The untapped world of custom publishing

Custom publications may revolve around a brand, but there's still room for others.

Custom publications may revolve around a brand, but there's still room for others.

The Custom Publishing Council (CPC) reports that custom publishing is a $48 billion industry distributing about 34 billion magazine copies. Still, media relations pros often overlook such titles. Finding them and understanding their needs often requires careful research, but developing relationships can mean a bonanza of coverage in highly targeted markets.

"Custom publications [help] cultivate relationships and increase sales," says Rick Sedler, president of RMS Media Group. "They have limitations, [but] there's plenty of opportunity for the right approach."

Custom publications are very popular with their niche readers and are great outlets to promote clients aligned with their goals. But getting information on them can be tricky.

"Outside the top 50 companies, it takes sleuthing," says Joe Pulizzi, group director at Penton Custom Media, CPC board member, and chairman of American Business Media's custom media committee. "We tried for a long time to get a listing of custom pubs, but [they] don't want to give out information because competitors can attack that."

"Some [custom publications] can only be uncovered by opportunity," says Emily Cox, restaurant and professional-services division leader at Justice & Young Public Relations. "Know who [your client] will appeal to and dig deep to find out who's attempting to reach those individuals."

Editors need ideas. As such, highly targeted pitches that fit are welcomed. "It can't just be quality editorial," Pulizzi says. "You have to look [for] any competitive issue."

Says Ken Beaulieu, editorial director at The Pohly Company, "Ask for all publications. There are some obscure ones, but there may be ways [to] get you in. Get the editorial
mission and guidelines. Find the objectives. Think about the client foremost when pitching. [Don't] send broadly written press releases. It's critical to target specifically."

Cox recently got client TriServe, a company offering payroll, HR, benefits, and risk-management services, in Lowe's for Pros custom publication after answering a Profnet query. "I focused on what you think would be obvious, that my client's expertise could benefit readers," she says. "Focusing on this and offering advice yielded success, I feel."

Jeremy Pepper, director at Weber Shandwick Worldwide, thinks PR people too often try to "shoehorn themselves" into every article, and stresses the importance of relationships. A good one with even a single editor at a custom publisher can go a long way.

"If you break in, you have opportunities in several publications," Beaulieu says. "Editors share releases. Relationships with a PR pro will be made known to other editors."

It's also important to understand how individual editors like to receive information and respect their follow-up preferences.

"Editors have a lot of perimeters and likely a sizable list of things they can't do," adds Sedler. "If you keep sending things on their 'can't-do' list, it's frustrating. Don't send form letters. [Editors won't] want it if [they] think it could appear in 50 other magazines."

Most custom publications are quarterly, so "timing is everything," says Pulizzi. "Most map out a year ahead and are a lot less flexible than traditional titles because the folio is defined in most cases. Editorial [typically] doesn't fall through. Keep in contact. It saves the company a lot of money if [a pitch is] aligned with the marketing objectives."

By delivering pertinent information, you'll quickly become a go-to for editors. Sedler suggests reaching out to client marketers to gain understanding of their titles. "They play a role in shaping publications," he says. "Editors finalize editorial calendars with the client. The marketing side of a custom-publication client has a list of like companies or like brands they want to associate with."

Editorial directors and publishers sometimes favor pitches through freelance writers. Regular contributors can also be sources of information about what flies.

Beaulieu finds survey results, white papers, and brand-manager Q&As very useful. "Note if there is a potential bylined article from a senior executive," he adds. "We take a lot of submissions from experts. We can pull information and turn it into a larger story or expand on what that person wrote. Something little could turn into something big at a custom magazine."


Technique tips


Know the titles' marketing goals before you pitch. Get media kits, ed cals, and issue copies

Know target audiences and explain how your idea serves them

Know the company's alliances and watch out for competitive issues


Send generic press kits, general pitches, or form letters

Forget to respect editor preferences. Develop ties so you know how best to deliver what the publication needs

Give up. Keep in touch and hone ideas

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