Business outlets remain influential

Even though ad counts are down for the major business magazines, they are still the most credible and relevant outlets in which to achieve client mentions

Even though ad counts are down for the major business magazines, they are still the most credible and relevant outlets in which to achieve client mentions

Advertising sales at business magazines large and small never quite recovered from the dot-com bust.

But while the financial picture - recently captured in a New York Times article - might seem bleak, PR pros suggest that the cachet and credibility of these outlets remains strong.

The Times piece focused on troubles at Fast Company, and cited the pared-down pages of Red Herring and Inc. - once high fliers in terms of ad revenue.

In addition, it noted that ad pages at the Big Three business magazines - BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Fortune - were not only off their 2000 boom year peaks, but were still lagging behind their 1995 levels.

Yet Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist at Ogilvy PR, notes that, regardless of the ad count, the Big Three remain prime targets for any business-related pitch.

"Blogs may come and go, and plenty of clients want to get on with Lou Dobbs and Neil Cavuto, but nothing compares with the credibility and prestige that comes from a favorable profile - or even a line or two - in the Big Three," he says. "The readership is influential, affluent, educated, and business-minded - a perfect b-to-b market for our clients."

Christine Bock, president of Bock Communications, which specializes in wireless companies, agrees. "We're still reaching out to Forbes and Fortune, and that hasn't changed at all. They're still the cream of the crop."

All three publications have retained their clout - and their reputations for breaking major business news stories of the day. It was Fortune, for instance, that took the first hard look at Enron's sketchy financials.

Opportunities for PR

But the advertising falloff has nevertheless impacted the editorial side. Like many mainstream titles, the top-tier business magazines are employing fewer reporters, who in turn are covering broader beats, notes Paul Dusseault, SVP and partner in Fleishman-Hillard's St. Louis office.

"While that sounds like a negative, it can be a greater opportunity for thoughtful, journalistically trained PR pros," he says. "Because if I'm a reporter at BusinessWeek and have a choice between somebody with a half-baked idea and somebody else who's done some background research and done some competitive analysis and packaged it well, then I know which one I'm going to take to my editor."

In addition to breaking stories, the Big Three also play an important role in validating major business trends.

Bock notes that three of her clients were recently included in a Forbes cover story on the wireless market. She adds that the story required months of legwork, including arranging face-to-face interviews between the CEOs and the title's San Francisco-based wireless reporter.

"It's really rare for us to get these top outlets to do a single company profile," she says. "That will have to take an earth-shattering product or technology. So these trends pieces are really the only way for these small-to-medium business players to get into the major business press."

"In the absence of big news - a new CEO, a sudden growth spurt, a breakthrough product - it's smart to try to insinuate your client into a trend piece, even it means garnering only a paragraph," Brody adds. "The clients who understand and appreciate how PR works will recognize that a well-placed mention of their company has value."

Addressing limitations

Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon Communications, points out that Forbes, Fortune, and BusinessWeek are not the places to try to achieve a soft feature on a CEO's vision.

"You have to realize these reporters are going to want to talk about numbers," he says. "So you can't be a private company who says, 'I want to get into Forbes,' and then decide you don't want to talk about last year's revenues or profits."

All of these outlets now have online versions with original content, but Bock says that these sites are not nearly as prestigious as the print versions, adding, "They're still fine, but they're the lesser of the two."

Brody notes that the top-tier business magazines do have the clout to demand exclusives, but that doesn't mean that they don't chase big fish.

"If the news is big enough - a corporate meltdown or a stock going through the roof - everyone will be all over it," he says.

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Pitching... major business titles

  • Not every company should be pitching BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Forbes. Although these outlets are prestigious, and will get your client in front of the business community, a placement there is not necessarily the best catalyst for driving sales or increasing consumer awareness

  • Make sure you bring hard news to reporters. Prepare clients to answer tough questions about their business and financials

  • Although offering an exclusive might give you a leg up, a big story will earn attention regardless of who else runs it

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