“The best journalists are the ones that are not just excellent writers, but also hugely passionate about the topic they’re writing about.”

Media Relations remains a core skill for PR agencies and it is still in hot demand. I decided to have a long chat with reknowned security and fire safety trade editor Brian Sims to find out more about his modus operandi. I wanted to find out if there is scope to serve respected editors like him better. This is the third of a four-part series of posts based on our conversation. 

Brian Sims, Editor of Security Matters and Fire Safety Matters

I asked Brian 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 his readers and advertisers alike continually engaged and wanting to come back for more across what are now multiple print and digital platforms. This is the third of four-part blog post series which I’m published on consecutive Fridays in the run-up to the summer holiday season. We hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did. Enjoy!

Q8: You mentioned ‘push’ media and ‘pull’ media. How, specifically, do you go about pulling in your audience?

A8: “It’s not just about the number of readers, Miles. It’s also very much about the quality of engagement generated with those readers and your audience. It’s important for readers to engage and, ultimately, provide thought leadership-style content. One of our goals is to help them understand the true value of that sort of content. It does indeed have a tremendous value.

“The fundamentals of B2B publishing are to know your readership, their day-to-day goals and aspirations and job roles and determine exactly what they need from you as a content provider and the curator of a community hub. Then you can collate and deliver great content that’s of genuine interest and value. In effect, you’re giving back to your community in the form of detailed, accurate, timely and wide-ranging content that’s both meaningful and useful.

“I think it’s important for people in any role or profession to really feel part of what it is they do rather than just ‘doing it for a job’. In the journalism field, you can spot those who are writing on a specific subject because they’re really passionate about the topic and those who are doing so simply to earn a living.

“I frequently reference Victor Lewis-Smith, the satirist and national newspaper columnist. His book entitled ‘Inside The Magic Rectangle’ offers a collection of his television programme reviews from across the years. It’s utterly brilliant. His writing style is so strong and engaging that you think you’ve watched the programme he has critiqued even though you haven’t. The scripting is that good. His grasp of grammar is second to none.”

Q9: So quality of writing is one of those things which shines through as a by-product of passion for the subject matter, then?

A9: “To my mind, the best journalists are the ones that are not just excellent writers, but also hugely passionate about the topic they’re writing about. Someone asked me only recently: “Do you see yourself as a journalist first and foremost or a security professional?” It has been said to me that I’m a journalist who’s embedded in the security and fire sectors and writes from the heart of both rather than about them from the periphery. That was a huge compliment.

“I’ve invested my energies in the security industry for over 20 years now because I firmly believe in what it’s about and what it’s trying to achieve (ie to professionalise itself across the board and become a Chartered sector/industry much like engineering, architecture, the law and medicine, etc). The recognised professions. In tandem with the economic element of the business equation, the subjects of security, business resilience and business continuity should be topping the agenda for each and every Boardroom in the nation.

“Across the years, what I’ve tried to do is afford The Security Institute as much assistance and promotion as I can. Pleasingly, that organisation has gone from strength to strength. Chartered Security Professionals are now a reality and the cohort is growing. Hopefully, the Chartered Security Institute is not too far from coming to fruition.

“What I do on a daily basis in my role as Editor of Security Matters and also Fire Safety Matters is more of a vocation than a job. The great thing for me is that I’ve never once woken up in the morning and thought: “I don’t want to work today.” It’s pure enjoyment for me rather than ‘just a job’. That’s how I’ve always seen it. It’s a lovely position to be in when you find your vocation.

“To be a great trade magazine Editor/writer, I believe you really need to become and be an expert in that field. You need to immerse yourself in the discipline. Read a great deal. Talk to key industry figures and pick their brains. Whatever sector you happen to be writing about, you have to immerse yourself within it in order to render what you produce as a real and meaningful point of difference.”

Q10: The security industry does have a significant ‘pulling power’, doesn’t it? People do tend to remain in the sector for their entire career…

A10: “Yes, it does. As I’ve stated, other than how the company is faring financially, the biggest consideration for the Board of Directors should be how they’re managing risks and security in terms of both cyber and physical security.

“Sadly, the phrase ‘grudge purchase’ has been attached to security expenditure for a long time now. The worry is that, when times are hard (as is the case at the moment in a post-COVID environment), perceived ‘discretionary’ budgets for public space CCTV upgrades and the like can be targeted for cuts, in turn leaving local authorities with even less money to spend in their continuing bid to keep assets and members of the public safe. When it comes to security, budgetary cuts are a false economy.”

Q11: What types of content do you receive far too much of and what types do you receive far too little of in terms of security-focused material?

A11: “I wouldn’t say I receive too much of anything really, Miles. Obviously, we receive lots and lots of press releases, but you would fully expect that and they’re always very welcome indeed. I often receive what you might call ‘pro forma’ generic features. When I say that I mean features written and sent in without any prior discussion (about logistics like word count, for example) or solicitation. Rather than the PR officer contacting me and saying: ‘Right. You have video surveillance on your features list for your May edition. Would you like a feature on this topic?’, they just send in an article which is the wrong length, perhaps overly promotional in tone or doesn’t really add to the discussion.

“There’s a problem with the ‘blanket coverage’ approach such as this. First, it rarely meets my word count requirement which, as I said before, will be relatively short for online usage and up to 1,800 words or longer for print. Second, it’s often the case that such content will be sent to many – if not all – of the Editors in the sector meaning that, if we did decide to publish, we’re unlikely to be the only publisher of that piece. For me, this doesn’t really work. There’s no USP there. I may use the occasional piece of this nature if I think it’s particularly strong, but for the most part I would either steer clear or seek to adapt the content in a bid to make it far more original in tone and scope.

“Another issue with many of these ‘pro forma’ feature articles is their focus. Are they most relevant for security installers, vendors or end users? If you’re an end user-focused title, for example, there would be little or no merit in running a piece that’s very clearly aimed at system integrators. For the PR consultant, it should be all about research and drilling down into specific sectors. PR consultants need to tailor what they do to the audience they’re aiming to reach and the titles targeting that audience. A narrowcast approach is much more effective than one that’s broadcast-style in nature.”

Please check back in on Friday 5th August here at agilitypr.co.uk to read the fourth and possibly final post of this series entitled ‘Serving the Media Better’.