On forming relations with the press . . .

Changes of regime at Fairfax in the recent past, together with the feeling by others in the print media that they are being overtaken by digital media are stimulating journalists to pursue stories with renewed vigor. I’m used to being called about once a week for comment on restaurant matters. The frequency of these calls is increasing.

The cynical side of my psyche attributes this to the fear of forced redundancy. Every journalist is out looking for stories and many are focusing on restaurants because they are seen as one of the predominant art/recreation forms of today, after the media themselves have elevated restaurants and Chefs to that status through concentrated newspaper, magazine and TV coverage.

There is a promotional opportunity here, but be careful.

Journalists looking for ‘news’ can take you into no-win territory

It’s getting a bit like the celebrity photo magazines. When there is nothing obvious to write about, the journalists employed by these publications often invent something or take a minor issue and beat it up out of all proportion. Some of the things I’m asked are laughable, like: ‘Will pop-up restaurants take over from the traditional type of permanent eatery?’ or ‘Can you give me an example of a restaurateur throwing a tantrum at an awards ceremony.’ Some are dangerous, like: ‘Will you comment on the black economy that goes on in restaurants?’ or ‘Can you put me in contact with a Chef who has had to wrestle with a drug problem?’

In the past, I found that most journalists were fairly straightforward to deal with and the quotes attributed to me were quite accurate, but over the past six months I’ve been misquoted a few times and I have had to change the way I deal with the press.

Personal relationships with journalists can make you a regular source.

How do you establish yourself on their radar?

Before I go into recent problems it is probably useful if I explain how I came to be sought after for comment in the first place, because many of you would like to have similar exposure in order to lift your own profiles. Anyone can do it but you have to be realistic about yourself and your business and aim at the appropriate media in line with your market positioning.

In other words, if you have a 50 seat restaurant out in the ‘burbs, you’d be better off concentrating on cultivating a relationship with the journalists and editor of your local newspaper, rather than the regional newspapers or national magazines. If you are listed in the Good Food Guide, then you may have credibility with the mainstream press. If you can establish a relationship with particular journalists, you may become a regular source.

Don’t try to spin a story into an ad for your business

The mistake most people make is that when contacted by a journalist they try to spin a response that is a thinly veiled advertisement for their business. Most journos don’t want to play that game; they want informed, accurate comment that adds credibility or balance to their story. If you give them this you may find yourself listed on an internal database as an ‘expert’ who is available for comment, or you may score a listing in a publication like Margaret Gee’s Media Guide, which is a standard resource for journalists looking for comment on pretty much any subject.

About the most you can hope for is an accurate attribution to your quotes, with your name and the name of your business. Think of this as a long term project — every time you get mentioned in the press you are building a profile for yourself which, over time, may result in a tangible benefit for your business. In my case it took about eight or nine years before a media profile gave me a tangible boost to my business. That might seem like too long to wait, but I believe it was well worth the effort.

You can ask for their copy before publication in some cases.

Innocent quotes can be placed out of context

A problem I have had is that you may speak to a journalist for over half an hour, explaining the finer points of the industry, only to find yourself quoted in two small paragraphs, totally out of context. This can give you the appearance of saying something quite different from what you intended, especially if the lead-in to your comment is on a different subject to the one you were commenting about. I have cringed at the way some of my comments have been used to support some angle of hidden agenda that you were entirely unaware of at the time of the interview.

I have taken to asking journalists to send me any quotes they intend to publish, so I can check them before they are made public. Most are happy to comply, provided you make this clear at the start of the interview.

Ultimately, we need them and they need us, and if you take the right attitude and persist, a beneficial win/win can be forged over time.