The business media is similar to the recent blizzards that have been plowing up and down the east coast – thousands of entities combine to create a situation with limited visibility.
Both are also dynamic and unpredictable. As we begin 2014, new outlets are emerging, like Re/Code. Paywalls and premium content are offered with different strategies and levels of success. Freelancers and contingent workers are replacing full-time staffers.
So what’s in store for the business media this year? And how can PR pros navigate this changing landscape effectively? I spoke with journalist Elaine Pofeldt, current freelance writer for CNBC, Fortune and Forbes – and former full-time, senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine – to learn more.
1. What do you feel is the best information companies can present to business outlets like Fortune, Forbes and CNBC? What are PR and marketing departments typically missing?
EP: The most important thing is the ability to showcase that the company is performing well. Many sources do not want to share that information, but it puts companies at a severe disadvantage. As writers, if we don’t see actual evidence of growth, we have no idea to know if your claims about building a successful business are true. If we don’t know the financials, we don’t know the real story. Neither do our readers.
For PR people, if you’re not prepared to share that information, it limits your ability to secure good coverage for your clients. If the reporter doesn’t ask you for information like a company’s revenue numbers profitability, the editors will.
If companies want to aim high, they have to be candid about how they are doing as a business, and provide supporting details.
2. Business outlets are working with more freelancers than ever. What’s the biggest misconception that PR people have about working with freelancers?
EP: The main misconception is that freelance contacts are less important than editors—that’s not true.
Many business outlets these days have a small core of editors that work with lots of freelancers. They don’t have the time to talk with all the sources. Freelancers are often a better conduit to get your name in a top-tier outlet.
3. How can PR pros navigate potential conflicts in pitching publications that cover similar areas?
EP: Each publication has its own spin on business, so generally a pitch to one publication won’t work for another. For instance, if you look at the whole universe of the business press, the publications cover the same things: stocks and investing, management, careers, entrepreneurs. But they each have their own lens and demographics; they’re designed to share a specific perspective on business with a certain profile of reader. Each outlet is different – and the successful PR professional really understands what is different and creates a customized pitch.
Companies can uncover these nuances by analyzing the publication’s website. For example, the articles that appear in the prime real estate showcase what the editors’ view as important. Then look at the articles’ flow, especially the lead and opening paragraphs, which show the key elements of what the editors see as an interesting story.
Say you have a client that’s a growing, entrepreneurial company. If you pitch an outlet that’s more focused on investing, the magazine might be interested in a story on how to get a good return on your investment in starting your own business. But in contrast, an outlet on entrepreneurship might focus more on the excitement of starting a business, the journey, the challenges and obstacles. You have to study the articles and find the right way to tailor your story ideas to the publication’s audience, as well as the right voice.
4. How has the freelancing industry changed between now and 5 years ago?
EP: Almost all major outlets have freelancers in much more crucial roles. They’re not only writers – they are also contract editors – but their status isn’t any less than full-time staffers in terms of decision-making power. You often see high-profile journalists making the decision to go freelance for personal freedom. They love it because they get to enjoy the staff culture on a part-time basis, but also have the freedom to do things like write books and take on other projects.
This means that PR people don’t need to get to the editor-in-chief to get to the right person. There are a lot of freelancers out there who oversee key sections of major publications or contribute to them regularly. Cultivate those relationships just as much as you would with full-time staffers.
5. What does the future of business press staffs look like? Should we expect more freelancers? Why/why not?
EP: The workplace in general is depending more on contingent employees. What we think as a permanent full-time job is going away. That has some obvious downsides, but it also provides journalists with more flexibility and freedom to write for a variety of outlets, instead of just one.
PR people need to be real and pragmatic with their clients – be a champion, but be honest as well. Participating in the media does help your business grow, it builds momentum. But you can’t do it without being transparent and telling the real story of your business.
Also, you really have be patient when you’re trying to get exposure in the media. I would give your PR efforts six months to a year before you abandon what you’re doing. It can take months between the point that someone pitches a story to me and when it actually runs. Some publications have a long lead time, but that doesn’t mean they’re never going to publish the story. That’s important for clients of PR firms to realize. If you give up too early on PR, it’s going to derail you in the long run.