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Perhaps you have experienced it--that dreaded call from your boss (or worse yet, your boss's boss) standing in the doorway holding the latest issue of The New York Times, EE Times or Industry Times (or any given publication on your company's "A" list) with a scowl on his or her face.

You are not in it. But your competitors are.

As a marketing professional, you may be the one the finger points to when news coverage does not include your company or paints an ugly picture of your industry. Staying a step ahead of what the media is saying about you and your competition requires skimming articles for coverage on your customers and yourselves, updating media lists, contacting appropriate editors, following-up on news releases, and so on.

Still, no matter how hard you work, every now and then there will be tales of "the one that got away." Beats change, new people emerge, relationships are formed, and occasionally other reasons exist as to why you will not be mentioned in this and other articles.

"But why?" you ask. I contacted the reporter; the newspaper knows who we are; we have talked with the editors in the past.

Finding the answer requires you to take an unbiased look at your company, the article, and the publication. Pealing back layers to understand why you were not included is an important part of taking your job full circle, proving your knowledge of the industry, and learning how to garner coverage down the line.

After making a detailed assessment, you may even contact the reporter to attempt to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Before you do, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to make an accurate assessment.

Take the obvious: did a reporter or an assistant from the magazine contact me or someone else from your company? Was I able to provide everything he or she needed? Did I provide it in the format and timeframe they needed? If not, you may have your answer.

Is the article truly about my company's "space?" Have you intentionally, or otherwise, been left off the list? Assess the publication to find out what it truly covers, and from what perspective.

Examine the article to get a good grasp on where the author was coming from. Is the article only about consumer-oriented companies? Is your company a B2B-player? Is it a small-business magazine? Does your company only service large corporations with 10,000 employees or more? Or maybe the reverse?

Is the publication a well-known national newspaper? Is your company new to the scene? Are the representative companies from a given locale that you are outside of? Is the article about public companies, and you are privately held? Is the coverage focused around an industry trade show that you did not attend? An organization in which you are not a member?

When was the article written? Perhaps the story was written three or four months ago, before your latest and greatest widget technology (which the article is about) even entered the scene. You can easily assess a publication's lead-time by checking out the editorial information on their web site. If that information is not available, call an editorial assistant to find out what the lead-time is.

Has my company recently been featured in the publication? Is this a case of tit for tat? Perhaps your competitor noticed your coverage from a few months ago and appealed to the editor or authors to get the same focus. Or maybe the writer or editor thought that it was only fair to feature your competition, in addition to yourself.

Could there be more than meets the eye? Some publications, a select few, will feature advertisers in the new products section or even run articles about them. This does not happen often because most publications have very high standards to make sure the editorial is unbiased. But smaller magazines and newspapers may occasionally solicit materials from advertisers.

Another legitimate possibility: is the article a contributed article with a byline from your competition? If so, you may also be able to do the same for the publication.

Lastly (and surprisingly overlooked), is the article a "paid advertisement?"

What type of article is it? Next, examine the type of article and its "intentions."

Is the writer speaking from their own personal experience using a product that they are familiar with? Perhaps you can offer him or her a free trial.

Is the article really a company profile, examining one company with many diverse lines of business, one of which happens to be what your company does? If your company is large enough for these types of opportunities, you should definitely foster relationships with business reporters that write these kinds of articles.

Is the article written from an analyst group's perspective? Perhaps focusing on new research released from an analyst group that you have not yet met with? Give them a call to make sure that they are aware of your company.

Still stumped? You might consider sending the reporter a friendly email letting them know that you saw the article, and pointing out how your company might fit into a future article of this type. Perhaps, given the reporter's area of coverage, you can set up a quick call to discuss what your company is working on.

If you have recently talked to him or her, you may tactfully mention that you saw the article and noticed your company was not included, then delicately inquire about the process for determining which companies to cover and how you might get your company included in the future.

Remember, space plays a big factor. Even after the article is written, it still needs to go through the editing process, and a lot can happen before it hits the page.

For one, publications are only as fat as their advertisers. And in these tough economic times, less advertising space means less editorial.

Second, a major news story can easily bump less pertinent information, potentially landing your company on the cutting floor. A writer from the New York Times kindly explained that even though he had included a particular company in his initial article for the newspaper, he had limited space and it did not make it past the editing process. All of the other companies listed were B2C, and understandably, writing about a B2B company that in turn sold to them required additional space, which the publication did not happen to have on that given day.

A writer from EE Times commented even he did not know how the final product would turn out until he too saw it in print. He was glad to see that the final article included all of his initial copy.

Sometimes, the focus changes. Going into a story, a writer may not be 100 percent sure what angles and turns it will take. Along the way, speaking with CEOs and analysts, the original idea may flourish into a slightly different, more interesting entity. That's what happened to a writer from M-Pulse, as she described, when I inquired why she did not include our company in her final article following our interview a few days before. Rather than write about connectivity after 9/11 (the initial idea that we pitched her on), she decided to narrow down the topic to look at only mobile communications--no longer a good fit for us.

Now what? All is not lost when an article turns up that is not about your company. Instead, look at it as a chance to develop a greater understanding of the editorial process while showing your boss that you are a step ahead of the curve, always ready with the answer to the question "why?" in an effort to also educate those you work with.

In the meantime, you will also be building relationships with writers and will show them your readiness to act as a resource when the time is right.

It is true: you can't be everything to everyone all the time. But you can learn from the valuable feedback that writers provide, and certainly see where you might fit in the future. And in doing so, you may discover other, bigger and better opportunities not originally apparent.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hilary McCarthy counsels high-tech clients on branding, positioning and speaking with the media. She has held senior-level marketing and public relations positions at Compuware, CACI Products Company and Polaris Service, now Akibia.  She has also worked in television and radio.  McCarthy holds a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Boston University.  She can be contacted at hilarymccarthy@yahoo.com.