Trade Media – Why Does it Feel Neglected?

“Trade publications are becoming sources for major corporate stories in nationals. Which means that the relationships with trade hacks are at least as important as those with their peers on the nationals.”

I had a brief Life on Mars moment when I read this – I felt like I’d been shot and woken up to find myself in 1995, which is the first time that I realised that – yes – the national media tend to trawl the trades for stories. (Certainly the more ‘interesting’ trades anyway – my formative experience was with a transfer from Marketing to the Daily Star – and I know Estates Gazette and Property Week are national fodder, as are The Publican and The Morning Advertiser. I’m not so sure about Building Products Inc Muckshifter and Crane, or Commercial Rabbit.)

This came from an article which had the subhead ‘Why do trade journalists feel neglected?’ The thrust seemd to be that the national media is a) much more important and b) easier to deal with because it doesn’t know its stuff quite so well as the trade, which study one particular sector in depth. Thus, comms professionals take the ‘easier’ national option and try to (sometimes) cut out the trade guy. And when the trade guy scores a scoop, and a national follows it up, the comms professional uses the journo’s ‘trade status’ to rubbish what’s been written. I can see how that would be a bummer.

Anyway, once I’d got over the shock of the revelation that nationals trawl trades for stories – no, hold on, I’m still feeling a bit weak – no, that’s better – and that it’s a good idea to build relationships with the trades – deep breaths – I thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that – as in life – it just ain’t that simple.

It’s not about trades vs nationals. Being a trade journalist does not make you a specific type of person and being a national jorunalist does not make you another. In the same way that being a comms professional does not make a stereotype either.

There are good trade journalists and bad ones, good nationals and bad ones, good communicators (no sniggering at the back, readership minor!) and bad ‘uns. Each relationship, each modus operandi is different. For both communicator and journalist, the value of each others’ contribution has to be evaluated and it probably changes on a case-by-case basis.

Sometimes, the story’s not about a trade audience and that’s why a national is a better vehicle (at first, at least). Sometimes the audience is exactly that which is served by the trade. (It’s a clever comms pro, by the way, who can put a story to the trade and be assured that it will be picked up by a national – that seems to happen on a more luck-based basis.) Sometimes you won’t touch the trade with a bargepole, because it’s impossible to get fair treatment from the journalist – and not always because the journalist is a bad ‘un – no, it could be down to your CEO being rude to him/her at an industry event. There are a raft of so-called ‘trades’ that are – as the article I quoted at the beginning of this rightly said – wholly based on attracting advertising revenue. (And if you work for one of those and you’re reading this, stop it. Yes, stop it. Stop working for the magazine and stop reading this.)

The situation is very complex and the good comms professional treats every media outlet – trade or consumer – on a case-by-case basis, using judgement based on strategy, need, experience and relationships. OK, sometimes we’re dictated to by our paymasters, but mostly, we make the judgements ourselves. And, yes, we do understand the nature of the beast – that trade journos end up on the nationals (and sometimes, as comms professionals in later life).

So, the answer to the question ‘why do trade journalists feel neglected?’ I doubt they do. And if they do, it’s more than likely because they haven’t built the relationship with their sector comms people. Or it could be because the publication they’re working for is genuinely pants. If so – time to find somewhere else to ply your trade.

From my own experience, I doubt any of the staffers on Estates Gazette, Property Week, The Grocer, The Publican, The Morning Advertiser,  Marketing, Marketing  Week, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, actually feel neglected. Au contraire, I think they feel valued, quite important in their sector and delighted at the career on the nationals that beckons should they so wish.

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