How Journalism Shapes a B2B Marketer’s Approach

Episode 60

November 19, 2019

Tracey Rettig, Marketing Specialist at Kistler Instrument Corporation, joins Jeff and Carman on The Kula Ring to share how her journalism background has helped shape her approach to marketing and communications. She also explains why, as a B2B manufacturing marketer, it’s important to distill technical information into messaging that fits each audience and where they’re at in the buying cycle.

How Journalism Shapes a B2B Marketer’s Approach Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to the Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners, an agency made for manufacturers. Joining me today is Carman Pirie, and I’m Jeff White, your cohost. 

Carman Pirie: Really? I mean, you completely changed the order of that on me-

Jeff White: I did change it. I’m welcoming you first. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, and then I’m taking a drink of water at that time, and I don’t know. I don’t know if people know, but it’s a hazard being a podcast host. You just don’t know-

Jeff White: A hazard? 

Carman Pirie: Yes. You don’t know when you’re gonna be called upon to take action. You could be midway through a drink of water.

Jeff White: You never know. It’s dangerous.

Carman Pirie: Yeah.

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: But it’s good to be chatting, and I’m excited for today’s show. Look, maybe it’s a background in politics, which always put me kind of close to journalism, anyway. Or even a former life being more PR-centric in my work, but it’s been interesting to watch the face of journalism change in the last decade or so.

Jeff White: Quite. 

Carman Pirie: And the talent that would typically have gone into that field finding other ways to use that craft. And we’ve experienced that here at Kula Partners. We have a fantastic digital marketer that works for us, that comes from a journalism background.

Jeff White: Yes. 

Carman Pirie: So, I’m excited to be chatting with today’s guest, who kind of chimed in briefly as we were-

Jeff White: Messing up that intro?

Carman Pirie: Messing up that intro, but perhaps you could introduce her more officially. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. Joining us today is Tracey Rettig. Tracey is a Marketing Specialist at Kistler Instrument. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Tracey.

Tracey Rettig: Thanks for having me on the podcast. 

Carman Pirie: Tracey, it’s not normally that sideways at the beginning. I don’t want to seem-

Jeff White: Oh, no. I’d argue it is. 

Carman Pirie: But thank you for rolling with the punches a bit. Let’s start by understanding a bit more of your background, and tell us a bit about the company, as well. 

Tracey Rettig: Sure, so I have more than 15 years in marcom, mostly business-to-business manufacturing, and I got my start at Michigan State University with a journalism degree. I’m currently in a master’s program there in strategic communication. My job right now is Marketing Specialist for a company called Kistler, and they are located in Switzerland, and they’re a global leader in dynamic measurement technology for measuring pressure, force, torque, and acceleration, so I’m excited to be here today. 

Carman Pirie: Nice. Well, we’re excited to have you, and I want to understand a little bit about how that journalism background has shaped your work with Kistler, and just how you think about the role of marketing in a variety of aspects, so why don’t we just start distilling it a bit? As you think of this notion of being a bit of a journalist marketer, what have been the big changes that you see, or the kind of differences you feel in terms of how you approach your work, versus maybe how you see others doing it?

Tracey Rettig: Well, I think sometimes as communicators, we tend to get caught up in the marketing automation, the marcom tech stacks, and sort of the making of messages, that we forget listening is important. I think that email is a great tool, but I find that picking up the phone and having a conversation with people is sort of a lost art. Sometimes it’s a bit easy to hide behind the written word, and email, and texting as we have now that’s so proliferant with society. 

So, my journalism background plays an important role, because I’m comfortable picking up the phone and establishing a connection with another person, and I think my interviewing skills help me a lot in crafting messages, and sort of getting people to talk about their expertise a little easier than say the traditional marketing person.

Carman Pirie: I can see those interviewing skills coming in handy both on the customer side, but also probably in work with colleagues, as you’re trying to extract information to use in marketing. Would that be accurate?

Tracey Rettig: Yeah. I think that just like any project you worked on, preparation is 90% of it. And you know, the more you put in, the more you get out, so I always have a list of great questions on hand. One of my favorites to ask to help break the ice is, “Tell me how you got into your line of work.” Since everyone loves to talk about themselves, right? It’s a great jumping off point to segue into guiding that person down the path to talk about a product or services. And sometimes I find with a lot of the technical folks, they’ve spent their whole career on maybe one part, or one invention, so it’s their baby, so if you take the time to ask them, “How does this solve a problem?” They’ll tell you. 

Carman Pirie: I’m curious. Do you find… I think a lot of marketers find that it can get kind of heavy sledding, as it were, as the talk gets technical in those conversations. But journalists, on the other hand, I think are a bit more used to trying to distill something that is fairly complicated into something that others can understand more readily. Any tips to the trade there that you might be able to assist with? 

Tracey Rettig: Well, recently you know, I attended an IABC communications conference, and when we were all sitting around a table, we were asked, “What’s the number one skill communicators need today?” And do you know what everybody said at the table? Listening. So, this is where you learn what you really want to know, so asking the person on the other end of the phone, or when you’re sitting with them, “What’s your pain point if you’re in sales-type situation?” Or, “How is business?” I think focusing on one thing that that person says is concerned with, then you get the information, and you involve them, and you can provide the most effective follow up, I think. So listening, I would say. 

Carman Pirie: It’s funny. I think most people probably… I mean, it’s like kind of suggesting one ought to be customer-centric. It’s kind of hard for people to disagree with, right? You ought to listen more, I guess. But most people would tend to agree with that. How do you hold yourself accountable to that? How do you hold your own feet to the fire, and know that you’re taking your own advice to heart? 

Tracey Rettig: Well, I think that… I work in B2B marketing, and it’s kind of a different animal than consumer marketing. It’s more challenging, because you need to communicate the value of that product or service that requires persuasion, so I use a lot more cognitive messages than say those that play to emotions. So, I think you have to do your research, as well. Before you’re talking with someone on the technical side of the house, it’s good to do the research. And as journalists, we’ve been taught to do that, so you’re looking up nuances of the product, that kind of thing.

I consider myself a strategic communicator, so part facilitator, part advisor, part influencer. In my experience, that means using critical thinking on the fly, and that comes along the lines of what questions to ask quickly. And if you ask really great questions, you’re gonna get into the context of the message, and it’ll be correct. 

Jeff White: I think, Carman, I feel like we’re being judged from the other side of the microphone today, as well. 

Carman Pirie: Oh, for our questions that we’re… Yeah. 

Tracey Rettig: Yeah. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: It’s a complete disaster-

Jeff White: Yeah. Couple of marketers and designers trying to have a podcast. That’s an interesting thing. Have you considered a podcast for Kistler as an interviewer, and someone with that as a professional background?

Tracey Rettig: You know, we haven’t explored that yet, but again, I attended that conference, and it was one of the workshops that I attended, so it might be something down the road. 

Carman Pirie: I find I’m kind of curious about finding ways for a company such as yours to extend that listening skill, and combine it with a content co-creation with customers, but actually extend it to the sales organization. I think over time, it’s not just the marketers that maybe need to be more journalistic in their approach, but also the sales folks, and I think that capability to be able to co-create content with customers from the sales organization very early on in a buying process, or before an even buying process exists, is kind of an interesting use of that journalistic skillset that you have.  

How tightly do you work with the sales organization at Kistler, and have you found any kind of parallels between how they approach accounts, and how you approach marketing through this lens? 

Tracey Rettig: A lot of our sales folks have an engineering background, and so in my experience, sometimes folks that are technical in nature, maybe product managers, or work in R&D, are somewhat introverted. So, taking the initial step to reach out, to establish that relationship, is important. Their feedback helps improve the way that marketers, myself, tell that story, and craft that message, and write the content, and so on. 

I think the effort is always positive and can lead to further involvement of said person. I always make it a point to follow up and provide the person with the feedback that I obtained, once I work with them on the project. So, if you show folks, “Here’s how your participation helped us market this product.” Or you know, “This was this LinkedIn post, and here’s the results, and the likes, and the comments.” I think it gets them excited, and they’ll open up a little bit more. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s good advice. I wonder how many marketers actually do that. Close the loop with people that have assisted in creating those pieces, and help inform them, to actually let them see how that-

Jeff White: See the results. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s an easy thing to do, but I bet it’s a step that a lot of people miss. I’d be curious. When it comes to doing that kind of work of translation, if you will, of more technical concepts and content into marketing messages… I don’t even know really where I’m going with this question, but I feel like in some ways, they’re… what’s being presented in your marketing at Kistler is probably necessarily not quite as technical as it would be being presented by the engineers or what have you. There’s some, dumbing down would be the wrong word, but the distillation of it, I guess, to make it more consumable. To what extent might the journalist background help in that, as well? Or do you think about that as you are doing this work?

Tracey Rettig: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I learned many, many years ago is all writing is rewriting, and I think if you can say it in fewer words, that’s best. So, a lot of times people will add jargon, because they think maybe it makes them sound more intelligent, but that’s not necessarily the case. If you can take three words and make it into one, and still have that same, convey that same meaning, I think that’s important. Everybody’s busy nowadays. There’s a lot to take in. There’s information coming at us from all angles, so people are busy. They don’t have a lot of time to sit and plow through this stuff, so one of the things I think that marketing can do is to help distill that down into consistent and clear messages.

Carman Pirie: I think the thing that I find marketers kind of… Sometimes I hear them say that they feel like doing that… I don’t know whether it does a disservice to technical buyers, but in some ways it’s like you just said, they don’t seem like they’re sounding as intelligent as the buyer, necessarily. They seem that they need to-

Jeff White: One-up them?

Carman Pirie: Well, or at least be on the same level as a very highly technical buyer. But I’m not always sure that that’s the case. I’m not even sure that those highly technical buyers always want to be consuming something that’s that-

Jeff White: Or that they’re even necessarily as technical as maybe you perceive. You know, we often find that the things that we produce that are at a level maybe that is not quite as highly robust or technical, hits the mark better than something that seems to go very deep, or is a bit more… cerebral is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. 

Carman Pirie: Tracey, what’s been your experience there? Have you experimented with varying levels of complexity into content and creation, and found a sweet spot for technical buyers?

Tracey Rettig: Well, I think with today’s B2B buying, you’ve got several audiences. It’s not just, “Hey, we’re gonna talk to the engineer first.” Sometimes you’re talking to a purchasing person. So, depending on where you are in that sales cycle, you’re gonna have a different message. Let’s just take walking a trade show, for example. What you’re gonna want to see messaging on each of those booths is something quick that’s gonna grab and solve your problem. So, that’s a good case for we need five or six words, maybe three, that will communicate our products and services quickly. 

There’s always a chance for them, the customer, to come on into the booth, and you’re talking with them, and once you get to a point where they need more detail, there’s data sheets, there’s brochures. You can go down to the very technical level if you need to. I think it just depends on your audience, and where they’re at in the buying cycle. 

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Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think that’s fair, and I don’t disagree with it at all. I kind of worry what Jeff, you were knocking on the door of a bit, too, is just I wonder, do they necessarily, even technical buyers deep in a sales cycle, how technical do they really insist upon-

Jeff White: Yeah, do the technical specifications serve the job of giving them the depth of technical specificity, while the communication makes them feel comfortable about the solution as an option for them? I think that’s interesting. Going back to your previous point of it, and this is just purely a… Well, sort of personal point of interest. I shared this with our team recently, but apparently Cormac McCarthy, the Author, performs regular editing of science journal papers at the San Diego Institute, or the San Francisco Institute of Technology, or something like that. 

Carman Pirie: I thought it was Santa Fe. 

Jeff White: Oh, Santa Fe. Sorry. Yep. I was-

Carman Pirie: That’s about the only thing I remember. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Okay. But in any case, one of the things he says is, “Use minimalism to achieve clarity, and while you’re writing, ask yourself: Is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph, or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.” And as an over comma-er, I find that very hard to do, so I think it’s interesting to look at your writing, and look at your communication in that way, and just be very brutal about the removal of things that aren’t necessary for the message. Do you find that that’s a big part of the work that you’re doing, kind of stripping it down to the essence of it and ensuring that the message still comes through, but that it does so in as few words as possible?

Tracey Rettig: Yeah. Absolutely. I would even toss out the word be brief. Work on being brief.

Carman Pirie: You’re trying to get rid of my em dashes. Is this-

Jeff White: No, no, no. 

Carman Pirie: Is this an intervention? We’re 17 minutes into this, and it’s like, “This is what it’s really all about.” 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: It’s like, “We’re just gonna work on your writing now.” 

Jeff White: No, man. I’m an em dash advocate, for sure. 

Carman Pirie: I’m terrible. I don’t know. I seem to remember something like a 190-word sentence or something I did once. 

Jeff White: That may be too much. You may need an intervention.

Carman Pirie: In university. It was a bit of a thing. 

Jeff White: Yeah.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Run-on sentences. Yeah, it’s a bit of a talent.

Jeff White: For sure. Tracey, going back to the master’s program that you’re working on now, are there any really interesting things that are coming up as a result of that, that you’re able to apply through your work? And I find it also, just on another note, really interesting that you’re pursuing that at the same time as performing as a Marketing Specialist at Kistler. 

Tracey Rettig: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I decided to go back to school just because I wanted to stay relevant in the industry. I think it’s really important to always, always be learning, I guess, and I have a curious nature to begin with, so it seemed like a good time. The one thing I like about the MSU stratcom program is it kind of touches on all points of communication. So, one class that I really enjoyed was a survey class with a lot of stats thrown in, and we actually researched a company, and then produced a survey, and then went through and analyzed the data. And that was something I hadn’t done before, and it was challenging for me, because stats… It wasn’t something I had in college. But I actually… You know, I doubled down. Ended up getting a four point in the class, but it’s something that I think is important for marketers, because I think putting out really good surveys can really give you the data where you can drill down and solve some problems within your company, or your department, even with customer satisfaction. 

You can use it in all departments, so it’s not just, “Oh, hey, let’s survey the employees.” But you can use it throughout your company, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s fascinating. I think it’s a huge blind spot for a lot of marketers. It’s one thing for market research even to be a blind spot, but then how do you go out and get survey data, and present it, and analyze it? Analyze it and then present it in a way that is compelling, when that is more and more required in today’s marketing?

Jeff White: Yeah, and you’re not just trying to report the numbers. You need to be able to look into them, and analyze them, and tell people what they’re saying. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, and see the patterns that lie underneath of it. And if you don’t have a training or background in that, it could be really just like hearing another language. You know? 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Tracey Rettig: Well, again, I think that speaks to the asking really great questions. For that particular class, we spent a majority of the time working on the questions, because that’s step one. If you’re tossing out a bad question, bad data in, bad data out. So, it’s all part and parcel with what I was referring to back in the beginning of our conversation, with really having really good questions. Because then that will pull out the data. 

Carman Pirie: Everything we needed to learn in this podcast we could have learned from E.E. Cummings with the, “Always the beautiful answer who asks the more beautiful question.” 

Jeff White: Which you wrote on the white board and has been there for 10 years, ever since we moved into this space. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s permanently etched now. 

Tracey Rettig: It’s there now? 

Jeff White: Yeah. No, it was a dry erase at the time, but it’s not anymore. 

Carman Pirie: But you’re right, I think that’s… It’s an interesting tie that binds between your work and background as a journalist, versus the work that you’re finding compelling today. It’s the exact same kind of underpinning that can drive success in it. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Do you find, Tracey, that asking good questions enables you to connect on a deeper level with PhDs, and the engineers, and the others that you work with on a regular basis at Kistler? Do they open up to you more because you ask better questions?

Tracey Rettig: Yeah, absolutely. I think because basically, we are in the business of… well, working with people. All kinds of people. And collaboration is key. I think with other industries outside of marketing, too, but I have a little bit of an edge, maybe, in that for a time, I did some sales. So, I do have that ability, which is different from most marketing people. I’m not sure how many of them have a… I have a little bit of a sales background, but I think it makes me a better marketer, because I’m able to see the endgame a little clearer, so therefore I’m asking the good questions in the beginning, because I know what ultimately a company wants to do is sell their product, so I have that edge, I think.

I went to the dark side. How about that? 

Jeff White: It certainly does seem to be that way, but I also think that marketers who have at least some background in sales, because it’s a very different and sometimes difficult thing to do, to understand selling, and to be able to empathetic to the problems and the challenges of a salesperson, and it’s not something that you see regularly. Do you find that the salespeople that you work with, that you’re able to kind of get in a better place, and a more influential role with them, as a result of that empathy?

Tracey Rettig: I think so, I think we get to a level that’s maybe faster than other folks. And you know, I do mention, I did sell, so that helps a little bit, because they know that I know what they’re going through, their pain points, so they don’t have to explain that part of it to me. I already know. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think it’s critical to have that kind of—I’d almost say like hand-to-hand combat experience of sales, right? Otherwise, your kind of commentary as a marketer can seem very academic.

Tracey Rettig: Oh, I was just gonna say, I just think it’s good to carry a bag that you have that experience, because it’s not easy to sell. Some people I think maybe think it is easy, but it’s not, so like I said, I know what they’ve been through, and what it takes maybe to meet with five or six different people within a company, to make sure that your product is shown in the best light. And it takes time. 

Carman Pirie: Another thing I think, kind of almost turning it on its head a bit, is that having some sales experience as a marketer also helps you kind of… I don’t know, not let sales pull the wool over your eyes, either. I think sometimes they act like it’s all this mysterious kind of magic thing that happens, and shall never talk about it to marketing, or let them know the details. And it’s like, “Ah, we know how this happens. We’ve done this before, as well.” Yeah, I think that’s helpful, but I don’t know how much we need to belabor that point. I think we’re all just feeling like we’re highly qualified because we’re marketers who have sales backgrounds. 

Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. Well, I do think, though, that you know, and you’ve mentioned this before, Carman, is that having an understanding of sales, especially when you’re a marketer, enables you to create content that can actually be used on those front lines. It’s very difficult for a marketer with no sales experience to craft an outbound email, or a call script, or something like that, and really understand how that’s going to land, if you have no sales experience.

Carman Pirie: And I would go the other step to say I think it’s getting more and more critical for sales to have some marketing experience. We almost never hear about-

Jeff White: Yeah. Content creation. 

Carman Pirie: … that, but it’s like how can salespeople get comfortable with those more non-buying customer interactions that happen early on in the relationship build? Now Tracey, we’re just talking, and you probably have left us entirely, and-

Tracey Rettig: No, no, no. I’m taking that all in. Listening, right? 

Carman Pirie: You’re supposed to be our guest, not the other way around. We’re not supposed to be rambling. 

Jeff White: Yeah, not the other way around, but you know, she is the journalist, so she’s turned it on its head.

Carman Pirie: Exactly!

Jeff White: She’s interviewing us. Yeah. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Yes. Well, there you go. I think we can end it there. I think Tracey’s done a great job of leading by example, and showing us how this ought to work, and pointing out the error in our ways for just rambling on incessantly. 

Jeff White: Indeed. Tracey, thank you very much for joining us on the podcast today. Do you have any final thoughts about the work that you’re doing, and where you’re going next?

Carman Pirie: And being a journalist marketer, as it were?

Tracey Rettig: Journalist marketer. I love what I do, and every day, I go into the office, and I’m excited to see how I can change the world today. 

Jeff White: I think that’s a wonderful place to leave it. Thank you very much for joining us. 

Tracey Rettig: Thank you. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at That’s K-U-L-A

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Tracey Rettig

Marketing Specialist at Kistler Instrument Corporation

Tracey Rettig is a marketing specialist at Kistler Instrument Corporation. A native of Detroit, Rettig is pursuing her master’s degree in Strategic Communication from Michigan State University. Rettig has more than 15 years’ experience in B2B marketing communications in the industrial sector including aerospace & defense, automotive, manufacturing, renewable energy, semiconductor, test & measurement, transportation and workplace protection industries.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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