de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). Monkey Buisiness. LMD. February 2008. Page 130.Volume 14, Issue 07. ISSN 1391-135X.
The importance of a story-line for capturing international media interest.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne on the importance of pitching the right story line
“Monkeys” I said to Shiran Gunawardena, the Marketing Manager of Sigiriya Village. “Monkeys, are your only chance of getting international press coverage’. Shiran’s jaw dropped as this was not the answer he was expecting from me. Well perhaps I was exaggerating slightly. The Sigiriya Village is a lovely property set in a parkland environment with plenty of trees and shade and close views of the Sigiriya Rock. Its one of my favourite hotels in the Sigiriya area and one which certainly warrants a mention in any travel article covering the Sigiriya area. However I was exaggerating to a degree as one often does to amplify a point. But I was not totally far from the truth either. Yes, certainly a hotel of decent standard will be included in the property listings in a travel article. But how do you court the international press to make your property the centerpiece of a story?
Shiran was visiting Jetwing Travels on a regular sales call and though he would take the opportunity to pick my brains. I could see that my unconventional response had him a little surprised. A lovely property is not necessarily a great story, unless there is an interesting history to it or some other aspect of what it does or what it excels in. With Sigiriya Village, I had been taking international press and TV crews because it had a story line which would capture the interest of people world-wide. Monkeys.
A few months earlier I had visited with Juliet Coombe who contributes a regular feature to Serendib, the in-flight magazine of Sri Lankan (airlines). She ran a story on primate safaris. Just a few weeks before Shiran’s visit, I had visited with a film crew from ArtTV. We were filming the first few episodes of a travel and wildlife series which they wanted me to present. We had spent several hours filming the social dynamics of two troops of Hanuman Langur. A large, grey monkey with a sinuously long tail. A black face with a hint of purple, eyelashes long enough to twist into a pony tail and eyes so soulful that you read the evolutionary history of humankind within them. Oh… and so like us. Primates have something about them. Something which captivates and absorbs. They are us. A mirror to a wilder past. Amusing, entertaining, savage.
I thumbed through a file of press cuttings. Several from the Times, a newspaper in the UK with a large following from the business community and the intelligentsia. Magazines such as Codnenaste Traveller and Wanderlust, with high circulations and a high end readership. But sadly magazines in which the struggling tourism industry cannot afford to advertise in. But there is a way in. Not with a paid advertisement of a 1/16th page which a Rupee denominated budget can manage, but to get several pages of quality editorial coverage. The press cutting in the file had one thing in common. Primates. Even the term ‘primates’ is not familiar to Sri Lankans. Primates is an all encompassing term which covers gorillas, humans, monkeys, lemurs, tarsiers, lorises, etc. The developed countries in particular are fascinated by primates and more and more mass market tour operators are using images of primates in their advertising and brochure covers. Although sixty or more Sri Lankan travel companies may attend events such as the World Travel Market (WTM) in London or ITB in Berlin, they fail to notice the trends in the consumer market. They also fail to realize the story lines that they should be pitching to the best journalists.
In February 2007, my colleague Sanjiva Gautamadasa and I pitched two story lines to Dan Linstead, the new Editor of Wanderlust. Elephants and primates. Dan liked the idea and subsequently Liz Matthews the Associate Editor visited Vil Uyana in Sigiriya. Vil Uyana is an exciting property and an interesting story. But to get it and Sigiriya into the British press, our best chance with this magazine was with the primates and elephants, especially The Gathering (of Elephants) which was taking place in August during the visit by Liz Matthews. The writer certainly did cover other aspects of Sri Lanka as well, including trekking in the Knuckles. However what got them hooked was the two key stories we offered. In a few months from now, Sri Lanka will get a few pages of editorial content which we could not have bought through advertising. Curious as it may seem, hoteliers in Sigirya should take more seriously the idea of monkey business.
Accountant & Banker turned wildlife populariser, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne lobbies for progress. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.