IFT Pursues Headlines, Provides Content
Media relations, like communications, is a science often masked by artful influence. Under casual observation, innocuous interaction among journalists, news outlets, and media relations practitioners may at times seem hardly scientific. But the contact among these parties is, in many cases, precise, planned, and calculated, and the results can be measured.
Take, for instance, the intentional circulation of information offered during one technical session at the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® last year. The topic of food marketing trends was of no major interest to the news media in general, as seen by reporters’ absence from the audience. But recognizing that newsworthy data may likely be revealed during the session, the IFT staff covered it and afterward strategically distributed the data addressed there.
Five months later, the story was still making the news. On December 9, the NBC-TV affiliate in Omaha aired its feature on the teens-to-20-year-olds consumer crowd and its impact on food consumption. Deemed the Millennials in this report and in the original technical session, this market segment was featured significantly in the report, and the IFT Annual Meeting was identified as site for the data release. As a Top 100 market, Omaha’s WOWT Ch. 6 signal reaches nearly 400,000 television homes. This news topic, originated during the IFT Annual Meeting, aired on newscasts of other television stations in Texas and North Carolina and was covered by a trade publication and daily newspapers in Kansas and Washington.
A preliminary conversation with a major East Coast daily newspaper that, while intriguing, was lighthearted and basically unassuming led to recognition of IFT and two of its members as a significant source of information on food’s ability to assist the body during cold and flu season. Originally published in the Baltimore Sun in November, the resulting article was republished in at least four other major newspapers, eventually circulating among millions of readers in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Ontario, Canada. Comments by Mark Kantor, University of Maryland, and Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, were insightful. "I’m not aware of a strong relationship between a person’s diet and the ability to ward off viruses such as the flu, other than a general overall healthful diet to boost your immune system," said Kantor. Vitamin A "is very important to the immune system," Camire was quoted as saying, and squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, and dark-orange and dark-green vegetables are sources of vitamin A that she suggested. Similarly, yogurts with live or active cultures effectively improve health because "having those bacteria in our bodies does stimulate our immune system (and) helps us ward off food poisoning," she said.
Certainly, like science, media relations is not always predictable, and sometimes that’s a good thing. The outcome was initially modest for efforts by Cornell University to promote an article published in the November/December 2005 issue of IFT’s Journal of Food Science. The study by Ho Jin Heo, Chang Y. Lee, and others of apples’ antioxidant properties and their possible protection against Alzheimer’s disease got the attention of a couple of upstate New York newspapers in November. But interest by news media appeared to wither there. Then February came, and after Lee offered commentary recorded on videotape, word of the JFS-published research made television newscasts from California to Connecticut. IFT has since recorded no fewer than 13 different newscasts on 11 stations in nine different states. The markets covering this news included San Diego, Seattle, and Columbus, Ohio. Combined, those three markets alone boast millions of television viewers. That’s a far cry from the 15,000 people that read The (NY) Daily Messenger, where the story first ran.
Finally, in the December IFT Newsmakers column, I noted that an article referencing Food Technology and based in large part on information within this magazine, was originally published in the August 20, 2004, issue of The Peachtree (Ga.) Citizen Review and spread beyond the single outlet and its 9,000 readers to at least 75 newspapers touting a cumulative circulation of more than 375,000. Those numbers keep growing. Two more newspapers in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have now run the article, bringing its circulation to well more than 400,000 and counting
by JAMES N. KLAPTHOR
Media Relations Manager