As home d?cor TV shows grow in prominence, David Ward finds that many PR pros are looking to take advantage of the resulting media coverage of the latest home trendsOne of the many cultural effects of 9/11 was a new understanding of the concept of home. As the media had it, the terror attacks immediately spawned the "nesting" phenomenon as part of a perceived return to traditional values. That was followed by coverage of the more recent "hiving" trend - the tendency for Americans to bring friends into their homes to entertain instead of going out on the town. But the biggest media gift to furniture makers, lighting companies, and other home d?cor product companies is the current boom in home-related TV programming. From This Old House to Extreme Makeover Home Edition, living spaces are the hot category on TV. And though many of these shows don't focus exclusively on home furnishings, most showcase the latest in track lighting or bedroom sets in ways that make fetishes of home renovation and products. PR challenges The challenge facing home-furnishing companies is that many of these shows are hard, if not impossible, to pitch in the traditional PR sense, as most of the products featured on-air are tied to a formal promotional arrangement. "I don't know how to crack that nut other than being a paid sponsor," says Jodi O'Neill, senior account executive with Cleveland-based Landau Public Relations, which represents Kichler Lighting. Jennifer Green, VP and account supervisor with Dallas-based Michael A. Burns & Associates, says the producers of the home makeover shows are now well-aware of the clout they carry in the home-furnishings industry. "It's becoming harder and harder to have TV shows rent furniture from retailers as they did in the past," says Green, who represents furniture-maker American Leather and high-end home-furnishings retailer Cantoni. "Instead, they expect it to be donated because so many companies are willing to do that." Caitlin Dowe-Sandes, VP with Clifford Public Relations, which represents Jeffco: J. Peterman Furniture Collection and Elite Leather, says she finds these shows are much better outlets for personalities than products. "We put less emphasis on getting products or pieces on a show and more on getting our experts on there to talk about home-furnishing trends," she says. There's also some concern that the home-makeover phenomenon, like a lot of other TV trends, might end as quickly as it began. But Jeanne Byington, president of New York-based JM Byington & Associates, says the category of home-related TV shows is likely to have some real staying power. "We've never had television that is this inexpensive for producers to make," she says. "It doesn't have to be the perfect house, the people involved are not actors, and you don't have to negotiate to be let inside the doors since everyone is clamoring to have their houses done. So the only real question is whether there are enough advertising dollars and viewers to support them all." Increased media coverage O'Neill says while the shows haven't been a boon to PR pros, the one positive trend that shows like Extreme Makeover Home Edition and Trading Spaces have is that they're heightening awareness of home-themed stories among other media. "Many editors are increasing their coverage of home d?cor because their readers are simply more aware of these elements," she says. Danielle Mackey, VP of consumer products in the Washington, DC, office of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, says where this growth is really apparent is in magazines. "We're seeing a lot of additional specialty and regional publications," she says. "There are new magazines, such as Cottage Living, which focuses on smaller homes, or Western Interiors and Design, which recruited a lot of its editorial staff from Architectural Digest and has already won awards for content." There are also new home related spin-offs, such as Oprah Winfrey's O at Home, InStyle Home, and an upcoming home-themed magazine from the editors of Lucky. And Green notes the traditional "shelter books," such as Metropolitan Home, Elle d?cor, and House & Garden, still carry a lot of clout, especially among higher-end retailers and furniture designers. "Part of our job is to find out what Metropolitan Home is working on and whether or not we can provide them with products to use in a photo shoot," Green says, adding that most of these outlets have lengthy lead times and do their own photography. Missy Cohan, account coordinator with Access Communications, also points out that some clients can benefit from media attention, even if it's not a home d?cor story. Her client California Closets, for instance, received a flood of consumer and media interest after the MTV show Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica featured the celebrity couple redoing the closets in their home. Pitching... home d?cor
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