Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Media and Canadian Antiques - Why Our Stories Aren't Being Told

As some of you know, my professional life away from antiques, for the last fifteen years at least, has been spent as a media relations specialist.  My clients, mostly Canadian start up companies, retain my services to help build profile in the media. By profile I mean "editorial coverage", stories written about their new product or service appearing, ideally, in major Canadian media outlets like the Globe and Mail, or in one of the Post Media newspapers in major cities across the country.

Last week, I attended the 25th anniversary of a client's business. The Chairman, Michel, gave a very touching short talk about the risk he took starting his contract manufacturing company and he recalled how in the early days he and his wife spent evenings after work cleaning the offices while their one year old son watched from a play pen they had brought in for that purpose.

Eight years ago Michel called me out of sheer frustration. The local paper in our city had published a feature section on manufacturing in the community.  Michel's company was not even mentioned. We began to work together, identifying his stories and getting them to the media. The next year the same feature was published, Michel was on the front cover portrayed in a major story that included a large colour photograph of him - above the fold!

I mention this example because it demonstrates that a good story, given to the right reporter at the right time can generate important editorial coverage.  Now ask yourself a question - who saw this story? Well, Michel certainly did and loved it. His employees saw it and felt proud. His Board of Directors saw it. Some of his customers saw it and were impressed. The Chamber of Commerce folks likely saw it. And, it's quite likely that government officials and elected representatives saw it.

Coverage like that creates awareness, understanding and, most importantly, influence.
Which brings me to the intersection of the media and Canadian antiques.
Simply put, the mainstream media in Canada provide next to no coverage of Canadian antiques.  Why? Because precious few organizations and individuals are providing them on an ongoing basis with story ideas, news releases, suggestions, letters to the editor, guest columns, editorials and photographs.  Do you think my friend's company would have been featured in the newspaper if I or some one else hadn't brought it to their attention? Not a chance!

Industry associations, unions, not for profit organizations, corporations, government - they are all in touch with the media in this country practically on a daily business.  And, if you're in touch with the media, the law of averages dictate that you are going to obtain some editorial coverage for your particular story.

As an industry, as individuals, Canadian antique collectors and dealers are not in touch with the mainstream media therefore stories about Canadian antiques are not going to receive coverage.

It also follows, as the day does the night, that if you have no coverage, you have little or no influence.  Let's be blunt. Media coverage has influence on our politicians - at all levels.  Big, national stories are read by all of us including federal elected representatives.  Smaller stories are read by elected representatives at the local level, your municipality or township. Elected representatives are sensitive to stories in their domain because the coverage can influence, drum roll please, voters. And voters, after all, are the people that put them in that precious elected office they hold in the first place.

The stakeholders of Canada's material history, our museums and art galleries, and us - collectors of material history are caught in the worst possible position.  We have no influence. And, that in large measure, is because, as I said, we have no media coverage!  To make matters worse, without influence, it's relatively easy to cut these organization's budgets. I mean, after all, who cares!  The budget cutters and the policy makers know that there is no down side - at least as far as any resulting media coverage. They can make their cuts and save their concern for the services that are more "sensitive" to media scrutiny.

So, what's the end result in terms of media coverage? Well, the media reacts to whomever and whatever appears before their editors. And as of late they must be having chats with a lot of designers because all they seem to be covering is ultramodern design - interior and exterior. If I read one more article about the minimalist design of some stark, flat topped, cube like house or condo covered with corrugated steel, acrylic stucco and some sort of black exterior paneling with interiors that are so frigid looking, you'd feel uncomfortable visiting for ten minutes let along living in them, I am going to burn a set of blueprints on the steps of City Hall! Pretty soon these developers and designers will have us all living in 600 square foot condos that resemble aquariums without water. No thanks!
Antique collectors and dealers unite! Some group must come together and focus on doing something to generate media coverage of Canadian material history in a significant way. But to do that we need stories and promotional ideas that will generate coverage.

Here's a few that occurred to me. Take a Canadian antique armoire in original paint and stand at the corner of Yonge and Bloor and invite passers by to guess it's age and where it came from. That's a photo opportunity for the national media. Start a crowd source funding project for a Canadian folk art show - that's a good story. Start a history house tour in your community - that's a good story for local media.  A few collectors could organize a pop up show of antiques and folk art in your neighbourhood - that's a good story.

At the very least, we all should call or email one local reporter with one media outlet who covers the "arts" and ask if you can send them the occasional story idea. I can guarantee you they will say "yes" because all reporters are receptive to story ideas. And, ask them to join or monitor the Canadiana Facebook group. At least in doing that, they can read about a group 484 individuals who obviously feel that Canadian material history is important and vital to the cultural health of this country.

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