Lynn Winter insists that she doesn't plan goofy and entertaining events at her restaurant just to bring in the media. But a lot of what she does winds up on the morning news or in the newspaper, and she's not complaining.
Winter owns Lynn's Paradise Café, an eclectic restaurant in Louisville, Ky., that holds such annual events as the New Year's Day pajama party brunch, and the Ugly Lamp Contest. Both events attract not only customers, but reporters.
"Press comes to us because we know how to have fun," Winter said. "If people would just relax and start having fun and letting their staff have fun, I do think they'd get more press. It sounds weird, but press wants unusual, wonderful fun things that are unique and original."
Winter's "unusual" offerings have been featured multiple major restaurant industry publications, and her Ugly Lamp contest garners media attention as a regular event at the Kentucky State Fair.
Mark Glover, an anchor for WEHT-TV in Evansville, Ind., said such coverage adds levity to the sometimes grim news lineup.
"Stations are always looking for fun, local events which can lighten up a newscast that too often can be bogged down with 'bad' news," Glover said. "A restaurant operator who can offer a station a cute, visual story involving local people certainly becomes a viable candidate for a story for that day's newscast. But I must stress the importance of visual opportunities."
"Nobody really cares that you are in business or that you're struggling to stay in business," said William Thompson, a professor of communications at the University of Louisville. "What they care about is that you are providing them with some type of story that fills up part of the news hole that day that gives information and ... entertainment for their audience that they would not otherwise have."
But We're Short-Staffed
Kerry McGee, managing editor of Louisville's WDRB-TV, pointed out that media outlet staff sizes are smaller than ever, and amassing the necessary bodies to cover an event is a challenge.
"News is not 'Dog bites man,' news is 'Man bites dog.' So what are you doing that is outside the box?"
Thompson, author of Targeting the Message: A Receiver-Centered Process for Public Relations, also agrees that visuals are highly valued.
Therefore, since assignment editors have to sift through piles of press releases every day, your story better be a good one or it won't get coverage. As McGee points out, "I and every other newsroom have finite resources to cover what seems sometimes to be an infinite number of stories or events."
He added that many TV stations work with as few as two crews for early-morning and late-night shifts. So if five events are scheduled at the same time, three won't get covered.
"If one of the events is a public relations deal for some local business (then) it is going to get less attention than something that might have a greater effect or interest to a larger part of my audience," McGee said.
So just how can you get media attention? Winter says fun works for her. Thompson, on the other hand, suggests doing an event that benefits the community.
For example, instead of having a special promotion that knocks a dollar off every pizza, hold a daylong event where a dollar from every pizza sold goes to charity. Thompson said the operator should ask himself, "Is it going to be more useful to me to have the dollar go to the customer directly, or would that be more useful for me to give that money in some way to an audience in the community?"
If it benefits the community, he added, the media will often pick up on that.
Let 'em Know You're There
Making a media request stand out amid the hundreds of others becomes the next challenge. So do you send a pizza to each newspaper, television station and radio station? Do you call to see if they are interested, or just send a simple press release.
"The trick about getting the media is to communicate with them. Just tell them what you're doing, but don't do it to get their attention. Do it because it sounds great."
It depends on who you ask.
"I've gotten everything from stuffed animals to pizzas to health-food baskets," McGee said. "Food items are the most popular. They end up in the newsroom or the lunchroom for anyone to partake."
But do such perks influence McGee's choice as to whether his station covers an event?
"No. They don't fit into an eight-by-eleven expandable file folder, which is where I keep my upcoming news releases," McGee said.
But the truth is an assignment editor is human, and therefore less likely to forget the name of a pizzeria that just delivered three large pizzas for the crew. And since most assignment editors receive numerous press releases each day -- in some markets up to a 100, Thompson said -- it doesn't hurt to find ways to stand out.
"News is not 'Dog bites man,' " Thompson said. "News is 'Man bites dog.' So what are you doing that is outside the box? The (press) release will not sell the story. The release will get you to where people are contemplating whether you are going to have a story there or not."
Phone calls can also help, said WEHT-TV's Glover.
"Possibly a better approach would be to first contact the person the restaurant operator has built a relationship with at a station," Glover said. "Tell him or her what's going on, and then explain that a fax with his or her name attached is on its way. That way, the reporter can make sure the event or story idea gets the attention it deserves."
To put it simply, said Winter, if the event is worthy, the media will show up, no matter how you made contact.
"The trick about getting the media is to communicate with them," Winter said. "Just tell them what you're doing, but don't do it to get their attention. Do it because it sounds great."