I asked Brian Sims, Editor of both Fire Safety Matters and Securiy Matters, about the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis and how he manages to remain wholly focused on high quality editorial, while at the same time keeping both his readers and advertisers continually engaged and wanting to come back for more across what are now multiple print and digital platforms.

This is the fourth of five-part blog post series which I’m published on consecutive weeks through August. I hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did.

Q12: What’s the key for PR professionals looking to serve you better, aside from not sending through ‘canned feature’-style content?

A12: “The key is to think about readership and tailor length and style to what the Editor likes and uses on a regular basis. Your content has always worked for me, Miles. It’s bespoke. Written for us to my specifications following prior discussions. It’s commissioned and, therefore, unique. It’s more work for you, but therefore more valued by ourselves and our readers and also way more likely to be used on a swift footing.”

Q13: Do you receive enough content in the shape of thought leadership-style articles, detailed market research findings and good Case Studies?

A13: “I’d like to see more insight copy linked to market research findings. We don’t receive enough of that. Obviously, there’s a plethora of companies out there who conduct this kind of industry research, but many of them don’t seem to promote their top line findings any longer. Usually, we have to go to them. I access several of the market research companies’ websites on a regular basis to make sure I’ve not missed any key insights. As I said, it does feel like it’s more a case of me having to go to them these days.”

Q14: Should vendors and installers be trying to fill some of the perceived gaps in terms of new insights through original market research?

A14  “I would say the answer is: ‘Yes’. Readers love that kind of content, Miles. They really engage with the answers to questions like: ‘Where is the industry going to be in five or ten years’ time?’ They love reading about market trends and focusing on expert sector analysis, particularly so on the manufacturing side of the equation. Vendors love to read about what’s happening in the video surveillance, access control and intruder alarm system markets, for example. They love all of that and it’s interesting for the general readership, too.

“If you’re an end user, you want to be finding out about the direction of travel for your discipline as a security manager, risk specialist or resilience leader. What does the future look like for the role and what are the common challenges facing the peer group right now? How might those challenges be overcome?”

Q15: Do consultants reach out to you on a regular basis?

A15: “Consultants are a massively important link in the security supply chain, Miles. A fair few of the larger security consultancies are divisions of building services engineering companies. They don’t tend to reach out. It could well be the case that they’re all simply too busy now. I’ve always said that, particularly in relation to security consulting work, fee-paying projects must take priority above any writing that might be entered into for publications. I’m very thankful that several of the very best consultants in the sector have put pen to paper for me during my 22 years of residence in the security business sector.”

Q16: Are you receiving enough content from industry experts in terms of their views on the direction of the market and technical Best Practice?

A16: “Greater quantities of such content are always welcome. On the cyber security side, we do receive a fair amount of content in this vein. It’s great. Around November/December time, I’m always flooded with content from the cyber community offering predictions for the next 12 months, for example. The PRs serving that sector are really strong on this. Cyber security vendors are extremely proactive in spreading the message.

Q17: What are your plans for Security Matters now that you’ve been editing this new standalone title since its launch in March 2020?

A17: “When I entered security sector-focused journalism in late 2000, I thought to myself that the industry needed a truly professional journal given that it’s aspiring to be a genuine profession in its own right.

“That being so, I set out to mould Security Management Today into a broadsheet-style, national-level magazine. A Times/Telegraph-style proposition, if you like. A professional journal for a professional industry crammed with impartial thought leadership and Best Practice-centred content. A title that would aim to influence Government legislation and make a genuine difference. I’ve adopted that same premise ever since. In essence, I then moulded Risk UK into an ‘SMT Part Two’, and I’m continuing to aim for the highest standards on Security Matters wherein, as I’ve mentioned, we cover the entirety of the security supply and management chain.

“I’ve always believed that if you stick to your guns and produce a quality magazine that’s independent, underpinned by thought leadership and Best Practice-style content and pays full attention to serving the readership and enhancing the profession through the promotion of CPD, for example, then your audience – ie the industry at large – will recognise you for that. This is what creates an audience that stays with you for the long-term and grows. The commercial imperative will be realised and satisfied as a direct result of this.”

Q18: So the key, then, is to have the confidence that, if you build this kind of magazine, audiences will naturally gravitate towards it and be engaged by it? Of course, publishers can choose to continually – and sometimes aggressively – attempt to first win advertisers and then fit the editorial around what they’ve already gained commercially. You can then end up sailing in slightly muddy waters, though, whereby you’re producing a mixture of editorial and advertorial and it can be difficult to discern one from the other. The quality might not be there. A focus on Best Practice and altruism may not be part of the mix.

A18: “There’s a place for all types of magazine, Miles. There are quite a few print magazines, as well as online-only propositions, serving the security business sector. However, they’re all doing so from a different starting point and with a slightly different vision in mind to their neighbours. That gives us all our own specific niche, which is healthy. Some magazines in other B2B sectors are pretty much all advertorial-led now, which isn’t very helpful for readers.

“I’m wholly comfortable with the path I’ve forged for 30-plus years now, which is independent journalism with a major emphasis on quality writing and first-class editing. I’m very discerning about what I publish and rigorous in the editing process. I believe it’s this core philosophy that will have marketing professionals, advertisers and PRs wanting to populate your pages because they recognise the quality of the proposition and the effort that’s expended on it.”

“I think it’s massively important for any B2B magazine to give back to the market/industry/sector it serves and within which it resides. You have to be seen to be campaigning and striving to better the industry as well as the day-to-day ‘lot’ of those working and resident within.

“Magazines should not be a wholly self-serving exercise. Of course, every magazine/publishing company needs to generate commercial revenue and derive profits in order to ensure the stability that underpins any going concern. There are ways of doing so, though, that allow the journalistic content within to remain wholly impartial, authoritative and of genuine use and relevance. The word ‘altruism’ has to come into play here. We all want to see ‘Security’ recognised as a genuine profession. The sector’s dedicated publications have a role and a duty to play their fullest part in achieving that goal.”

Q19. Are you on something of a crusade or a mission, then?

A19: “Yes. One of the issues at the moment is that guarding businesses tendering for contracts are often confronted not by security specialists, but rather by site services managers, general facility managers or even procurement types who, with the greatest respect, are not professional security specialists. When that situation is in play, it’s likely to become a price-driven procurement exercise and a race to the bottom. That’s not a good scenario for anyone.

“One of my goals is to help reverse that trend whenever possible and assist the industry to move away from the ‘grudge purchase’ issue by constantly chanting the mantra of security’s overriding importance to those who hold the purse strings within host organisations. On a general level, if I can help practitioners to gain qualifications, build their expertise, seek to innovate and look to challenge existing ways of thinking for the better then that’s what I will do.”

Q20: What are the major elements needed to make sure a press release works for your magazines? What needs to be in a press release?

A20: “What I would expect to see are links to the social channels of all companies being referenced and, most importantly, a link to their website(s). A press release should be viewed as the start of the journey towards a story. Quite often, we receive press releases lacking in such detail. We then have to search for it ourselves, which can be time-consuming.

“In terms of the level of detail, Miles, we’re talking about not more than two pages of text, but we do want a bit of depth. A bit of meat to it. It must be more than two or three paragraphs long. Proper quotes are needed to support any news story. I don’t like to see quotes from ‘a spokesperson’. Ideally, I would want a named individual with gravitas.

“Another bone of contention is the whole images scenario. The ‘spec’ for any image supplied with a press release should be a high-resolution colour JPEG saved at a file size of 1 MB or larger. We are constantly sent images that have  obviously been sourced from the Internet and are barely good enough for that medium, let alone printed publications. More and more now, you’re seeing PR officers writing ‘Photos available on request’. Why not just send them with the original press release? It’s irritating to say the least. If the images are large then add them to Dropbox or WeTransfer file folders and send us the links. Don’t make us work to obtain photographs. We shouldn’t need or have to do so.

“Plenty of press releases are now being sent without any images at all, which is even worse. You cannot put stories on the web without an image. You need that focal point of interest to grab the reader’s attention. I’ve even been sent New Appointments-focused press releases without an image of the person concerned or, worse still, a generic photo of the company headquarters, for example. I don’t know what the expectation is here, but if someone is appointed to a new role, I would strongly suspect the industry wants to see their face. Anything other than that simply doesn’t work.

“These days, quite often I find myself almost completely rewriting press releases because the piece is just not well scripted and it’s a struggle to interpret the meaning and sense of what’s being said. If I cannot work it out, then there’s a fair chance my readers will not be able to do so. The ‘Campaign for Clear English’ starts here. I appreciate that some of the content I’m referencing here is necessarily ‘tech-rich’ and detailed in nature, but there’s no excuse for blatantly poor grammar, muddy writing and factual inaccuracy (which is another thing I’m confronted by in press releases on a semi-regular basis). Ultimately, as I said the press release should be the start point for the journalist to build a story. It’s a basic framework that must be intelligible at first glance.

“I have to say, Miles, that I never publish press releases without first thoroughly reading and editing them. I will always check the facts, but also rewrite/edit the content to suit house style, with upper and lower case changes, for example. I never publish verbatim through ‘copy and paste’. For a start that’s lazy and, if there are mistakes in there and you haven’t corrected them, this will reflect badly on everyone – the PR, the company/companies/individuals discussed and, indeed, your own publication. There’s also the potential for legal issues arising through misrepresentation, for example.”

I will publish the final part of this series of five blog posts based on my conversation with Brian Sims here on AgilityPR.co.uk on 19th August so do keep checking back and thank you for your time.