The current economic pinch that many Americans are facing due to declining home values, rising food prices, and soaring gasoline costs is triggering a great deal of coverage in the mainstream press. Along with the doom-and-gloom articles, however, there is also a surge of stories devoted to frugal living, as more consumers economize their means to help make ends meet.
"The number of news pieces devoted to frugality has almost quadrupled in the last three months," notes Melissa Tosetti, editor and publisher of the online magazine Budget Savvy. "This has become an expensive wake-up call for everybody. [As such,] we're seeing a lot more interest in lessons on how to enjoy life, while still being financially responsible."
David Johnson, CEO of Atlanta-based PR firm Strategic Vision, notes that while there are few mainstream outlets that have a dedicated frugality reporter, he is now fielding calls from food editors and consumer reporters looking for experts on stretching a budget, shopping online, and saving on gas costs.
"The biggest thing reporters want right now are tips, such as top five or top 10 lists on how to save money," he adds.
Frugality is a challenging media category for many publications in which to survive, as evidenced by the 2006 folding of Budget Living after it failed to catch on with consumers.
However, Larry Roth, the author of numerous books on frugality and the former editor of the now defunct Cheap Living News, suggests this time around might be different, though he adds that the mainstream media might have some catching up to do first.
"These gas prices came up so quickly that many people - and reporters - are still in shock and are hoping that it's temporary," he says. "So right now you are seeing a lot of what I call 'phony frugality,' such as offers from car companies to guarantee new buyers will pay only $2.99 a gallon gas for several years. That's really not going to work."
Along with "news it can use," Tosetti says that the audience for frugal advice is also looking for an upbeat and proactive tone. "The main thing we try to create is a positive atmosphere on our site, because we don't want people to feel sad about trying to make ends meet," she says.
Johnson stresses that frugality stories need more than just advice from experts.
"A lot of reporters are coming to us saying that if their audience isn't already in a tight economic situation, they're concerned they're going to be next," he says. "If it's a piece on how to cut the costs of grocery bills, journalists want you to also provide that family of four who can verify that these are tips that really do work."
Many clients don't want to be attached to doom-and-gloom stories, so PR pros need to make sure that their pitches on frugality and cutting costs are upbeat in tone and proactive on advice
There are frugality angles for a lot of consumers stories, so don't limit your pitches to personal finance or consumer reporters
Frugality stories need a human face, so make sure that you're also providing reporters with access to real-world families who can attest that your client's budget-saving solutions really are effective