Media expert Nic Hayes believes a bottle of wine is always more enjoyable when it comes from a winery rather than a shop.

The managing director of Media Stable credits this unusual phenomenon to the story that goes with the journey from cellar door to wine glass.

Somehow, the trip makes it so much more engaging and memorable than wine from the local bottle-o.

Hayes says the same dynamic is at work in the media, influencing who can grab — and hold — the limelight.

“It’s all about the art of storytelling, ” Hayes says.

“Journalists are not here to promote your product or service, they are here to tell a story.

“The minute you start pitching a product, the journalist will tell you to call the advertising department, but if you have an interesting story they will listen.

“A lot of people don’t know how to tell their own stories, and don’t have any faith in their own stories.

“You need to nut out what it is, and be confident, be bold, and be strong.”

Keeping with Hayes’ analogy, a winery is unlikely to get mainstream publicity if it pitches an article based on advertising-related facts, like price or stockists.

But if there is an interesting tale attached to the winery or its owners, then the products may inadvertently end up in the limelight.

Margaret River’s Saracen Estate is a good example of how this works.

In 2012 it scored a front page article in The West Australian newspaper’s business section when its 2010 shiraz was named Wine of the Year, at a time when news of yet-another award at yet-another ceremony would normally fail to crack a mention in the mainstream media.

But it ended up on front page because it was a bittersweet victory, an incredible tale of loss and success.

The article told how vintners Luke and Maree Saraceni had finally reaped the rewards for building a successful company after most of the winery’s assets had been ripped from them in a long-running receivership battle with Bankwest.

Soon afterwards, the cost of award-winning shiraz jumped as the wine — and the equally tantalising story behind it — graced dinner parties across the country.

In this case, the bittersweet success became the new angle in a saga that had been reported many times previously.

Curtin University media lecturer Sean Cowan, a former reporter at The West Australian and winner of 14 media awards, says angles are crucial to news stories.

“It’s the “angle” that most people don’t understand, ” Cowan says.

“A journalist doesn’t set out to write an article, for instance, about the homeless, but if a new report comes out which says the number of homeless people on Perth’s streets has doubled, then that is exactly what we do.

“An angle relies on there being a kernel of new information.

“That information could be a new fact or it could be a new story altogether.

“For instance, an article about a former child migrant who has built his own business from the ground up and has grown into the biggest retailer in a particular area could well be a subject for an article.”

Another publicity option is for business owners to act as commentators on topical issues.

Cowan says market analysts and lawyers are particularly good at using the media in this way, by offering their opinion on public matters, like how the falling Australian dollar affects importers.

He says that while the issues they comment on are not about them or their company, they effectively publicise themselves as an expert in their field.

Cowan warns there is a danger in overdoing publicity.

“Eventually, you will come to be regarded as someone who is just a rent-a-quote, ” he says.

“It diminishes the value of what you say.”

David Tasker, from Professional Public Relations, agrees media profiles need to be carefully managed.

Tasker became the media relations manager for the Fremantle Dockers about a decade ago, at a time when then-coach Damian Drum made himself available for interviews every day.

But Tasker says the value of Drum’s message was diminished by his constant availability.

He says journalists were sometimes late to interviews and occasionally offhand in delivering his message.

Tasker changed the schedule to a weekly press conference, and found Drum’s message instantly gained a heightened gravitas.

However, Hayes believes it is different for small business owners, claiming they need to consistently feed the publicity machine in a bid to cement themselves in the public mind.

While the numbers are not an exact science, he claims research showed people did not consider switching banks until they read or heard the name of the competing bank a whopping 232 times. Hayes advises his clients to publish an expert opinion through social media every fortnight, in order to gain traction.

“We tell all our clients it’s about consistent messaging over a period of time, not big hero months, ” he says.

Many business owners fail to realise they can directly approach journalists with a story idea.

There are no secretaries or other levels of scrutiny between the public and a reporter’s landline.

Alternatively, SME owners can go through a media relations expert, who usually know the best reporter and best media outlet to approach.

Media experts keep two key things in mind when contacting a reporter — the timing and the media outlet’s target audience.

“There is no point trying to talk about your intellectual property on aged care on an FM teenboppy radio station, ” Hayes says.

Tasker says SMEs should be aware that different media outlets have to meet different requirements to get the story to air or to press.

Meeting those requirements quickly can be the difference between publicity and silence.

Tasker says smaller publications and websites may need to be provided with high resolution images or video content. Bigger publications and TV programs may require fresh interviews with the company’s managing director or other key personnel.

Tasker says he keeps track of which issues are breaking in each reporter’s rounds, to ensure he does not approach someone who is too busy to give it their time.

He says the timing of a story pitch, often through a press release, can be crucial.

Breaking stories that must run in that night’s news or the following day’s paper should be discussed with reporters in the morning.

If the issue can hold for a few days or weeks, then it is best to make contact after lunch.

Cowan says reporters should not be contacted after 4pm unless it is really necessary, because they are likely to writing to a deadline.

“Journalists today are busier than ever, ” Cowan says.

“Not only do they have to file more often than their predecessors, but they are also expected to use social media and to promote their employer by filing for other platforms.”

Tasker, Hayes and Cowan highlight Sundays and public holidays as good times to contact journalists because they are often quiet days when they are searching for news.

All three experts advise getting to know reporters, and maintaining relationships with the occasional email, phone call or social media message.

“Get to know the journalist covering the area relating to your business, ” Cowan says.

“If a reporter already knows you, they will be more likely to call you for comment when they are writing an article related to your business.

“So, don’t be afraid to make comment and introduce yourself.”


© The West Australian

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