WEB EXCLUSIVE — PR 101, pt. 4: What to say when you have nothing (new) to say.

To paraphrase George Gershwin, “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ and Nuttin’s plenty for PR.” The leading man in Porgy and Bess lacked a car or mule, but that was fine wif’ him. Likewise, if you’re seeking publicity but have nothing newsworthy to say, that’s cool.

My last column, Super Superb Superlatives, showed how journalists are always happy to hear about a person, place or thing that is the best, worst, first, last, least or most in its class. They’re eager for Guinness World Records material. Today’s column is the complement, the mirror image: How do you drum up interest when there’s nothing new or world-record-setting to write about?

No problem! If you have a bunch of old but thematically related projects lying about, then, voilà!, press-release fodder is at hand. And if you have great photography and an articulate “talking head” (the firm’s spokesman) from whom to extract quotable quotes, then Bob’s your uncle.

When Peter Berton, partner-in-charge at the Toronto office of +VG Architects (formerly The Ventin Group, Architects), asked me to publicize the firm’s extensive practice in Muskoka cottages, my first thought was to ask which new project he had in mind. “None,” was the answer. He had several cottages in the design process, but none in the final stages of construction. My kneejerk reaction was to advise Peter to wait for “the three F’s”: a project that was finished, furnished and photographed.

Then Peter started flipping through the portfolio sprawled on his desk showcasing striking images of cottages from the firm’s extensive body of built work. They all looked different and addressed the site conditions in diverse and imaginative ways. None of the projects were newsworthy in the strict sense because none was new. Nonetheless, I surmised that this vast and well-photographed output sufficed to present Peter as an authority (or thought-leader, in PR parlance) on cottage design, and I could undertake a media campaign to pitch a cottage-design thought-leader story. Such a vehicle highlights the accumulated wisdom of a leading practitioner in a narrowly defined area of specialization instead of profiling a single new product or project.

I knew just where and when to place this story. On returning to my office, I emailed Shari Kulha, editor of the Homes section in the National Post, to ask if she would be interested in an exclusive feature story on cottage design. I would deliver it in time to run early in the summer. It would be the perfect inspirational story for the time of year when both the temperature and humidity in the big city started to max out, when Post customers would be especially receptive to reading about breezy, leafy fantasy getaways. A study on the design of on cottages, that quintessential Canadian building type, would make a suitably patriotic Canadian-content story to run in time for the Canada Day long weekend. As they say south of the border, the topic was as American as Mom and apple pie. How could the Post say no?

All I needed to flesh out the package, I figured, was a knock-out photo and some poetic image-conjuring quotes from Peter.

The photo we chose was one of those breathtaking shots that force you to linger. When the story ran, it filled the Homes section’s front page and nearly an entire turn page. The photo occupied the entire top, above the fold, the numero uno piece of real estate in a newspaper. It was shot at Peter’s cottage on Little Lake Joseph. The roof’s deep overhang and the angled deck stairs terrace down to frame a dramatic, Tom Thomson-like tableau of a windswept jack pine in front of a five-mile lake view.

As for extracting from Peter the requisite quote with poetic imagery, it comes with the DNA, Peter being the son of Canada’s late literary lion, Pierre Berton. “A cottage is the symbolic divider between the world of the car and the wilderness,” he said. “As you cross the threshold, you should feel a transformation. You are leaving the business world, the highway traffic and your stress behind. You are entering a recreational world of the lake, the sunshine and the breeze.” Ah, pass the Mohitos, Madge.

David Lasker is President of David Lasker Communications and Associate Editor of Canadian Interiors. He can be reached at [email protected].

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