On Wednesday night the journalist Chris Edwards and I were sat in the hotel after the Elektra Awards. Publitek’s clients had just won four awards*, including overall winner so we were celebrating and, never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, giving highly exaggerated tales of when we’ve both got ‘grumpy’ at PRs who haven’t understood the basics of journalism and can’t work to a brief. It’s not necessarily something either of us were proud of, but on Wednesday evening seemed funny.

From my side, the main story I think of comes from 2008 when working as a freelance journalist and writing a piece for Triathlon 220 magazine on sports technology that helps athletes train harder. I’d tracked down some great technology – including Cambridge Consultants’ sports glasses with a heads-up display and wireless receiver, and research from Johnson & Johnson on how diminished eyesight affects an athletes performance. I’d also contacted Samsung (partners Adidas) and Apple (partners Nike).

To pad out the story, I’d also turned to Response Source, which lets you ask subscribing PRs from the UK if they have information or review models relating to the feature you’re writing:

“Hi, I’m writing a story on technology that helps elite athletes train more effectively. I’m looking for research, a coaches opinion, or devices that can improve the performance of Bradley Wiggins

[Olympic cycling champion, and now Tour de France champion] Matt Pinsent [Olympic rowing champion] or Paula Radcliffe [Olympic Marathon runner]. The Olympics are just around the corner [written in July 2008] so let me know what technology is out there for those travelling to Beijing.”

This turned out to be a mistake and I ended up losing my, usually, calm demeanour with two of the countless people that called or emailed me with truly useless pitches:

“Hi, we have a folding helmet, so you can put an extra shirt in your suitcase when travelling.” and

“Hi, we have a wind powered phone charger, so if you attach it to your bike you can charge your phone faster.”

Anyway, back to Wednesday night. Both of us had agreed that PRs were getting a little better here. Albeit he did have a PR call up recently about a story in an electronics journal on enclosures offering a log cabin for review. But, we also discussed the decline in sales and in advertising that’s happening to electronics magazines, which leads to a decline in exclusive, unbiassed articles… which causes people to think the magazines are one big advert and reinforces the decline in sales and advertising.

And while there will always be a will (and therefore a way) for engineers to find relevant information on new products, new ideas and new ways of doing things, a trade magazine with a strong readership, perceived high editorial standard and trusted reputation means these play a key (albeit not the only) part in reaching engineers.

So I think this is a role that PR should also improve on, to ensure our clients’ comments and articles are read as worthwhile and important, rather than just an extension of advertising.

Currently, the typical process for contributing features is: you pitch and write an article on a given subject. You walk the fine line to make it both promotional enough to increase sales and neutral enough to get through a magazine’s editorial rules. The main influence, though, comes from being the credible expert that the magazine has turned to.

This approach works well if the publication is well regarded and has non-promotional content written by its own staff – but as we’ve previously discussed… that’s dropping.

So, during this past year or two, we’ve started to do things a little differently for some stories with an increase in round tables (we’ll do the interviews with both clients, analysts and competition, edit it and give the magazine the author credit) and trend stories (doing the research, finding relevant comment from a wide section of the industry and developing the story before handing it over to be written by the journalist.

It doesn’t need to be done this way for all stories, as Chris said to me:  as long as there’s enough exclusive content, people will not notice that there are blatantly marketing- led articles in there too. And I’m glad, the approach is more time consuming and you share the benefit – occasionally with 1-2 rivals – but this means you’re considered to be among the best three companies in your field … and, even when compared with contributed articles from just one client, and in the same magazines, this approach has delivered a markedly increased effect on the traffic to the clients’ websites.


*Congratulations to SureCore (development team of the year and company of the year), Redux (product innovation of the year) and LED Engin (solid state lighting product of the year).

Also, many congratulations to Lime Micro, who last week won at the NMI Awards (Semi360 award – aka business model of the year)