I’ve been and am on both sides of the desk. I’m a nationally published food and travel writer and an award-winning magazine food section editor. I’m always receiving press releases and media invitations for a plethora of food and travel related industry events. I also co-own a boutique food communications company with my husband, which means that very often, I’m the one sending out those very releases. As the PR/communications industry gets savvy to the power of a well-written blog, bloggers have started to join in on the events and some of the perks of being part of the media cloud. But this comes with some expectations; you know the saying: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
It depends on who you speak to, but after asking around, the great bulk of my communications colleagues will agree that if you say yes to attending an event, be prepared to be asked where the piece will be published and when. The same rule applies to me as a writer when I say yes to a press junket to a far-off destination or to a restaurant opening in my home town.
I asked my colleagues the ultimate question: WHY? Here’s the bottom line: someone (the event sponsor, restaurant owner, chef, baker, cheese maker etc…) had to pay for the event. All of the wonderful freebies you received - be it in the form of a multi-course meal and beverages, take- home gifts, samples or the experiences of a curated affair - meant that someone had to organize the event, arrange the details and pay for what hopefully turned out to be a delicious, good time.
Unlike other branches of PR (politics, strategic planning etc.), most food PR is fairly straightforward. If event x doesn’t sound like a fit for you, your philosophy or your blog, you have every right to decline with a simple “No thank you, I cannot make it. Thank you for the invitation.” (You’d be amazed at how few even bother responding to an invitation – considered common courtesy in all of our other social aspects of life). When media attend an event, be it bloggers or traditional media, whether they’ll admit it or not, most PRs will remember who did what. It is after all, our job to report back to our clients with media hits - it’s partly what we’re paid to do.
But I’m not here to get into the finer points of writer professionalism. I’d like instead to offer you some tips on how to take a blanket press release and create a blog posting/piece that is unique from every other blogger invited to a function. One reason many of us on the communications side constantly get for not posting: “Too many people covered this already.” A weak argument given that it takes two minutes to think of an angle that’s tailored to your site and that’s unique.
Let’s assume that you’re going to a new restaurant launch. It’s a hot new place, new menu, new chef, new décor. Experience has shown me that 95% of bloggers will write a review of the menu and evening, describing what they liked and didn’t, why, and why you should or shouldn’t go there. The best blogs tell an engaging story. Good writers are story-tellers, no matter what the medium.
Here’s how to take a basic release and make the “story” your own:
- Ask the PR rep if you can interview the chef (very few bloggers at any of my events ever have) regarding his/her culinary philosophy, why he/she chooses to make a dish a certain way, who taught him/her to adjust the dish and does it speak to where he/she was raised or born? In multi-cultural Canada- this angle is a treasure trove of riches.
- Some bloggers like to get into the culinary history of a dish to provide a different angle. I’ve seen clever bloggers do this and then get asked by mainstream, paying publications to write a similar story for them! It pays to think outside of the release!
- If your blog focuses on local, sustainable fare, take that as your lead and ask if the restaurant supports local farmers, food producers, fishermen and highlight a recipe or two that stuck with you (ask for the one that you loved most if it’s not in your media kit - we’re here to help you!). If you know that they don’t adhere to your principals/ideals before the event date, again, say “No thank you” and don’t waste your time or theirs.
- Turn a product launch/event and make it your own story. A new Jamaican hot sauce release can turn into “How to Throw a Caribbean Party Jamaican Style” for example with the help of the expert behind the sauce and the chef who created a few recipes with said sauce. Guaranteed you’ll be the only blog to have that angle. (FYI- “How To’s “ are enormously popular with traditional magazines- something else to think about and use as a “pitch” should you want to go that route).
- A product launch or grand opening might be the perfect entry into asking the experts about anything related to what you’re tasting, experiencing or learning about. For example, a bakery opening could turn into a blog about “Throwing the Perfect Tea Party.” Yes, it takes a bit of time to come up with something unique, but chances are, your blog will also benefit from hits because your voice, angle and experience are unique. And traditional publication editors DO read blogs, so if your approach or treatment appeals, you might hear a few more bucks drop into your own coffers!
About the Author:
Mary Luz Mejia is a Gemini-nominated food TV producer and director, food and travel writer, the associate editor of Canada’s award-winning national travel magazine, Ensemble Travel and food communications specialist. She’s worked as a journalist at the CBC, in documentary and lifestyle programming in the US and in Canada, and has travelled to almost 30 countries in the process. A self-professed cookbook nerd who has penned hundreds of food articles, her work has appeared in enRoute, Ensemble Vacations, Canadian Living.com, The Toronto Star, Edible Toronto and Toronto Life to name a few.