During the last few years, there has been a distinct shift in how manufacturers, distributors and merchants of building products promote and communicate with their increasingly diverse audiences.
The global recession has been one of the reasons for this, but perhaps the major contributing factor has been the growth in usage and value of the Internet and associated electronic media. This has dramatically changed the landscape of how marketing departments operate and spend their budgets, and also how industry professionals find out about products and are educated on their benefits and applications.
Electronic media, with its seemingly cost-effective, instant and more direct and interactive communication methods, has hit the printed media hard, as they have suffered from reduced advertising revenue and some, like ‘What’s New in Building’, have sadly folded.
So where now for the building industry printed trade press?
It was apparent from our feature on selling and marketing to the independent building trades, that magazines are still a key sales and marketing tool for communicating with specifiers, distributors, developers, contractors, installers and end-users of building products. This is good news for the publishers, but they must not take their future for granted.
In the latest in our series of interviews with people from the building industry, we look at the changing role of the trade press: why it is still a vital communication platform, what it must do to remain so, and why it is crucial that the whole industry continues to support printed media as it strives to remain relevant.
To add clarity from the eye of the hurricane, we discussed these issues with Andy Costin, Group Advertising Manager of one of the leading and most respected publications in the industry - Professional Builder Magazine, published by the Hamerville Group.
Andy is an expert in the field, having worked at Hamerville for over 28 years, during which time he has witnessed the evolution from printing press to digital printing and the current electronic media age of the Internet.
Advertising strategies have changed
Manufacturers have changed their promotional strategies since the recession and the biggest effect on the magazines, according to Andy, has been the reduction of block bookings of advertising space.
“Probably the single major change has been the reluctance of clients to place schedules. These have become less and less, meaning long-term campaign planning is a rare occurrence and bookings are more ad-hoc, reactive or very much geared to just short-term campaigns.”
“It has been difficult to fully judge the effect of the advent of the digital age on the printed press since 2007 and how much was due to the recession and would’ve happened anyway.”
“Professional Builder has had to slim down from 200 pages in the boom times of early 2007, but is now, thankfully, getting back up towards those levels again.”
Remember the whole industry needs to help each other for mutual benefit
If you ask anyone in a marketing job in the building products industry, most will say that they’ve had to operate on tighter marketing budgets.
Of course, display advertising in magazines is one of the easiest ways to reduce expenditure, but as companies still want page coverage, it has meant that the amount of press releases and article submissions has increased.
Andy believes that this is a double-edged sword as, to survive, the trade press need display advertising to fund and produce high quality and relevant publications that are read by the audience advertisers want to reach.
“In many ways, as harsh as it may sound, some manufacturers are damaging themselves - they want to enjoy the advantages of good editorial coverage, but will soon complain when a once effective and valuable publication loses its quality, becomes too small or goes out of business.”
This is just one of the reasons why the industry must support the trade press, but it’s not just down to the industry to support the press, the press must give them a
Embrace other methods of communication
If the trade press sits back and does not change, then there will be more casualties and ultimately the whole industry will suffer.
In order to remain relevant and in-tune with the industry, publishers need to adapt and innovate to offer greater value and change their communication methods.
The Hamerville Group is embracing the threat of the Internet by using it as an opportunity to develop as a media group, but more importantly to offer their readers and advertisers a more complete package.
“At Professional Builder, we have enhanced our website and in addition to news and competitions, we include video demonstration guides to help our readers and features on issues not in the printed magazine.”
“We also promote via our social media channels and through our regular e-letter. Our electronic communications are designed to enhance the experience for our readers and provide them with more detailed information and resources than is possible in the magazine.”
“However, they complement each other and work as a package. Often the magazine encourages our readers to seek further information from our website, or conversely the website encourages people to pick up the magazine and benefit from our guides, competitions and information contained within the printed magazine.”
“Overall, our brand value is enhanced with the web, allowing us to comment and react to live issues and news, rather than having to wait for the next issue and at the same time the magazine grows in popularity, as awareness and interest is also enhanced.”
Andy also explains that this approach is not only good for the reader but for advertisers too: “It allows our advertisers to exploit the best of both worlds - they can reach their target audience in the merchant, at home and on-site via mobiles and tablets.”
“We also organise trade exhibitions, so the builders and installers can see the products for themselves and meet the manufacturers and merchants, allowing closer relationships to be developed.”
“At Hamerville we see everything as an opportunity to improve our overall offering; magazines that view it as a threat will be precisely the ones that will become threatened.”
Evolve and understand how you can benefit your readers
Professional Builder, like its sister titles Professional Electrician and Professional Plumbing & Heating Installer, are aimed at the small to medium trades. They are distributed on the trade counter in Jewson, SIG, Travis Perkins, CCF, Keyline, Buildbase and most of the independent merchants.
As with all products and services, companies need to understand what their customers want and if a magazine becomes indispensable to its readers, then the advertisers and contributors will want to continue to be involved in its production.
“It is vital to know your readership, understanding how they operate and what they want - our research and experience has shown that the digital forms of communication do not fully address their needs and we have to fill that gap by offering them something different.” says Andy.
Many marketers will argue that they can advertise using banner ads on relevant websites; promote their products and services via social media channels and direct email with informative and highly targeted messages. In most cases, these options will allow the interested person to be directed to a relevant page of the advertiser’s website, where they will be able interact and benefit from the resources and tools that are usually found on the best sites in the industry.
However, many believe this approach lacks soul and substance and is not necessarily the preferred or sole communication method required for all target audiences - many self-employed contractors don’t want to spend their evenings online after a tiring day on-site.
The building industry is still very much a physical industry, where communicating in person and seeing or trying products yourself is preferred over a photograph. Trust is built in-store and this helps to increase brand loyalty.
It is Andy’s view that, although there has been a growth in internet/mail order companies (and they have their place) they will never truly meet the real and practical needs of the small to medium tradesperson - this includes less flexibility on payment options and credit facilities.
“Our readership would not be able to survive on just online or telephone ordering. Many of our readers have home offices and other than a van and maybe a garage, they do not have much storage space. They need the flexibility of being able to go to a merchant and collect the required goods on their way to the job/project they are working on. It is also a common occurrence that goods will be needed on-site either as an emergency or unexpectedly during a job and waiting for next day delivery is not an option.”
Customers also need physical interaction and at a merchant this happens between the different trades, sometimes resulting in business and referrals being made – it almost becomes their place of business. A tasty cuppa and a bacon roll can often be found nearby and is always a welcome benefit!
These are just some of the reasons why the physical merchant is still key and certainly for the audience of Professional Builder, it is clear why communicating with them via the trade press is more appropriate for their needs, especially when it’s available to pick-up in-store.
According to Andy the message is clear: “Do what is appropriate for your readers. Make sure you know them, find out their habits and develop something that they want and which speaks to them. They will then want to read your magazine, as it becomes an important part of their job.”
Try and be the ingredient that binds the audience together
For the manufacturer, the merchant and the installers, the trade press should be the link that opens communication lines between all three.
The manufacturers need their products to be stocked and for awareness and interest to be generated with the installers or specifiers; the showroom or counter staff at the merchant needs to be educated and aware of their benefits.
A magazine can help do this, especially one available at source. As Andy explains: “If an installer has seen a product in a magazine like Professional Builder, they’re more likely to notice it on the shelf in a merchant and look at it or trial it, especially after reading a product testing feature which we regularly have in the magazine. They are also more likely to be aware of promotions or attend in-store trials, which manufacturers often run. In short, we try and become an invaluable conduit between all parties - the glue for the industry.”
As a magazine, you should never expect bookings or take it for granted. Offering ‘added-value’ is a common phrase in today’s business world and Andy advises the trade press to help its advertisers further and identify where they need assistance.
“We now offer far greater assistance in campaign planning, especially now that we can provide a multi-platform package with the magazine, website, social media, e-letters, and exhibitions. Our experience also allows us to provide unique guidance on design and what works in adverts. We have perhaps the best knowledge of these based on fact - we even offer a design service for our clients, which we know will communicate effectively with our readership.”
From our conversation with Andy, a key theme throughout was that all parts of the industry must work and support each other. The industry survives on collaboration, education, awareness, opinion, availability, development and communication – the trade press is needed and would be missed if it disappeared.
Not a death but a rebirth
Although the Internet and email certainly cannot be described as a fad, it is perhaps becoming a little congested and people are indifferent to the sheer volume of messages. If you received an email twenty years ago, it was novel, but had impact and was often useful or informative. At the same time, the amount of letters and junk notices arriving in your letterbox had become a nuisance.
Today there are signs of a revitalisation of the printed word and physical letter; mail shots stand out again for their use of visuals, convenience and ability to capture our attention. Conversely, we often delete, with one click, massive amounts of “junk” and promotional email, often unread.
The music industry is experiencing a similar rebirth: vinyl is in demand again and consumers are showing their enjoyment of and desire for more through significant increases in physical record purchases. This is evidence that the best forms of communication do not fade away and die, they just change, adapt and then find their place again.
This will be the case with the trade press - the future will be different, but it must be relevant and important, something with which Andy concurs and concludes:
“Those that listen, innovate, adapt and plan for the future will still be reaping the benefits for many years to come and building their audiences in a professional way. The rumours of the printed trade press’ death have been greatly exaggerated!”
Thank you to Andy for his valuable time and insight.
Hamerville Publications has been established for over 40 years and their core focus has always been in building and construction. Many of their titles include some of the leading publications within their sector: Professional Electrician; Professional Plumbing & Heating Installer; Professional Builders Merchant; Professional Housebuilder & Developer and Construction Plant News.
For more information on Professional Builder, please visit www.probuildermag.co.uk and for Hamerville Group, please visit www.hamerville.co.uk
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