Behind the Lines with Chicago’s Leading Business Editors

Published August 28, 2013 5:03 pm by LoSasso

Clients strive for as much media coverage as possible—both for top executives and the company as a whole. Mainstream business media is at the top of the wish list. Chicago is a city of commerce and if you’re covered in Chicago Tribune, Sun Times or Crain’s Chicago Business, you’ll likely be in good company. You’ll be featured alongside Chicago business giants such as Caterpillar, Walgreens and McDonalds. But what does it take to secure those coveted placements? What information will spark the interest of an editor? LoSasso’s PR team set out to the Publicity Club of Chicago’s August luncheon titled, “Behind the Lines with Chicago’s Leading Business Editors” to find out more.

Matt and Andrea flank Michael Lev, associate managing editor, business, Chicago Tribune. Lev was candid in saying that he ignores most pitches, as he relies on his team to select and field good leads. The message here: Don’t go straight to the top editor – instead go straight to the most appropriate person. For LoSasso’s purposes with the Trib, that means technology, manufacturing, agriculture, education and business beat reporters. Finding the right guy or gal is key, as they are the real gatekeepers.

Moderator Jason Racki, Midwest Producer of Fox Business Network, says to get time on his production schedule, the pitch or story must tie into the day’s economic data, market trends and answer the key question, “Why are we telling this story today?” Racki won’t send a crew out for a press conference or event unless he knows exactly what the story is. Due to network time and budget constraints, you won’t get the coverage unless you are 100 percent forthcoming about what the press conference is about, so don’t bother with vague pitches. Jason told stories of being burned before, especially on  embellished stories. Sure, we have to put lipstick on some pigs, but honesty is generally the best policy for long term relationship building and ensuring good coverage.

Brandon Copple, Publisher of Grid Magazine, says his main interest in a story is the people. The pitch needs to answer three basic questions: 1) Why this person? 2) Why now? 3) Why do I care? He’s most interested in speaking with CEOs and expert sources. In a candid perspective, he admitted that he’s not all that interested in our PR pitch – as an experienced editor, he’s confident in his ability to ferret out the best story and/or angle for his readers, and won’t be spoon fed our musings (that inherently put our clients’ interests above his readerships interests). That being said, he’s particularly interested in access to the people we have access to. In that way, the best possible pitch would be a timely offer of our experts’ time. Of course, this means less control of the message, but that’s always going to be the case among the mainstream media. But the ability to serve up an expert on command will lead to longer term relationships, and Brandon is willing to come back to a well more than once.

(from left) Jason Racki, Midwest producer, Fox Business Network; Brandon Copple, publisher, Grid magazine; Michael Lev, associate managing editor/business, Chicago Tribune; and Stephen Reiss, managing editor, Crain’s Chicago Business.

Chicago Tribune’s Associate Managing Editor, Michael Lev, wants PR folks to think outside the newspaper and decide which Tribune platform is best for them. The website is reserved for breaking, national news while the printed paper is for more deeply analytical stories. The Tribune is mainly concerned with national business news, so companies need to find the angle that ties into a bigger national story. Lev appreciates timeliness when it comes to pitches. “When a story breaks, you have about 45 minutes to get us your expert and any information you want considered,” says Lev. Again, the panel emphasizes access to experts as a key to coverage. This requires staying on the ball with breaking news, something that can be difficult to do.

Crain’s Chicago Business Managing Editor, Steve Reiss, also advises PR representatives to find the right platform for their story. The Crain’s website is a vehicle for breaking news while the weekly print edition is for features, trends and analysis. Reiss always avoids redundancy. The main reason he rejects stories is because he’s heard it before. He is interested in c-suite folks and when pitching those people, he wants the prospect of some type of news to go along with it, once again anchoring it in a timely narrative or ongoing story.

So what if one of these famed publications visit your headquarters or ask for an interview? What information are you expected to share? Be prepared to share revenue and growth numbers (to the second decimal point) and percentages. If the company name is associated with any recent news, negative or positive, be prepared to discuss it. In general, mainstream media is not willing to avoid pertinent topics. If you want the coverage, make sure your expert or c-level profile is prepared to talk. And that means managing expectations for your clients, above all.