Gorkana meets...David Löh, Reporter for the German B2B magazine PLASTVERARBEITER.
How did you become a Reporter for PLASTVERARBEITER? Do you have a background in the plastics processing industry?
Like many of my colleagues, I became a B2B journalist in a roundabout way. Alongside my social sciences and humanities studies, I have always had an interest in technology. It was for that reason that I then applied for journalistic training with the B2B magazine IEE. A sister magazine to Plastverarbeiter, its topic area is factory automation. This meant a lot of electronics and computers. At the end of 2012, its editor-in-chief moved to Plastverarbeiter. At the beginning of 2014, I followed suit.
Who is your target audience? What do they look for in the magazine?
Our target audience is alluded to in the title: plastics processors (Plastverarbeiter). That is to say, manufacturers of plastic parts. The majority of readers carry out a large proportion of their business with automobile manufacturers. They may supply OEMs directly, or Tier 1 or 2.
Another large part of our readership manufacture medical (technical) devices/parts. A significant part is also made up of packaging manufacturers. In addition to this, there are manufacturers of everything you could imagine: garden furniture, mobile phone cases, door handles, window frames, optical lenses. The fact is that without these manufacturers’ products, our homes would be empty.
Above all, our readers look for information on how they can manufacture their products more efficiently. Meaning how they can increase their output with the same expenditure. However, flexibility also plays an ever growing role — with increasingly individual components, the number of units of each model decreases. In this case, the quick retooling of machines, versatile devices etc. are key.
It is therefore essential to concentrate on the most important things. Our product reports (announcements of new products on a 1/8 to ½ page) are read a lot for this reason. We make sure our professional articles answer three questions: what’s problem, how can it be solved and which advantage does this solution really have in the end for the user, that is to say the plastics processor?
What does a typical week on the editorial team of PLASTVERARBEITER look like?
I really appreciate the fact that there is no typical week and you hardly experience the ‘daily grind’. Additionally, as Plastverarbeiter is a monthly title, we rather work in a four week cycle. In the middle of the month is the editorial deadline of the print issue, which is published at the end of the month. With large editions we are sometimes busy for days just with releasing of articles — for example with the Fakuma / K issues in the autumn. After the editorial deadline, we have about a week for things which had been left behind due to the busier, more stressful days. This means answering any remaining emails, acquiring articles for the up-coming issues etc. In between there are press conferences, reporting trips, trade fair visits etc. And then the work on the next issue enters its crucial phase again…
There is however one constant: following the deadline for each issue, a longer editorial meeting takes place in which we roughly talk through the next issue. We also take this opportunity to sort out who will go to which event.
Fakuma, the International Trade Fair for Plastics Processing, took place recently. How important are events like this and what sort of insights do they offer?
Immensely important. In many respects. Apart from the K in Dusseldorf (which takes place only once every three years and is the biggest plastics trade fair in the world), Fakuma is the sector’s most important trade fair. For this reason, the event is the main focus for plastics technology manufacturers and users. This means that during this time there is an over-proportionate amount of news, reader interest in our content increases, as does the amount of advertising. That’s why our magazines are so thick, with all departments of Plastverarbeiter working flat out.
Fakuma is also the best opportunity in the year for the editorial team to maintain personal contact with the businesses. From the team’s point of view, this is the most important aspect of the trade fair, closely followed by the fun of finally experiencing the machines and devices that, throughout the whole year we almost only saw through pictures and text, live and often in action.
In your opinion, has the rise of social media and online content affected B2B titles such as PLASTVERARBEITER?
Here we need to distinguish between the two types of platform. When it comes to social media, the answer is no. We do tweet from events, and the number of followers is constantly increasing. But the rate is so low that at the moment it hardly affects our actual work. Readers also hardly reach out to us through this means — B2B publication readers in any case hardly ever write letters to the editorial team. For this reason, however, it is a nice service for Twitter-savvy readers and I also find it fun. But nothing more. Nevertheless, you do have to stay with it and observe what’s happening. Ten years ago, noone was reading a daily newspaper through a smartphone app.
Online it’s a different matter. The internet is sweeping through the media landscape like a hurricane. And the eye of the storm is by no means in sight.
The website means for us that we always need to consider the two sides. The readers of course expect to find the same content online as they are used to seeing in the print edition. On the other hand, reader habits in print are completely different to those online. For the latter, SEO and the speed of providing content are important aspects. This requires very different work processes to those I previously described regarding the production of our print issue. A four week cycle is not compatible with the internet.
On the other hand, as a monthly title, we face the problem that, of course, we have to provide our print edition readers with up-to-date information. The subscribers are after all entitled to this. To keep this information exclusive however, we have to hold it back so that, in extreme cases, it has not been available online four weeks before our print readers have even caught sight of it. A dual strategy as is used by many daily papers who make their articles freely available in the afternoon, would therefore not work with us.
What challenges do you think the media industry faces?
This is always readily discussed. Then terms such as Industry 4.0, flexibility, (energy) efficiency and of course rising costs (for everything: resources, energy, personnel,…) emerge. All include important aspects. If you firstly leave out the hype around the term Industry 4.0 and secondly accept that the costs, by definition, are too high for every company, that leaves flexibility and efficiency.
How can PRs help with content?
Less advertising, more content is the motto here.
PR agencies can also be helpful in terms of organising a direct line between editorial teams and companies. As mediators so to say. Perhaps also as a first filter, to cut out any useless or irrelevant information from the offset. Many do that very well. Others rather form an additional bottle neck of information, or mix up classical advertising with PR.
Do you have any advice for PRs regarding getting in touch with journalists?
Just one piece of advice, which goes without saying as much for PR experts as it does for trainees: make sure you are clear on what information should actually be communicated and to whom. It follows that you need to consider what position the recipient is in: are they waiting longingly for this one email from me, or do they receive countless similar emails every day?
Apart from that, I am in principle happy to receive friendly phone calls. This however excludes phone calls before large trade fairs, at which (normally very, very young) representatives of an agency, the name of which I have never heard before, want to let me know about an interview on no topic in particular with the head of a company, the products of which are of no interest to my target audience. Telephone conversations such as that are a waste of time for both sides.
What do you like most about your job?
How many points am I allowed to list?
In no particular order, I would say that variety is very important to me. This relates to the fact that I don’t just sit in the office, but attend different events, see the technology in the field for myself and get in touch personally with professionals in the sector. I also very much enjoy working together with many different departments within the Plastverarbeiter / Hüthig team.
The variety is also present in the content of the magazine, since the technological spectrum is huge. Injection moulding machines are very complex and extremely fascinating machines. You could work away endlessly on this alone. Then there are plastics, tools, CAD systems, material handling robots, cameras for quality assurance, as well as granule dryers and so on. Somewhere or other there is always something new. And that’s only mentioning the machines. Once you’ve gotten to grips with the technology a little bit, understood the functionalities in some way, it’s exciting to see the completed product. That is also something that I very much value about the plastics industry. You see the result of the interplay of all components involved. In this way, the seemly mundane interior door panelling of a car becomes a fascinating industry product.
David Löh spoke with Gorkana's Anna-Sophie Cottis