Special Media, Darling post: Holidays

For the holiday season, we thought it would be fun to ask some of our previous Media, Darlings how they’ll be spending their holidays. Here are a few of the answers, we’ll post more next Thursday!
Nathalie Atkinson

 Nathalie and her sister.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

Personally, I love wrapping presents. I have a bit of a stationery and wrapping paper problem in that I amass a lot of the stuff, more than I can use. (Especially the individual printed paper sheets at DeSerres, when they go on sale.) I could be wrapping and wrapping and wrapping all year long – I find it really relaxing, sort of methodical and meditative. Slowing down and doing that is my favourite part of such a consumer season. I wrap everything that goes into every stocking, all my extended family’s presents to each other, but that’s still not enough, so now I even offer to do it for my friends and their gifts for other people. I’m not exactly Candy Spelling but our rec room is a temporary wrapping workshop right now. I should probably volunteer for the Salvation Army wrap station or something and get it out of my system.

Favourite store to receive a gift from?
In Toronto? My gourmand side says Good Egg in Kensington Market, hands down. There isn’t really anything in that store I don’t love. I cook a lot (see above) and for my birthday last week a very clever friend gave me a book called The Flavour Thesaurus from there; Mika has great taste and is a terrific buyer; I always find things I’ve never seen before, and her staff know their stuff and can help you find the perfect thing for everyone on your list. Whether they’re a foodster or not. It’s a whole lifestyle store.

In Texas? Anything from Specs, the humongous liquor store chain. I collect hard-to-find small batch bourbons and they have aisles of the stuff. It makes my sister’s Christmas gift to me very easy!

How will you spend your time off?
I’ll be in Texas. Baking, swimming, reading and browsing antique and vintage shops around Houston and Austin. It’s all about spending time with my whole family together, which I don’t get to do very often. My father travels overseas a lot and my sister lives in Texas, where my parents have a second home and my mother spends half her time, so we’re really only ever all together at Christmas. Our French heritage really dominates come the holidays and even my father, who’s from England and is therefore mad about all things Christmas in a different way, gets in on the French-Canadian traditions. He’s made the signature tourtières for years (along with his mince meat tarts and the Bûche de Noël), and my very favourite part of the holidays is the last couple of days leading up to Christmas, and in particular, Christmas Eve. 

 The delicious Bûche de Noël

My sister, mother, father and I are all in the kitchen cooking and preparing the snacks, the cookies, the sausage rolls and the meal all day long. The ovens basically run non-stop, the kitchen is as warm as a bakery, and my dad and I compare notes on the craft holiday beer we’re drinking as we cook. And we listen to our favourite Christmas album, which is Kenny and Dolly’s Once Upon a Christmas, over and over, singing along with abandon like goofy lunatics. It’s really fun.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

Growing up, my brother and I had a sleepover every Christmas Eve (sleeping bags and alternating our rooms each year). When we woke up Christmas morning we were allowed to go through our stockings but had to wait until our parents were up to touch the gifts under the tree. The excitement of it all always made me happy and it still stands out as a favourite tradition.

Favourite store to receive a gift from?
That’s a hard one! Indigo has a really amazing selection of stocking stuffers, stationery and home stuff (not to mention all of the books and mags) so I can’t say I’m ever disappointed with something from there.

How will you spend your time off?
I’m heading back to the East Coast to rest, recharge and catch up with friends from home. Halifax can be damp this time of year but there’s nowhere I’d rather be (and then back to Toronto in time to ring in the New Year).

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?
Two weeks before Christmas, buying a tree, setting it up, writing and addressing Christmas cards while watching Bill Murray in Scrooged. (Ed. note: a must-see. Go rent it if you’ve never watched it!).

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?
The nine adults in my family draw names and exchange stockings on Christmas morning. It’s kind of cheesy but doing a lot of small presents for one person is a good way to acknowledge who they are and what they like: specific books, cosmetics, silly stuff, notes, treats. I dig it.
Favourite store to receive a gift from?
Any used book store. I love getting books more than anything. Barring that, Holt Renfrew. 

How will you spend your time off?

I’ll be in suburban New Jersey and New York City at Christmas this year, so I’ll be chasing my nephews and nieces in the snow, and doing the classic Manhattan-at-Christmas stuff. 

Rockefeller Center

Our 100th Post! The Best of Media, Darling

We have raved about dessert before dinner, ranted about TTC etiquette, brought you the latest in cool designer collaborations and taught you how to bake apple pocket pies. We are celebrating our 100th blog post, but we can’t take all the credit. Our most popular posts have been from our friends in the media, with our popular Media, Darling feature.

Media, Darling offers loads of helpful advice to PR professionals from seasoned media experts. If you want to know how to send the perfect pitch or how to avoid the biggest mistakes in PR, check in every Thursday for this must-read blog section.

As we pass our 100th post, we are looking back some of our most popular entries. Here we bring you the best in PR guidance from a few of our most popular Media, Darlings.

On the Fourth Floor: How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
Anita Clarke: First off, pitches that get my attention are, most importantly, relevant to my blog. They are well-crafted and not verbose. All the information I need is usually included in the pitch. 

I love PR companies that use flickr or other storage methods to provide me with all relevant images and press releases, without having to write a reply email. I also love pitches that provide me just the facts and no opinion. I’ve received many pitches where the writer proclaims that I’ll just love the product. That usually makes me more skeptical, as I like to come to these decisions myself.

On the Fourth Floor: What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Kate Carraway: I’ve had success just by contacting the PR’s that handle stuff and people I already care about. It’s also helpful having a personal column with my face on it, because even if the PR doesn’t know that I might care about their client, they might know who I am if they (and they should!) read all the local publications.

On the Fourth Floor: What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Rebecca Zamon: Personality. I know that sounds like an obvious thing in such a people-oriented industry, but if I answer the phone and hear a monotone “Are you the right person to speak to about XYZ?”, it loses my interest right off the bat. Make an effort to be friendly – in general, we’re talking about fun topics, like fashion and food, so it should be easy.

Also, to that end, meeting in person. Whether that means making sure to introduce yourself at a launch, setting up a lunch date to pick my brain about a variety of clients or even just dropping off a press release in person and insisting I come down to get it, that puts a face to the name, and hopefully, creates a camaraderie as well.

There are also some PR folks who I’ve known for years that I can always rely on in a pinch, whether that means a last-minute suggestion for a product, easy access to photos or pointing me in the right direction (even to the competition!) for experts. That’s not something that develops overnight, but if you can build that kind of trust with an editor, it goes a long way.

On the Fourth Floor: What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
Nathalie Atkinson: It’s the same mistake that freelance writers often make pitching to editors: not being a regular reader of the publication you’re pitching to. A pro is familiar with who does what, the ongoing departments, regular features and bylines. It sounds dead obvious but that’s the only way to have any sense of the publication’s character, tone, types of appealing subjects and angles. And if they aren’t regular readers, we can totally tell.

The flip side of this is relying primarily on Google alert and news clipping services to keep track of client placement. It’s not only lazy, it’s hit and miss. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve covered a book, a designer, a product or an event and yet afterward, the publicist is still pitching it like it never happened! This leads to an awkward (them, because they’re embarrassed) and terse (me, because my ego is bruised) exchange that ends with some excuse about “being out of town” or forgetting to pick up the paper just that one time. You should be reading or at least thoroughly skimming all the relevant publications in your field; that’s your job.

Which leads me to graciousness. You pitched, maybe even stalked and nagged, then followed up for weeks, but you can’t take a minute to acknowledge seeing an article after it’s run with a quick email? Oh wait, that’s right, you didn’t see it because you don’t actually read my publication. Sorry, but gotcha. If you don’t read my newspaper, don’t bother pitching me. (‘Cause like I said: we can tell.)

On the Fourth Floor: Your pet peeve?
Noreen Flanagan: Follow-up phone calls with messages: “Just calling to see if you received our email…”. I can appreciate that some emails don’t make it, but for the most part, if an editor doesn’t nibble after receiving your email, it’s because he/she isn’t interested or it isn’t relevant for the book.

Paul Aguirre-Livingston: 1. Yes, you’ve got to do the grunt work. Nothing annoys me more than receiving two (or four!) of the same press release. From time to time, it’s not a bad idea to go through your media list and update it, ensuring names, addresses and phone numbers are correct – and this includes deleting duplicates. I once got a package addressed to me at the right address, but saying that I was with Elle Canada. I’m sure there’s a bright-faced intern who would gladly go over these details for the chance at agency experience.

2. Know what is magazine-appropriate when it comes to images. If you don’t know what we mean when we say “high resolution, 300 dpi” you’re in trouble. Nothing is worse than getting a cheery “Here’s your image!” email only to find a 55KB attachment. Get real and get in the know. Also: no, shots with your digital camera of cheesy portraits on a couch (although high-resolution) will not work either. Think about the aesthetic and quality of any given magazine or simply ask yourself: “Would I submit this picture to Vogue?”.

3. Professional courtesy. Every new issue, I try my best to send a written note to the rep and a few copies of the magazine, especially if it’s something that took a lot of work or an (unfamiliar) agency I’m trying to build a better relationship with. The least you could do is send an email back acknowledging the package, particularly if I email you to see if you received it. The same goes when getting introductory emails from new editors or writers; it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the fact that they’re reaching out to you and asking about your clients.

Doesn’t that make your life easier?

On the Fourth Floor: Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Suzanne Dimma: Nurturing your relationships goes a long way. Instead of sending those make-believe personal emails, actually get to know your contacts. If I think you understand my best interests and have them in mind, I’ll give your emails, phone calls and packages my attention. For the past few years, a company has been sending me products to consider that don’t fall under House & Home’s interests. I have never received a phone call from them and I’ve never featured any of the products. At the end of each year, the products are donated to charity. 

Amy Verner: Don’t be so serious! I totally appreciate professionalism but I can’t express enough how much I hate being referred to as ‘Ms.’ We are fortunate to work in a fun industry. It should come across in correspondences and interactions (but not forcibly so, of course — our phony radar is always on!).

Liam Lacey: I always hope that publicists make buckets of money to compensate for all the painful tongue-biting they have to do.

Media, Darling: Kate Carraway

Kate Carraway is a senior writer at Eye Weekly and freelance life and culture writer, who has worked with Vice, Globe and Mail, LA Weekly, The Daily Beast, Jezebel.com and Nerve.com, among others.

How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
To me, it seems so simple, and I really am curious as to why 90 per cent of the pitches I get are so far off-base, especially because everyone says this: even if I’m not that interested in an event, or product, or person, I will absolutely consider it for a story if the pitch takes into account what I do and what my publication does. Easy, right? But I guess not.
I don’t say that to be condescending: I really don’t know what that disconnect is all about. It seems like a tremendous waste of time, energy and opportunity for publicists to be blanketing — and in doing so, alienating — their contacts with a lot of random press releases and pitches when just a few pointed, personalized pitches would have better results. I instantly delete anything without my name on it, and anything longer than a few hundred words; I instantly read anything personal, short and specific about how I might use this information for my work at Eye or elsewhere. Just like I have to sell the reader on my writing, you have to sell me on your client. Use my ego, lack of time and need for constant, solid story ideas to do it.
In terms of Eye Weekly, I often get pitches for bands, films, arts stuff, some of which might work. But as the senior writer, my job is to write a monthly sex column, a weekly personal column and a daily blog, and do a certain amount of other coverage that gets handed down from the section and senior editors. A publicist would ideally know who the person is who assigns that coverage (it’s on the masthead), because in addition to those stories being their decision, not mine, those editors might already have a coverage plan for Band X, Film X, Play X or whatever. So, if a publicist has a specific writer in mind, the appropriate editor should be included in the email, and the pitch could say, “Dear ——-, I think you might like to cover X in your section; I think Kate would love it/them because from past stories I know she likes Band/Film/Play Y.” Then the editor and I would definitely talk about the pitch, and it would have a 1000% better chance of becoming a story.
If my name is spelled wrong, if it’s about something like menopause or an exhibit in Detroit or the release of a new limo company or municipal politics, that confirms that the publicist doesn’t know my work or my publication, and has possibly alienated me professionally. I don’t like attachments (I assure you I wont open an unsolicited attachment unless it’s a party invite with the word “Moët” involved), or press releases about something I can’t possibly use (don’t tell me you’re now representing Brand X unless you’re pitching me something specific on Brand X). Less, but better, is what I would love to get from pitches.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
I’ve had success just by contacting the PRs that handle stuff and people I already care about. It’s also helpful having a personal column with my face on it, because even if the PR doesn’t know that I might care about their client, they might know who I am if they (and they should!) read all the local publications.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
Other than shitty pitches? Calling me, unless it’s necessary. Calling is the best if there’s a last-minute change of plans (I use a BlackBerry but it’s easier to miss one of 100 emails in a day than one of five phone calls) or an emergency. I will definitely resent a phone call that is about a press release I have not responded to. If it’s a really good pitch and I haven’t responded, email again, but with more details and more about how I’d use it, not just to ask if I got it. (I got it; I just wasn’t interested enough.) This happened today, actually, and the personalized reminder email was so nice and cool that I’m going to attend a thing I would have skipped if they’d called. Maybe this is not very generous to say, but, c’mon. We’re all too busy for that.
Also, sometimes my boss will forward me an email that is exactly up my alley, but that I wasn’t initially sent. I don’t expect anyone to just know that I am really into punk rock and luxury beauty products, for instance (if you are repping a book about these two things together, please send immediately) but it’s a missed opportunity to not be paying attention to what local writers and editors pay attention to, what the themes are in their coverage. I can identify the professional and personal interests of writers that I don’t know personally or follow closely, just having read a handful of their stories.
Oh, and assuming that I know who you are is a mistake. That is not an insult, it’s just that writers are like squirrely, bookish weirdos who don’t remember what day of the week it is and publicists are cuter and nicer and are better at that stuff. It’s important that you remind me in person or via email when we met or worked together last.
(For the record: the biggest mistake that I make, I think, is bad scheduling; I have to cancel on events and reschedule interviews more than I’d like because that is my dumb reality of writing and hustling full-time, and things come up. I had to email the PR for Vawk on Monday morning to cancel, because Monday was a batshit-crazy workday and I didn’t feel right leaving the office to see a fashion show. You know?)
My pet peeve
I am not into the politics or dishonesty that sometimes comes up in the relationship between writers and PRs. Recently I was uninvited to several parties after I wrote something negative about other, related events. That’s actually totally fine: I understand and am sympathetic to what a publicist does and has to explain to their clients. But, just tell me. “We can’t invite you because X” or “You’re in the local media, this is for national press only” or whatever is fine.
Or, telling me straight-up that you didn’t like something I wrote, instead of telling my best friend’s friend that I’m a bitch, is good. It’s just work, you know? And the process is collaborative between publicists, writers, editors and readers, especially now, with instant feedback and more transparency. We should work together to do all of this better. (Especially in Toronto: people who work in New York and L.A. tend to be more direct and specific about what they want and what they think, which is very good for everybody.)
I try to be as clear as possible about what I can and can’t provide; when people offer to send samples or an invite I have a stock response about how they can send whatever they want but I won’t guarantee or even suggest that I’ll cover it in return. As a reader I feel like I know when something is being covered because it’s convenient, not because it’s worthwhile, and I feel betrayed by that, so I won’t participate.
Also, I hate parties with cash bars. Is that bitchy?
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Since basically all of that was about the dark side of working with PR, I want to make a point of saying that I’m inspired by the 10 or 20 PR people I know who are very good at their jobs. They’re like the patient babysitters and writers are like the spoiled brats; I am always really impressed by how together and friendly and attentive publicists are with their clients and with media people. It’s awesome. I am also rarely pressured to provide specific or positive coverage; I think that all the PR people I communicate with regularly know what it is that I cover and how I cover it. And ultimately, we need each other to do our work and develop our businesses, so the more we understand each others’ needs, the better.