firm’s ideal client.
This is called your “avatar” and is a constructed – well, imagined – person your firm would love to have as a client. I think you’re best to base this avatar on a real person who’s something close to your ideal. I’ve got several avatars based on real people, and they’re really useful imaginary friends, in that they keep my messages on course. I just don’t tell those real-world people the role they play in my imagination.
So let’s take an avatar of an avatar – we’ll imagine the founder of a green energy company, which uses geothermal, wind and solar power to produce energy in a corner of northern California. We’ll call this person “Moonbeam” in honor of a certain California governor. Moonbeam’s gender is ambiguous/irrelevant; preferred personal pronoun is “they.”
So, Moonbeam needs to stay current with all things regarding renewable energy. This includes new technology, government funding programs, environmental regulations, changes in the rates being paid for green power, personnel changes, new companies, and anything else in this fast-whirling sector. Moonbeam’s job and future prospects depend on their keeping up with the times.
So, Moonbeam goes to some conferences and local industry events, follows some LinkedIn and Facebook groups, and reads some blogs by influential people. But what they is/are looking for is a source of information that meets these criteria:
Neutral – not beholden to any manufacturer, political point of view or technology (wind versus solar, for example)
Reliable – information that Moonbeam can trust (I’ve read several takedowns of leading “experts” such as actor Gwyneth Paltrow and her talk of the evils of “chemicals” and the advantages of detoxes and cleanses)
Current – many listings on the general Web are sadly out of date
Prepared professionally – fact-checked, written by people who can write to professional standards
Focused – Moonbeam cares about renewable energy; isn’t concerned with fossil fuels; probably doesn’t care much about hydro power as these large legacy projects are worlds away from solar and wind power.
Sustainable – actually has a business model that is proven to work, so that it generates revenues to cover costs plus return on capital
What source of knowledge fits Moonbeam’s requirements? If you answered, “I know! Online and print trade publications!”, go to the head of the class.
Why trade media can be ideal ways to reach new clients
Starting with the sunny side of the street, let’s look at why these publications are ideal vehicles for a business-to-business professional. Later, we’ll look at the not-so-sunny aspects.
Tightly targeted at lucrative markets
One of the biggest advantages to trade publications is that they are targeted at markets with money. Markets without money (kind of an oxymoron, right?) don’t have commercial trade publications.
And these markets can be really, really tight. I was recently asked by a client to help them prepare an article for Captive Insurance Times, a London-based publication. If you’re like me and would have to ask what captive insurance is, you’re not their market (okay, I’ll tell you – a captive insurance company is an in-house insurance carrier helping to manage the risks a corporation faces). There is a tight but lucrative market in helping corporations design effective captive insurance companies, hence my client’s interest in publishing in this periodical. And because there are advertisers wanting to reach this market, some enterprising people started a publication to serve it.
In the Darwinian war for advertisers’ money, publications that help companies put their ideas in front of lucrative markets survive, the rest don’t. A case in point: In my early days of freelance journalism, I wrote occasionally for a publication called “Canadian Secretary,” which served a market of secretaries in the mold of an early Joan Holloway or Peggy Olson in “Mad Men.” That type of secretary scarcely exists any more – and so the magazine serving them folded. On the other hand, we see a whole raft of new media intended to serve the burgeoning homeland security market in the USA.
All of this reassures you that periodicals are very good at sniffing out opportunities, giving your firm a chance to ride along.
Respecting your ideal client’s time
Trade and professional media present their insights in what is, I believe, one of the most effective ways to present complex information – the written word, presented in concise journalistic style. It’s not like a two-hour movie you sit through in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment. It’s also not like a podcast that takes an hour to listen to. Or an hour-long webinar that is mostly a sales pitch.
A trade publication is designed so that the reader can at a glance determine if any one article is worth reading. This means that if the Moonbeam in your life comes across your firm’s content and it’s relevant to an issue they’re facing, they’ll read it.
The content in quality trade publications is reality-checked, screened for overtly promotional messages, and current. This means that it’s what Moonbeam will consider a good source of information for staying up to date in their field of renewable energy.
Why trade media can be a pain to work with (and what to do about it)
Of course, it’s not as easy as it looks for you to get your ideas published in something that Moonbeam will consider credible and worth their time. Here are some of the downsides.
It can take a looooong time to get published: Most print publications publish monthly or every two months, so from the start of the project to published article can take three or four months. It’s not like uploading an article to your blog and then hitting “Publish.”
Sometimes there’s no accessible publication that fits your market: Having said that just about any market worth your interest will already have become the interest of a publisher who has created a magazine to meet it, it can be that you can’t access a market by means of trade or professional magazines. This can be because the publication in that niche doesn’t accept external articles, being entirely staff written (by professional journalists). Many of the high-priced newsletters are like this. And, I find that many local business publications (Business in Podunk…) are also purely staff written.
Your article may not get published. It could be that you put a lot of work into an article, and it gets turned down or ignored by the editor. And yes, editors are kings and queens of their own domain; what they say goes.
Why trade publications are worth the extra effort
Trade and professional publications should be a key part of just about any business professional’s thought leadership program. Of course, other media are important, and it’s essential for you to stay current with the latest ways to reach prospective clients. And as ever, the goal is to bring people back to your place – your firm’s website, where you can continue to build the relationship.