MEDIA ROUNDUP: Massive audience is always hungry for love stories

With 85 million singles in the US, dating is now a national pastime. And even though coverage of the single life is often targeted at women, David Ward finds that sex sells wherever there's a success story to tell.

With 85 million singles in the US, dating is now a national pastime. And even though coverage of the single life is often targeted at women, David Ward finds that sex sells wherever there's a success story to tell.

In what may be a sign of impending apocalypse, the once-discreet and personal rite of dating in America has suddenly evolved into a national spectator sport. From the 26 million people who watched the final episode of the second season of The Bachelor TV series, to the millions who made dating and relationship guides such as The Rules a best-seller, Americans' already strong fascination with how people meet and fall in love seems to growing. As a result, news outlets from TV, radio, print, and the internet are now eager to present stories on the courtship ritual. While there remain few outlets with a reporter dedicated to singles or relationships, Seale Ballenger, VP and publicity director with Pocket Books, says pitching relationship and dating authors and experts is relatively easy these days, especially when it comes to television. "Everybody from the Today show and Oprah to news magazines like Dateline and 20/20 is now interested," he says. "We're talking to reporters all year long," adds Brian Payea, director of PR for Matchmaker.com, one of several online dating services that has been covered in both the lifestyle and business press. "There are seasonal trends that run through the holidays and leading up to Valentine's Day, but it's definitely an evergreen story." A huge audience actively on the lookout Part of what fuels love and dating stories is the robust potential audience. There are currently about 85 million single adults in the US, with most of them presumably either actively on the lookout to find their life mate or despairing that they haven't found Mr. or Ms. Right. What's more, the other half - the demographic Bridget Jones's Diary dubbed the "smug marrieds" - remains interested in dating trends long after they've left the singles scene. "The media wants something with sizzle," says Jeff Owens, who handles both publicity and business for relationship expert John Gray, whose mega-selling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus has spawned several sequels, the website Marsvenus.com, and other ventures. "Sex and dating is always a hot topic, so in the news-information business, you want something about sex in your headlines," says Owens, who notes that with such a high profile, Gray can now afford go to only the largest media outlets, where he can reach the most people. One of the difficulties, however, is that while love may be eternal, the rituals that surround dating seem to change dramatically every decade. One of the biggest trends is recent years has been the rise of online dating services such as Matchmaker.com, Lavalife.com, and Match.com. While they've been covered as part of that story, Kathleen Roldan, director of dating for Match.com, says company spokespeople also try to position the site as an expert source on relationships in general. "We've been quoted as an expert source, and we've also been contacted for our research," she says. "We're constantly doing surveys and noting the criteria people are looking for in others on the site. For these consumer-focused stories, we're targeting feature and lifestyle editors, and providing them with a lot of the information on what it's like to be single." Women are more attentive Coverage of love and dating does tend to have a bit of a gender bias in that the bulk of the stories are aimed at women. Dating information for men can be found through nationally syndicated radio hosts like Tom Leykis, as well as coverage of books such as How to Have Success with Women. And Matchmaker.com's Payea points out that there are increasing opportunities in lifestyle outlets such as Men's Health, Maxim, and FHM, adding, "They'll run a good story idea, but they'll write it from a different angle." But a lot of love and dating coverage stems from books published by experts such as Gray and The Rules co-authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. And as Ballenger points out, "The women's media is what generates and promotes the sales of these books." Love and dating is also a journalistic category that lends itself well to the talk format. For relationship and dating experts who are just building a following or promoting a book, Jane Wesman, president of New York-based Jane Wesman Public Relations, says she prefers to target radio. "Our first shots are to syndicated shows and NPR, then shows in the larger markets, and we work down from there." Even if you don't have a spokesperson or author available, Roldan says you can still get ample radio coverage by funneling stories to news services, such as Wireless Flash, which get picked up by drive-time announcers in markets across the country. For relationship experts that already have a huge following, television is the ideal medium. Owens says Gray has shot as many as six weeks' worth of Oprah episodes at once. "We also had a great relationship with Politically Incorrect," says Owens, "so all we had to say was that John's available, and they'd say, 'Great, when can he be here?'" The media is increasingly looking for testimonials that support a particular dating strategy or philosophy. "A lot of reporters want anecdotes, but they're also looking for balance," says Payea. "So if they interview people who definitely made a match, they also want people who've got some other types of stories to share." Ballenger suggests that PR people do all they can to line up the testimonials in advance. "Any time you can present the whole package to the media, it's that much easier," he says, "because you've done all the work for them. I had an author do 20/20, and one of the reasons we got on was that we presented the idea for the segment to them along with two case studies of couples where it worked." Payea points out that such a strategy can also be employed to localize a national trend story. "We have an ongoing dialogue with our users, and most are eager to share their success. So a great way to publicize that is with the local media in their area," he says. While this area has relatively few dedicated beat reporters, the leading journalists covering various aspects of love and dating are Nancy Ann Jeffrey and Eleena De Lisser of The Wall Street Journal; Diane Daniel of The Boston Globe; Kathleen Kelleher of the Los Angeles Times' Birds & Bees column; Loveline radio show co-hosts Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinksy; and syndicated columnist and author Carolyn Hax. Journalists will join the mix Given that even journalists need love, Roldan says a lot of reporters end up putting themselves in the middle of a dating story by trying a service or dating strategy. "We just had five segments on The View where one of their producers tried online dating through Match.com." And while it's not as easy as other journalism beats, Roldan says it's also possible to piggyback on breaking-news stories, noting that the site released a survey that was timed around the release of the movie version of Bridget Jones's Diary. ----------- Where to go Newspapers The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, New York Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times Magazines Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, FHM, Sassy, Men's Health, YM, Cosmo Girl, Stuff, Gear, GQ, Details, Esquire, Out, Girlfriends, Instinct, Metro, Source TV & Radio Wireless Flash (news service), Lifetime, Oxygen, Oprah, The View, Good Morning America, national and local drive time FM radio, Today, Dateline, 20/20, NPR, Loveline Internet AOL, MSNBC, Yahoo! Personals, Matchmaker.com, Match.com, Lavalife.com, Salon.com, Gay.com, Planetout.com, Nerve.com, Datalounge.com

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