There are few business sectors as insular or as tight-knit as shipping, and few where reputation means as much — or where gossip moves so fast. But across the sector there seems to be, for the most part, a reluctance to work with the shipping trade press. Why do business with hundreds of millions of dollars of assets shy away from promoting their products and services through media coverage? Why do business leaders have so little to say about the issues that impact their bottom line and their people?
And it’s not like the shipping press is ‘out to get you’. Generally speaking, the journalists and editors love the industry in which they work. Positive stories get more column space than they probably deserve, and everyone is given a fair shot at coverage. Given the stress the industry is under, I’m sure plenty more negative news could have been covered.
Perhaps shipping has been deeply scarred by the periodic catastrophic news that does occur (and for which you spend hours and hours preparing). Groundings, spills, and accidents are going to be covered by the media whether we like it or not. But there is so much to be gained, both commercially and reputation-wise, by also telling a positive story. In marketing this is called building ‘brand capital’ — creating credibility so that there is a backstory of good news when a sale is being decided or an accident covered.
I think we can all agree that Maersk is the Jedi Master of this approach.
Another reason (perhaps) for this reluctance is that getting coverage also means stepping outside your comfort zone. So how should a shipping company build their reputation and develop a better relationship with the media?
Develop a media relations strategy
Like any part of corporate marketing, a business needs to think carefully about what it wants to achieve from working with the trade media. Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say about your business, service, or product? How are you going to influence the audience? How does this tie into your digital marketing strategy?
In the wide world of marketing, media coverage comes under the umbrella of ‘content marketing’. Placing content with trade publications is a highly effective and cost-efficient way of building brand awareness and reputation.
Companies and their representatives need to have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve through working with the media. For example, if you are trying to improve your commercial reputation as a thought-leader, then specific people (experts) should be pitched as regular commentators.
Rarely will this immediately lead to a sale, but this is part of a longer game. This helps you start a conversation with clients and gives you credibility. The good news is, for those willing to put in the effort, there has never been a better time to get coverage. The publishing world is changing, and it has never been more accessible.
Five tips to achieve the strategy
The publishing world has undergone significant change over the last 10 years. The availability of online news and social media has made life much harder – anyone can now publish. Advertising isn’t bringing in the required revenue and, like never before, there is pressure to provide new content 24/7.
When a handful of publications dominated the sector, individual connections and inside knowledge dictated who got covered. But now getting coverage is as simple as 1-2-3:
1. Provide support. An easy way to start is to actually call a journalist for a chat. Treat them like real-live people. Share ideas and don’t insist that you get all the credit. You would be amazed at how few shipping and PR people do this. A cold call asking for coverage or a favour will likely get what it deserves.
2. Respect editorial independence. You should never try and dictate what gets covered in any publication. Regardless of whose idea it was or how much sponsorship you are providing. It does not matter if a competitor is also covered or published. The easier you are to work with, the more coverage you will get.
3. Keep your options open. Developing trust in any relationship is important. Editors will not want every article you write or every idea you have, so work with as many as you can commit to (i.e. make sure you deliver what you promise).
4. The last interesting press release was in 1986: Provide good content. I cannot remember the last time I read a press release. I think it was while I was watching a VCR. Press releases are self-serving and contain little content of use. Work on developing good content and comments. This is not easy, but the quality of your content will dictate more than anything how much coverage you receive. Be compelling, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
5. The importance of social media. Social media is a serious KPI for modern publications. As it should be for your own marketing. You can and should support articles, coverage, and publications through social (more on that in another article).
For building a commercial reputation I believe third-party publishing is vitally important. Being able to get your comments and ideas published independently should be a stamp of quality, showing you know the industry and that you are a thought-leader. Too often the shipping sector falls back on self-published ‘newsletters’ — a throwback to the days before the internet.
But working with the trade press is far more crucial for us as a sector. Trade publications are one of the few places where shipping has an international voice. It is in our interests to make this relationship work. We should use this institution better, and provide the financial and intellectual support it needs to survive.