Should retailers talk to the trade press?
Some retailers generously talk to trade magazines for several solid reasons. Others don’t — apparently for a separate host of solid reasons.
That’s why Warren Thayer, editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, frequently consults vendors, competing retailers, brokers, SEC filings and financial analysts when researching one of his magazine’s in-depth profiles of many of the country’s grocers.
I collaborated with Warren on a list of reasons retailers do and don’t talk to the trade:
WHY NOT TO TALK:
The main reason not to talk appears to be that competitive information will be shared. The reluctance seems to be increasing with the consolidation of regional chains into national chains. When the country was full of regional chains that didn’t compete against each other every day, there was less risk in sharing ideas and more of a sense of community. The internet has added many more national competitors.
Talking can also be time-consuming and risky. One investor relations officer flatly told me he didn’t want to waste his executives’ time with journalist interviews. Execs also risk being wrongly portrayed, whether outright misquoted or misunderstood. Often, the trade journalist is an inexperienced young reporter learning the ropes.
And then there are introverts versus extroverts. Some don’t seek the limelight. Some want complete control over what ultimately appears in print. Some fear an interview with a promising exec will result in that person being headhunted by a competitor.
WHY TO TALK:
Trade magazines, with the aim of being the voice of the often close-knit business community, can disseminate information about cutting-edge technology, best practices, consumer research and studies on topics ranging from cross-merchandising to trucking to shopper behavior.
Retailers and vendors commenting on key topics keep the conversation going and help the industry (and themselves) move forward. These companies are also seen as leaders, and are more likely to have others share information with them.
Trade press features are also very often the seeds for stories in the financial press that ultimately reach the investment community. When good trade press writers are told "no comment" or have their queries ignored, they go to a wide variety of sources and may dig deeper than they might have otherwise. The result will be a story about the company as seen by its competitors and analysts who won’t always have flattering things to say.
What advice would you offer executives when they are questioned by a trade magazine? Is a blanket “no comment” policy a good or a bad idea?