Media, Darling: Alison Eastwood

Born and raised in the U.K., Alison helped launch Hello! Canada in 2006, and was promoted to editor-in-chief  this past summer. Prior, she was executive editor of Weekly Scoop. She also has many years’ experience as an award-winning business journalist and editor, and graduated from England’s York University several lifetimes ago with a B.A. in English Literature. At home, (PR friends take note!) she has a man, three daughters and a dog.
Twitter: @HelloCanada, @AlisonEastwood

How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
Send an email with a non-cryptic subject line (e.g. “Gala evening starring Michael Bublé” or ”Interview opportunity with Jennifer Lopez”) and, if you feel you must, follow up with a package. (Sending the package first is a bad idea because it gives me the impression that it’s not time-sensitive.)

Keep the message as brief as possible and lead with why it’s important for the magazine.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! If you know the different sections of our magazine (and what types of stories we’ve run in the past month), I will be impressed.
I will be even more impressed if you understand that human interest always comes first at Hello!, and don’t try to force an “industry” pitch at me.

If you can convey the news WITHOUT a clunky attachment or a video link, that’s a definite bonus. Often I’m looking at these things on my BlackBerry. And please incorporate the press release into the body of the message; we don’t really have time to bother with Word docs.

An unusual gift WILL grab our attention. This morning I received a chair! But, while it looks cute in my office, it doesn’t make us any more likely to follow up or feature it, as we are not an interior design magazine. The PR company could have customized the pitch to Hello!, offering to loan out some of their pieces as props for photo shoots, for example. But they didn’t. Thus, a missed opportunity. (Although my art director is enjoying the catalogue.)

Do a little journalism yourself: find out and remember salient personal details about “your” editors and writers. I’m surprised and flattered when a PR person asks after my three daughters or remembers the neighbourhood I live in. (Don’t try to unearth too much detail though – that would be creepy!) I know two or three PRs who excel in this area (personal touch, not creepiness-wise). Not only will they remember little details about you but they will also earmark events that may appeal to you because of your lifestyle rather than your publication (e.g. a star-studded kids’ Christmas party; a sale at your favourite designer’s store).

What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Pitch either first thing in the morning or after 6 p.m., and you’re more likely to get a considered response.

For me, the phone is flat-out inadvisable, as you can be sure you’ll be calling at a bad time. (And I’m usually better at returning emails than voice mails.) And it applies to many of the editorial staff at Hello!. As one of my co-workers pointed out the other day, “talking on the phone is a foreign concept to any journalist under 30.”

If, however, it’s top secret and a big exclusive for the mag, or if you’d like to invite us for lunch or dinner, phone is fine! But PLEASE tell me the reason you’re calling in your voice mail, and follow up (or tease) via email.

Be conscientious rather than relentless. In other words, if you haven’t heard back, don’t be afraid to email or phone one more time. (Your initial inquiry might have landed in the middle of deadline and been missed.)

What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
Belligerently arguing the case, telling me it’s for the good of the magazine, when I’ve already politely declined. My biggest tip? If we’ve said no, LET IT GO. Do not preach at us or judge us. We know what’s best for our magazine. That’s why we, rather than you, work at the magazine.

Not bothering to customize pitches to fit the publication. And, worse, not knowing the publication at all – e.g. pitching an “expert” to write a column. (There are no columns in Hello!)

On a related topic, please don’t make me rack my brains trying to think of how I could rejig your idea to fit into my magazine. Do the work yourself. Present it to me so it already fits the magazine!

“Blitzing” the entire editorial team with the same pitch. Or pitching another writer/editor when one of us has already passed on the idea. It makes PR professionals look bad when they try to do an “end-run” around an editor or writer by going over (or under) their heads. We are a team! We talk to each other! We can see around corners! We know what you’re doing!

Out-of-date media lists.

One-size-fits-all press releases that have no personal touch.

One-size-fits-all press releases that pretend to have a personal touch but get it wrong – e.g. to the editor of Hello! magazine: “As editor of The National Post, we feel it would be a perfect fit for your publication.” (Misplaced modifiers are one my pet peeves. See below for more.)

My pet peeve:
Misspellings in press releases, like “sneak peak,” drive me insane and the sender loses credibility in my eyes.

Environment-killing missives. By this I mean a huge box full of packing materials that contains only a press release, CD and T-shirt.

Press release CDs and USB sticks. I don’t look at them; I throw them away.

As a relatively new editor-in-chief of Hello! Canada (but as someone who has been with the magazine since its inception), I hate being asked patronizingly “where were you before?” (See “DO YOUR HOMEWORK,” above.)

Cold calls that begin like telemarketing calls: “Good afternoon, Ms. Eastwood, how are you?” My response is usually “I’m very well thank you. WHO are you?”

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Don’t be put off if we turn down a pitch – we may well take you up on the very next one. (At the same time, though, if we have specific listed reasons for turning it down, use it as a learning experience for the next time.)

Please try to keep your interactions light and playful and show me that you have a sense of humour; this is the entertainment industry, after all.

The journalist-PR relationship is a symbiotic one: if I know and like you, chances are I will pay more attention to whatever you’re pitching. At the same time, we know you need to share the wealth among all publications and that we need to make an effort, too. Thus, we are always open to getting to know our PR friends – especially in a more informal setting!