As buyers and sellers connect via internet, more media is focusing on the collecting of memorabilia. However, pitches that win over reporters are sometimes more about the owners than the items.The mention of antiques and collectibles often conjures up images of wealthy and somewhat eccentric collectors of old pottery and furniture, or perhaps the nerdy hoarders of stamps, coins, and figurines.
But collecting is far more pervasive than one might think, and its profile has risen dramatically in recent years. There are literally hundreds of categories - from ancient vases to matchbooks, ceramic gnomes, and Flintstones lunch boxes - with an enthusiastic following eager to read, watch, or listen to anything they can find about their hobbies.
As a journalism field, the antiques and collectibles area has benefited from the growing fascination with memorabilia - most notably, the home run balls hit by sluggers Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds that generated news in both the sports and front pages. Collecting has even had its own well-publicized scandal that resulted in a guilty verdict against former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman on charges he conspired to fix prices with supposed competitor Christie's.
All this has been a boon to the journalists who gravitated to this niche beat only to find it becoming a mass-market sector in a hurry. Some of the credit for that can be attributed to the surprising popularity of television programs such as Antiques Roadshow. Paul Royka, one of the original appraisers on the show who still occasionally participates today, says, "Nobody new how big it was going to be. It went from zero to 16 million viewers in a few years."
While the major auction houses now clamor to get their appraisers on the show, Royka, who runs Appraisal Day Auction House in Lunenburg, MA, says the show producers tend to operate without a huge PR component. He does concede, however, that the show has helped his visibility, but insists, "The same clients would have come to you anyway."
Antiques Roadshow's formula for success - get a professional appraiser to evaluate items that average people find in their basements or attics - is now being replicated in other media. Sharon Korbeck, editor of Antique Trader magazine, says, "A lot of magazines like Country Living or Country Home, and even some major newspapers, have syndicated columns with Q&As (on the value of antiques),
she says. "It's made the mass media more aware of what antiques can be worth. But there's also a lot of misinformation out there."
The celebrity hook
Added to that has been the growing media interest in commemorative coins and plates, especially those linked to major celebrities or events. "With Princess Diana, there were collectibles before, but her passing increased the audience for them, as well as the media's appetite for stories about them,
explains Gwynne Gorr, VP of programming development at Franklin Mint, which produces coins, figurines, and other collectibles. "It was similar when Dale Earnhardt passed away a year ago."
Perhaps the biggest change in the antiques and collectibles world has been the rise of the internet and its ability to match up buyers and sellers from around the world. "The accessibility and convenience of the internet has extended further awareness of collecting to the general consumer,
points out Dan Orsborn, partner and general manager of Porter Novelli's Los Angeles office.
But the internet has also had a huge impact on the journalism that surrounds collecting.
"Antique Trader was founded 40 years ago as a shopper, and it used to have hundreds of pages of nothing but ads,
explains Korbeck. "With the advent of the internet, a lot of those advertisers have moved online.
In order to survive as a print-based publication, it has forced us to make our content essential to the readers. The people who may be buying or selling their stuff online still need to know where to get the information on the stuff they're buying."
Middle-class market growth
Most of these changes have occurred among middle-class collectors and the journalists who follow them. Levi Morgan, director of public relations for San Francisco-based Butterfields auction house, says the high-end antiques market has remained the same. There are about 20 or 30 key fine-arts and antiques reporters, he says, working at a variety of outlets ranging from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, to glossies such as Art & Antiques, all the way to boutique publications such as Maine Antique Digest.
Among the most influential journalists are Arts & Antiques editor-in-chief Barbara Tapp, Antique Trader's Korbeck, Wendy Moonan of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal's Brooks Barnes, and Antiques Roadshow host Daniel Elias.
Korbeck adds that many of the articles that appear in antique and collectible publications are contributed by experts in a particular field who have little or no journalism experience. Unfortunately, that means the quality of the writing is often erratic, or the pieces are heavily edited before they reach the page.
Morgan suggests that the real public relations rewards come from preaching to the unconverted. "The joy from a PR point of view is that at the metro desk of any major newspaper, you can usually find someone interested in writing about arts, antiques, or collecting who is not normally on that beat,
he says. "It may be a crime writer who is interested in a story about an auction of antique arms. I often have more success pitching stories to non-fine-arts writers than fine-arts writers, who can be a little bit jaded."
Other public relations pros concur, adding that sometimes the pitch may not focus on the item, but rather its owner. Ketchum Los Angles account supervisor Dimitri Czupylo says, "A local journalist will discover a local collector with an amazing story to tell, such as three generations of Barbie collectors."
Ketchum and client Mattel are currently working on the rerelease of a collectible version of Malibu Barbie. In part because Barbie has such a strong emotional pull for many American women, the campaign has been able to reach far beyond niche doll-collecting publications, and into the mainstream press.
"There's a lot of interest across many different outlets, from the fashion magazines to the traditional women's books,
Czupylo explains. "Many of the journalists we're dealing with for the Malibu Barbie rerelease are women who grew up playing with the doll,
"They get very excited about the story, and the first thing they ask is, 'Please send me a doll as soon as you get them.'"
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; LA Times; The Washington Post; Miami Herald; Chicago Tribune
Magazines: Christie's; Antiques; Art & Antiques; Art & Auction; Antique Trader; COINage; Dolls; Country Living; Country Home; Architectural Digest; Architecture; Worth; Forbes; Redbook; Maine Antique Digest
Trade titles: Toy Fare; Toy Shop; Lee's Action Figure News & Toy Review; Tomart's Action Figure Digest; Coin Prices; Numismatic News; World Coin News; Doll Reader; Doll Collector; Post Card Collector; Collector's Mart
TV & Radio: Antiques Roadshow; Incurable Collector; HGTV; QVC; Home Shopping Network
Websites: Maloneysonline.com; Collect.com; Ebay.com; Kovels.com; Collectorsonline.com.