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The business profile reconsidered

May 25, 2016

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The idea of college towns being recession proof has faltered in the midst of this pandemic and it’s resulting economic downturn

It’s tempting, I’ll admit it – churning out the business profile. The itch surfaces on the occasional slow week, or the desire to diversify content and step up business coverage seeps in. Most local and regional newspapers lack designated business sections, much less business reporters. And frankly the staple business profile gets a bad rap. A cynical colleague once called them “fluff pieces” or in some cases free advertising.

I also felt conflicted on writing business profiles as often an agenda in featuring the business existed. During a recent stint as editor/reporter of a weekly community newspaper, I occasionally received the “story idea” from my advertising counterpart to write that profile. “There’s a new Japanese restaurant down the street, I’ve been told they have a very good California roll,” my counterpart would say. Hint, hint. The restaurant would be running an advertisement that week so well, it would be nice if, well, you know, we included an article on the place.

That said, I’ve written my share of business profiles throughout my career. At big papers, producing a well-rounded and well-sourced business profile is easier too. Multinational companies are often public companies and can accommodate comments from analysts or rivals. A reporter could balance a profile on Apple’s smartwatches, for example, by interviewing both Apple analysts and consumer electronics experts.

Even business profiles on private companies such as Trader Joe’s became exclusives when I snagged an interview with their CEOs.

For business profiles for smaller publications or trade publications, which admittedly could remain flufflier, I had a rote checklist of questions in chronological order. What inspired you to start the business? Why this particular business? Sales and business strategy and what next? Finding sources, i.e. clients of the business was easy as the owners liberally refer you to these contacts. Buttonholing a customer and asking, “So what do you think of this mom and pop shop?” is easy too. The answers remain predictable, but avoid the piece remaining a one-source story.

Another perk about the business profile is availability and accessibility. The business profile is everywhere; the coffee shop, the breakfast spot with the lengthy omelet selection, the boutique with the cute white dress, the juice bar all provide countless sources. These mom and pop shops make up the fabric of any city and provide great subjects. Accompanied with a portrait pic of the owner, or the business’s products or shop from your iPhone, and you have a publishable piece.

The following tactics always helped me turn a business profile into a solid and objective piece of journalism:

  1.  Search for trends: During your next downtown stroll, lookout for trends–maybe the number of businesses that spring up in an area or the types of businesses. Maybe you’ll notice a string of new cafes, thrift shops or tattoo parlors are popping up. Ask why that trend exists among new business owners and transform the straightforward business profile into a trend piece. The new cupcake shop may become one of a number of sweets stores opening around you and part of a national trend.
  2. Sources: If the profile is going to be a straightforward business profile, make a point to interview a rival or competitor and the customers there. Connect with the local business associations for perspective and comments.
  3. Peg the profile to a news angle. If a new medical marijuana dispensary is opening in town, that story could be pegged to local regulations being created around medical pot.
  4. Add in some interesting bits and bytes of data and stats related to the business. So more organic restaurants are opening up in your community. Is that a trend nationwide, and if so, how much are they raking in in sales?
  5. Take your own and avoid using stock photos or photos contributed by the business owners.

The local business profile can be robust if you do it right. Opportunities exist to turn a plain vanilla business profile into a solid piece of journalism. As I write, I think I’ll head downtown and take a stroll. I may just find a solid story.


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