Mike Lessiter Speaks with UW–Madison About Career Opportunities in Trade Media

May 17, 2012

The Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison recently caught up with Mike Lessiter of Lessiter Publications, Inc., based in Brookfield, Wis., to discuss career opportunities in specialized trade media (print and e-media content published for, and distributed to, a specific industry or trade).

After 12 years of a trade publishing and marketing services career in the Chicago area, Mike joined the family publishing company in 2004 as Executive Vice President. Since that time, the company tripled in size as a result of several new product launches and acquisitions.

His father, Frank, who founded the company (with wife, Pam) in 1981, was a Dairy Science major at Michigan State University who discovered journalism late in his college career and graduated with his sights on an agricultural media career.

LSC: What does a career in trade media offer for today's graduates?

Lessiter: As a second-generation trade media "lifer," I remain excited about the opportunities for the next generation entering this field. While trade media careers don't often get the attention they deserve, trade media presents far more job opportunities than newspapers and consumer magazines. And very rewarding jobs at that.

You will get to know a specific subject intimately as opposed to being a "generalist." We in the trade media business think of ourselves as industry "participants," not just "observers." Everything we do and the information we share is intended to help our focused audience be more successful and improve their lot in life. When you get to know (and care for) your industry and the people that comprise it, there is no better mission for your day than arming them with the information they need to advance.

Leading trade media are wanted at the major industry events, both domestically and worldwide. Very early in my career, my reporting assignments took me to places I would not otherwise have seen, like Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Mexico, Slovakia and more. Whether it's domestic or international travel, being "out there" contributes to your personal AND professional growth. And it's a "job benefit" you can't put a price-tag on.

LSC: How can one have an impact in the field?

Lessiter: Good industry trade media equals "must-read" content for those in that industry. Through the perspective you can share on the industry's needs and sharing of the best practices of those individuals and companies "doing things right," your print and e-media coverage can make a lasting difference; you are in a position to be a "change agent" in your field. Your readers respect you as "one of their own," and you will see firsthand how information can improve your readers' lives and businesses.

LSC: What opportunities are there for professional growth in the industry?

Lessiter: You will have opportunities that those in large publishing houses or general mass-media would rarely if ever see. Trade media organizations tend to be small, entrepreneurial environments and you will be exposed to design, circulation, marketing and general operations. New product launches are some of the most exciting opportunities, and because trade media is defined more by the industry covered than the medium in which information is shared, specialized and segmented opportunities present themselves often, especially in targeted e-publications. Creativity and passion for what you do will allow you to "move the ball forward" every day of the week.

LSC: What parting advice do you have for today's students and graduates looking to get into the trade media field?

Lessiter: Truly knowing an industry requires an eagerness and commitment to dig in and understand its unique nuances. It's not always easy, but nothing worth pursuing ever is. Here's the upside: because not anyone can do what a trade media professional can, you will see immediate opportunities to raise your value to your organization, as well as your own earning power.

There are plenty of opportunities for hardworking content providers in the trade media field. Every industry and job function has multiple magazines serving those informational needs, and it's worth checking out. Many of the U.S.' 13,500 trade publishers have intern programs where you'll gain practical and marketable experience. And many, like our company, are actively seeking full-time talent to carry the torch in serving the print and e-media needs of our specific audiences in the years ahead.