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Learning Lessons From Trade Magazines

I like to think that for the decade or more in which I was an engineering magazine editor, I did a reasonable enough job. This was largely through having learned (from some real professionals) that a magazine served two markets simultaneously: the readers (of course), but also the manufacturers who supply most of the information and who pay for the whole thing through advertising. The key there is to consider the two simultaneously. Many of the magazines which have gone to the wall in recent years considered the two, but quite separately. They tried to make “editorial” as non-commercial as possible, delightedly trying to cover topics which might have been more at home in a textbook, and forgetting that the readers actually wanted to read about products they could buy, and which might have helped with their own projects.

Then there were the magazines which didn’t care about their readers at all. They’d just publish page after page of stuff which got included because they’d found a manufacturer daft enough to pay £100 for the privilege. With each item having been written by someone different, the result was a total mess, and it’s hard to believe that anyone ever thought that the thing would get read (it didn’t, although some of these magazines still survive, thanks to the continued indifference of many marketing managers towards the ROI of their advertising budget).

Sadly, the commercial cull of magazines wasn’t as discerning as it might have been. Some good titles have gone, and some utter rubbish still exists. But the best ones which remain are working harder than ever.

Now, with the advent of the company website having made us all into publishers, how can we learn the same lessons as trade magazines? I think it’s this: more than ever, your readers want something which will help them in their jobs. They don’t want a hard sell, but they don’t want textbook-style information which doesn’t lead them anywhere either. Describe the benefits of your products with technical information that speaks to them at their level, just like your best salesman would do. And always, always look at every web page you’ve written, put yourself in the place of your readers, and ensure you’ve answered their question: “what’s in it for me?” That’s how the best magazine editors work.

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