Last month, I was invited to be a guest speaker in Dr. Kasavana’s highly successful V-Commerce course at The School of Hospitality Business at the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University (Lansing). As most of you know, this program was underwritten by the The Foundation of the National Automatic Merchandising Association as part of a long-range plan to foster closer relations between the industry and the academy, to the benefit of both.
If you’ve attended the NAMA trade shows, you’ve probably heard Dr. Kasavana, NAMA-endowed professor at MSU, lead lively panel discussions on new technology in vending; you also may have read coverage of these seminars in the pages of VENDING TIMES.
This year marked the fourth time that industry publications VT and Automatic Merchandiser were invited to speak at MSU. In the past, we were asked to discuss current economic, social and technological changes that affect the business, and to suggest a historical context in which to evaluate them.
However, this year, the topic proposed to us was different. We were invited to explain how a trade magazine functions, including its editorial, advertising and circulation activities; how important stories are identified; and the successes and failures of specific industry predictions. Given that subject matter, I asked executive editor Nick Montano to share the session with me.
Admittedly, we both struggled with the challenge of explaining our daily tasks and their relationship to our mission and purpose to students in the School of Hospitality Business. This wasn’t the journalism department, nor a course on advertising. What insights could we offer into what we do and, more importantly, why we do it?
This was an interesting exercise for us; we don’t often think in detail about things we do all the time. It is a mental activity my tennis pro used to call “analysis paralysis.” If you stop and think about the intricacies of the task at hand, you become distracted and risk losing your momentum and fluidity. “Just do it, don’t think about it,” he would often tell me.
We got past that difficulty and, after a good deal of thought and discussion, we decided to focus our presentation on the value of communication (often thought of as “publicity,” but in fact extending beyond that important commodity). After all, every industry – no matter what it does – also deals in information.
As the careers of these students advance in any of the hospitality industries, or whatever industry or profession they pursue, they are going to need information. They will have many sources for it. Why should they choose a trade magazine as a primary source? Can’t they find everything they need on the Internet? And, if they do recognize the value of a trade magazine, how should they decide which to choose?
The value of information probably is more apparent to today’s college students than to earlier generations. Every business needs a method to obtain, share and apply information for use in-house, within the industry and in dealing with the outside world. We cannot survive without it.
From within, we need ongoing information about new products and service developments. We benefit from sharing success stories and mistakes to avoid.
From without, we need to know about developments that affect the business we’re in: economic trends, technical advances and changes in public attitudes.
We also have information that’s important to people outside our industry (in some cases, whether they know it or not). A trade magazine has a great responsibility in helping to communicate an industry’s successes and challenges to people whose opinion is important, but who are primarily interested in other things. These people include everyone from consumers through journalists to government officials.
For this reason, most industries have developed communications systems including trade publications like VT, and one or several trade associations like NAMA, AMOA and NBVA.
The publications and the associations are the twin foundations (or the double barrels) of an effective communications medium. At VT, we believe these mechanisms work best when they reinforce one another, but remain separate.
Trade magazines offer information in two forms: editorial and advertising. Advertising is not often thought of as information, even by some advertisers, but it is; especially advertising directed at a business audience. Editorial is often thought of as a “cool” medium because objectivity is very important. Advertising is a “warm” medium because the advertiser can try to enlist the emotions of the reader.
Editorial is the most important function of a trade magazine; it’s fatal to think of it merely as “content” to fill the pages between the ads. It is a very serious responsibility; it can neither be slighted nor put up for sale. And, since the role of a trade magazine is to provide information specific to an industry, it’s necessary for the editor to understand what he or she is writing about, and how it relates to the industry.
Advertising also conveys information for use, and therefore should be purchased as a business decision. Value is the most important component here, and it isn’t always provided by the cheapest option. You want something that will do the job for you and will last – just like any other purchase you make for your business.
This is where strong circulation that is honestly reported comes into play. For the purchaser of advertising, both editorial content and qualified circulation are strong components of value.
But, whether it’s advertising or editorial, for it to work effectively, it has to convey useful information! When done correctly, editorial will explain the topic by putting it into proper context, and advertising will provide specific details, such as “How can I make money with this?”
So, why am I belaboring the obvious? Because the value of trade publications and trade associations, and their role in maintaining the industry dialogue, needs to be understood. Because perhaps now, more than ever before, readers need solutions to a frightening array problems that threaten the survival of their businesses.
Trade magazines that recognize and respond to those needs though professional editorial practices and standards will succeed. And those operators, manufacturers and suppliers who are part of the solution will shape the future of our industry. None of us can do it alone.