Smiths Detection: From Niche Technology To Trusted Partner In Corrections Safety
Although you might not know the name, Smiths Detection makes a product you’re almost certainly familiar with: They make airport scanners you run your luggage through before boarding a plane. But that’s by no means all they do.
“What we produce is a new way for correctional officers to screen for contraband. It was, essentially, a new technology solution for this market and so required explaining conceptually how it would solve problems in their facilities,” says Michael Burrows, marketing communications manager at Smiths. It was in this last area—corrections—that Burrows was specifically challenged to grow market share.
Detecting contraband in correctional facilities presents a huge challenge. Cell phones, drugs, weapons, gang communications—effectively discovering these in or before they enter a facility is key to inmate and staff safety. While Smiths had the technology to do just that, the company was relatively unknown in the corrections market.
“What we produce is highly technical and specialized. So we do our research before entering a vertical,” Burrows says. “Although we knew there was opportunity to grow in corrections, our first advertising efforts were ineffective—there just wasn’t any proof that what we were doing was working.”
To gain a foothold in this market, Smiths Detection needed to be seen as a thought leader, Burrows says. “That requires creating quality content that demonstrates experience and speaks to real challenges in corrections. It can’t read like advertising. We had worked with copywriters and people outside the industry in the past, and it just didn’t work.”
"Although we knew there was opportunity to grow in corrections, our first advertising efforts were ineffective-there just wasn't any proof that what we were doing was working."
Looking for a more robust and comprehensive solution, Burrows connected with Corrections1, a digital media publisher dedicated to the corrections industry. One of Lexipol’s industry news sites serving all facets of public safety, Corrections1 has more than 70,000 registered members, delivering marketers both reach and trust.
“What I immediately liked about Corrections1 is they are a thought leader in this market,” Burrows says. By leveraging Corrections1’s experienced creative staff, as well as its wide reach, Smiths Detection embarked upon a bold custom content marketing campaign: six articles in a 12-month period delving into issues affecting corrections and contraband.
Rachel Zoch, Lexipol branded content project lead, worked closely with Burrows to develop high-quality content and a plan to drive readers to it. “What was great about working with Michael and the Smiths team is they have a specific message that provides value,” Zoch says. “It isn’t just about promoting their products but about informing our readers and helping them do their jobs safely and efficiently.”
Take, for example, the profile of an Oregon jail’s X-ray screening process for removing contraband. The piece centers on Smiths’ B-SCAN transmission X-ray body scanner and how the sheriff was able to partner with nine counties to bid on a group purchase of these scanners, saving money in the process. Said Sheriff Daniels in the piece, “We have found knives, heroin, meth–the scanner has been a very good addition.”
“It has been especially helpful that Smiths Detection customers are happy to share their experiences,” says Zoch. “That makes these pieces fun for me as a writer, and I think that enthusiasm makes them more engaging for the reader, too.”
Smiths Detection has run an ongoing series since 2016 on Corrections1—20 pieces and counting—with continued success. A recent survey of Corrections1 users confirms the soundness of Burrows’ strategy: The two most popular sources of product information are corrections websites (42%) and colleagues and peers (50%). Effective thought leadership accomplishes both: By solving problems, it gets shared.
“With Corrections1 we generate leads and tie them to sales,” Burrows says. “And at the same time we are able to collaborate on developing relevant and meaningful content for readers—content that helped COs understand the value and benefit of a new and more effective way to screen inmates. This content becomes part of our engagement strategy with new leads. We continually use it and promote it through our social channels as well. It serves the industry, and we get a lot of mileage out of it.”
Zoch and Burrows underscore how Corrections1 can amplify a company’s thought leadership strategy, in turn playing a key role in Smiths’ continued growth in the industry. “Branded content needs to be a partnership,” Zoch says. “I know that’s how Michael sees it, and it’s why it works so well.”
“Rachel and the rest of the team are phenomenal,” Burrows says. “They make my job so much easier.”
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