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Getting Ink

Nov 10, 2010 3:41 PM, By Don Kreski

How to work with the press to build your reputation and sales.

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Which is more believable: something you read in a magazine article or something in an ad?

Advertising has an important place in the marketing mix, but if you’re trying to build credibility for your company, at some point you’ll want to approach the press and ask them to publish stories about your business.

“AV integrators need to get the word out that they are reliable,” says Mark Mayfield, editorial manager for Extron Electronics. “Being mentioned in a trade publication gives you credibility in the eyes of your customers and peers that you can use to promote your business.”

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Mayfield has a lot of experience in working with the press. Not only has he worked in marketing for Extron and several audio equipment manufacturers, he has been editor of three AV trade magazines. I asked him if he agreed with a statistic I’ve seen: that at least 50 percent of the stories in any newspaper or magazine start with a press release or an idea from a publicist. “I think that’s a good number,” he says. “Most trade magazines do their own research and industry analysis, but some publish submitted stories, and they do react to bugs that people plant in their ears.”

The publicity process works because it is helpful to the companies submitting the stories and helpful to the magazine editors. “They all have pages to fill,” Mayfield explains. “If you can give them something of value for their readers—whether a project profile, a tip, a technology lesson, or something they can use in their businesses—then the editors will welcome it.”

Elements of a good story

In my own years of working with the press, I have found that there are five important parts to any story idea:

1. It should have news value. “The point of a technology-oriented publication is to educate its readers about new products and how to use them,” says Brooke Lange, a former editor of trade and consumer magazines in the residential systems market. If you are submitting an installation case history, she suggests, it should be within a few months of completion and highlight new ideas useful to the magazine’s readers.

2. It should have educational or entertainment value. “In the trade magazine, we always tried to run stories that would help our readers grow their businesses,” Lange says. “In the consumer magazines, some were definitely educational, but others were there for their entertainment value.”

The most successful publicists know they have to read the magazines they pitch to. When you look at a publication, ask yourself, “Is this the type of story it regularly prints? If not, is it something that will be helpful to and of interest to its readers?”

3. Your story or story proposal must be clear, straightforward, and easy to read. “You want brief copy that’s not flowery and not showing obvious bias,” Mayfield explains. “You have to keep the advertising out of the text, or the editor will cut it or just not use the story. If you study the magazine and emulate the style its writers normally use, you have a better chance of being published without major revisions.”

Lange says that every editor tries to set his or her publication apart. “I was always looking for ideas that were unusual,” she says. “We wanted to publish stories that, if nothing else, were packaged in a way that was different and more interesting than what our competitors were running.”

4. It must forward your marketing goals. Some publicists argue that any ink is good, but the best stories subtly balance the needs of the reader, editor, and company originating the idea.

5. It must be illustrated in quality high-resolution images. The best way to sell a story to an editor is through art. When images, especially professional images, have been taken, it’s an indicator to the editor that the story is print-ready—possibly even landing it on the cover.

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