Man Bites Dog
That used to be the universal publishing call to juice up your headlines. The opposite was the headline you'll never see: "Plane Landed Safely."
The last time I started a trade magazine, about eight years ago, we broke a controversial story on the cover of our first issue. We had found a potential deal-killer within a ground-changing industry event. With old-fashioned, solid reporting we came down pretty hard on Intermec, a supply chain and mobile-computing technology leader. We played it for all it was worth and got instant attention—the kind of story that makes ad sales directors cringe.
I'll never forget that a senior VP at Intermec called his marketing director and said, "I like that new magazine. Give them some support." A response which had been "we'll consider you for next year" turned into an important inside cover placement in issue two. I love all my advertisers; but that was an especially classy move.
I've been keeping an eye open for industry-rattling stories in the dozens of trade magazines and B2B websites I review each week. I don't see any. The technology, medical and industrial verticals I mostly spend time with have some terrific content and useful service features. But most seem to tow the line on industry news and announcements.
My first inclination is to think B2B publishers have become timid. Notable exceptions are the weeklies and dailies, like Variety, Automotive News and Advertising Age. In fact, most Crain publications are known for breaking real news. Monthlies and online-only publishers don't need to sit on the sidelines.
True, being muckrakers is not our job. It's not that we are cheerleaders when covering an industry—if you can't be upbeat, encouraging and most of all, genuinely excited about your beat, what's the point? But it is our job to be interesting and it is in our interest to be compelling. That is achieved with good reporting and the occasional big and/or controversial piece. They are always there if you look for them.
Readers beget advertisers; advertisers never beget readers. So don’t worry about alienating an advertiser.
Upon closer look I realized there were indeed stories that might be attention-grabbing. I'm just not sure the editors noticed. They had no more emphasis than a product announcement. Rarely do I see a Web headline size variation that draws attention to one story over another. Add to that most vertical B2B websites are choking with offers of white papers and webinars. This may be genuinely worthwhile content, but rarely does it get the blood racing.
I'm suggesting you add sizzle to the steak. Call someone out when warranted, just because you can. Our world of aggregated news and corporate content can make editorial on sites serving the same industry look bland and repetitive.
One site focused on a particular medical specialty ran a story about a NIH study proving a widely used medication did not work. In that field, this was huge. Some companies were about to lose money. For others a new opportunity had opened. A couple of calls to likely winners and losers could have generated a juicy quote to spin the article on. Instead, this story was lost between one about an NYU grant and a mundane association announcement.
Earn the respect – and attention – of your industry and you can never go wrong. Those results are easily worth the risk of burning a bridge.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.