There’s no such thing as a free lunch.


freelunchA colleague sent me an email this week asking “Is this a good deal?” What he had been offered was a free article in an industrial magazine, all we had to do was spend 15 minutes on the phone with one of their writers and they would prepare the article for us. Normally this is the sort of thing that you Jump at when you work in marketing communications. But not this time.

What set the alarm bells ringing in the first instance was that I had not heard of the magazine. Further reading of their promotional material stated that the magazine was circulated to top global decision makers, without any breakdown of job roles or even any specific circulation figures. The last piece of the puzzle dropped into place when I read that in return we had to supply a list of our suppliers. I’ve been on the receiving end of these types of promotions in the past but from the other side, as a supplier.

When i first started working in marketing communications I was mentored by the late Charles Lewis. Charles was very well known by all the editors of European process and control magazines and he taught me a great deal. Charles was vehemently opposed to promotions like this and he instilled in me the same view.

The way that publications such as this work is that they offer a company the free magazine article, sometimes they even offer to produce it as a company flier also. When the target company bites they are asked to provide a supplier list. Each of the suppliers then gets a letter stating “Company Y is placing a promotional article in our magazine. Mr X from that company would really like you to support that article with an advertisement.” I have received many of these letters and have had many forwarded to me by clients and colleagues. I have at times spoken to sales reps from these magazines. When I decline their offer I have been told “We will go and tell Mr X that you said no.” This always feels to me a little like blackmail. I have actually said this to reps in the past who have just restated their intention to “go tell on me”. This just pisses me off.

When you receive an offer like this, whether you are being offered the article or the advertising the same question still applies.

Will this reach my target audience?

If the supplier is reluctant to give you this information or if they just try to fob you off with vague terms such as “decision makers” then you should question their motives and you should seriously question whether you want to invest time or money in their opportunity.

Another useful question as a supplier when you are offered this kind of opportunity is “if I do not place this ad will it harm my relationship with this customer?”

Are these kinds of publications unique to the automation market or are they seen in other markets also? How do you deal with the pushy sales reps that work for these publications?

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