Most clients aspire to be in the Wall Street Journal, but not every team can bring it in. Earlier this year, teammates in our Tech Practice did just that for client Ditch Witch, which produces underground construction equipment, securing a major feature story in the Journal. It took nearly two years of strategic relationship building and many, many meetings between the reporter and several Ditch Witch subject matter experts to make it happen. Here’s how they did it:
The idea originated back in late 2021 as the team planned for media briefings at Utility Expo, a utility industry trade show where the team saw that Austen Hufford, the Journal’s manufacturing reporter, was on the registered media list. The team reached out with an introductory pitch and secured a meeting with Austen for Ditch Witch execs to discuss trends shaping the construction industry.
Building off that initial contact, the team continued to stay in touch with Hufford, and, in early 2023, met with him again at another industry trade show, CONEXPO. At the show, Hufford took an interest in Ditch Witch’s virtual reality (VR) training system featuring the Super Witch, a one-of-a-kind trenching machine the company rolls out at trade shows. The team filled him in on the novelty of the Super Witch and the pending retirement of its sole operator, Don Pemberton. Hufford saw an interesting angle in Don: how Ditch Witch was dealing with the operator’s planned retirement, framing it around the larger issue of the challenges American companies face in replacing retiring Baby Boomers amid a lack of skilled trade workers in the U.S.
Over several months, the team arranged multiple briefings between the reporter, Ditch Witch executives and Don, offered tours of the Ditch Witch plant, and shared photo and video assets to help shape the story. The Ditch Witch communications team and executives were very accommodating of the reporter’s numerous questions and requests for interviews, responding with enthusiasm and transparency.
The story, “This Boomer Is Retiring as the World’s Coolest Ditch Digger. Now His Job Is Up for Grabs,” which ran on A1 of the Journal’s Oct. 19 edition, ended up being very positive, focusing on the company’s thorough process for finding Don’s replacement and the uniqueness of the Super Witch machine itself.
Thinking back on the 24-month journey, the team offered a few takeaways for others looking to replicate their success:
- Long-term media relationships pay off. There’s a good reason why it’s called media relations. The personal connections the client and Padilla team established with Hufford provided a level of trust on all sides.
- Set realistic expectations. Lengthy features in national publications don’t happen overnight. The team repeatedly counseled Ditch Witch around expected timelines and the unpredictable nature of the process.
- Provide easy access. The ability to give the reporter extensive access to Ditch Witch subject matter experts and resources to develop his story was key to securing publication of the article.
- Find the news hook. By capitalizing on the pending retirement of the Super Witch operator and the company’s difficulty in finding a successor, the team provided the reporter a reason to write an otherwise timeless story then and there.
This article was co-authored by Leslie Clavin, VP Editorial Services at SHIFT, a division of Padilla. For our thoughts on communication and brand strategy, industry trends and more, subscribe to Padilla Insights here.