It’s often said that Britain’s economy is driven by household consumption. We are – as the Emperor Napoleon was keen to point out – a nation of shopkeepers, after all. Of course, that’s only part of the story. According to research carried out a couple of years ago by the Business Intelligence Group, around 40 per cent of UK companies are focused on the B2B marketplace and they ring up annual revenues of just under £2 trillion.
But here’s the thing. B2B businesses – and their leadership teams – tend to have a much lower public profile than their B2C counterparts. Think of it this way. Everyone knows who Richard Branson is – his personality is integral to the Virgin brand – but hands up if you can name the founders of ARM, the computer chip design company that is one of Britain’s most successful tech companies.
The truth is that B2B businesses – even those that are very successful – tend to operate in the back office shadows, whereas consumer products and brands are out there in plain sight.
That’s probably why B2C companies enjoy more than their fair share of press, broadcasting and online coverage. The top tier of UK media is – for the most part – serving an audience that cares very little about the B2B marketplace. Those who buy or subscribe online to newspapers or watch the news channels are mainly looking for stories that resonate with their own lives. They are interested in politics, the economy, society, gossip, culture and, last but not least, consumer products.
Gaining Media Traction
And that can make it tough for B2B companies to gain traction in mainstream media. Put simply, if you run a company – particularly a relatively small company – the story you have to tell may not be of much interest to editors, journalists or producers.
To take an example. Let’s say a healthtech startup sells a booking software solution to a National Health Service Trust. That’s big news for the company itself and may represent an important development within the industry. But it won’t necessarily interest a national newspaper reader. And to be honest, depending on the size of the company and the deal, it may be a bit “niche” for business-focused publications, such as the FT and Forbes.
So the question is, how does a B2B-oriented company – particularly one that is new to the market – build the kind of media profile that will help it gain traction with customers?
There is no quick fix, but if you’re in charge of your company’s media communications strategy the starting point is to think carefully about how your business story maps onto the available list of outlets.
What’s Your Story?
As someone who writes about startups and early-stage companies, I’m on the receiving end of between 20 and 40 pitches per day. They tend to fall into the following categories.
- Seed funding announcements.
- Series A funding news, perhaps with a major VC taking the lead.
- Customer wins.
- Market entries. For instance, a company that has done well in Germany now expanding to the UK.
- Team expansions, such as the appointment of a new sales director.
- Strategic acquisitions.
Sometimes, there isn’t even an announcement as such. Occasionally I’ll receive a message that simply reads. Hey, we’re a new insurtech (other sectors are available) and we would like some coverage. Would you like to write about us? This type of message is usually not mediated by a PR company.
Embrace the Trade Press
Apart from that last one, all of the above will probably secure either a news report or even a profile in trade publications focused on a particular vertical. After all, that’s the job of trade magazines and other specialist outlets. They exist to provide business intelligence within particular verticals. Everything your company does should – pretty much – be of interest to the “trades.”
But there can be a tendency to underestimate the importance and usefulness of the trade press – an inclination to feel that they are to some degree “small beer” when compared to national newspapers or glossy business magazines, such as Management Today or Director or Forbes. But actually, when it comes to getting on the radar screens of potential customers and partners vertical publications can be incredibly useful. For that reason alone, they shouldn’t be ignored. Additionally, they show up in search engines. A long CEO interview in a trade publication can be a very valuable thing in terms of building a profile.
The Expert Voice
Reaching beyond the trade press to more generalist media can be trickier. It’s not impossible but it requires a different approach and a flexible mindset.
Unless a business already has a high profile and significant market share, it’s unlikely that too many journalists feeding into mainstream outlets will be interested in stories about funding events or customer wins, executive appointments or even acquisitions. National newspapers have too many other things to cover. Business-focused titles – whether the FT or magazines such as Director or Management Today – are inundated with pitches, so they have to be selective. Cutting through the noise is difficult.
But do you, perhaps, have a bigger and more compelling story to tell – something that goes beyond the milestones that are important to your company but not necessarily to others?
I write largely about entrepreneurs and the UK tech startup scene. I’m not particularly interested in funding events or customer wins, but I am keen to keep up with industry trends. For instance, we’ve seen massive investment in Fintech over the last few years, with Edtech and Healthtech and Deeptech also attracting the collective eye of VCs. But let’s say your company operates in an up and coming “hot” space such as the new, software dominated Cleantech sector. What does your experience of raising capital and growing a customer base say about the B2B marketplace in this segment of the entrepreneurial universe? With COP26 on the horizon, this is hugely topical.
The key here is to switch from the mindset of pitching a “news story” solely about your company to offering something that is potentially more valuable to journalists – namely insights, expertise and knowledge about developments in your market.
The expertise doesn’t have to be industry-focused. For instance, a business leader who has grown revenues and customers during the lockdown could have a lot to say about conducting sales pitches via Zoom or managing a distributed workforce who are all working from home. These are topics that I’ve written about and will probably return to in the future.
Expert voices are always in demand. Most of the major broadsheet newspapers run special reports/supplements on specific sectors and subjects. They invariably need input from people who know and understand their own markets and who are prepared to share their viewpoint. The same requirement for expert insight is present in business magazines.
It’s clearly important to be visible to journalists and editors. This can be achieved through one-to-one briefings but also by sharing reports, white papers and genuine research. Even the humble press release can play a role in putting a business on the radar screen of journalists, even if it doesn’t trigger instant coverage. I might not write about a B2B fintech’s customer win when I receive a press release today but I could well get in touch three months down the line when commissioned to write a feature article on new players in the sector.
The News Agenda
Topicality can also be a key to coverage. Back in 2020 at the peak of the first Covid wave, a company contacted me about technology that could sniff out viruses from the vapour carried on human breath. In normal times, it was a story that I probably wouldn’t have picked up – not my field. But the company was happy to talk about the difficulty of pitching a potentially game-changing diagnostic tool to health sector buyers. At a time when other health entrepreneurs were experiencing similar difficulties, I felt this was a topical and relevant subject to cover. It was very much of the moment. Having something to say about the big issues facing society at any given time – whether Covid, flexible work, the environment or the social care crisis – can help you build a profile.
Finally, it’s important to remember that all publications – even those seemingly covering similar sectors – each have their own approach to editorial selection. The same is true of staff and freelance journalists. By researching their requirements and/or interests and pitching stories accordingly, a business has a much better chance of securing some much-needed column inches.
About the author: Trevor Clawson is a UK-based journalist and author with more than a decade’s experience in writing about startups, tech companies and fast growth businesses. He is currently a regular contributor to Forbes.com and IDG Connect and his work has appeared in a range of publications, including the Guardian, Sunday Times and Director. He is also the author of three books, including The Unauthorized Guide to Business the Jamie Oliver Way, which has been translated into a number languages, including Russian, German and Hungarian.