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


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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: Nathalie Atkinson

Fashion week is just around the corner! If you need some advice about pitching fashion media, you’d better read on. 
Nathalie Atkinson writes about food, film, fashion, design, books and pop culture for the National Post – anything but sports, basically! – and is the editor of Weekend Post Style. She also contributes to Elle Canada, Fashion, Hello! Canada and Chatelaine, and has written for publications like the Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, Salon, Publishers Weekly, Report on Business, Best Health, Flare, Readers Digest, Toronto Life and Spacing.
 Illustration: Kagan McLeod
Twitter: @NathAt 
How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
I think familiarity with a reporter’s beats and writing is the only place to start (more on this, later); otherwise it’s a waste of everybody’s time. There are several regular departments I don’t take pitches for, but made an exception recently because out of nowhere a publicist in a completely different field pitched one of her talent clients into it, rather than into the straight-up typical section for theatre in the paper. She was thinking creatively about exposure for the client; it was just the kind of oblique idea that we’d have internally, and it was a perfect fit. I love it when that happens.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations  professionals?
Good PR pros are like good boyfriends and have a great sense of humour. Oh, and: efficiency, concision, attention to detail and speed.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
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.)
Your pet peeves (pertaining to PR)?
Besides spelling my name wrong, the shrill ring of incessant “follow-up” phone calls that shatters concentration and often come within hours of an initial press release, pitching duplicate supposedly personalized story angles to several people at the same publication, as well as several dozen peers on the same beat (Twitter’s a virtual water cooler, people: we talk!) and breathless hyperbole? Press releases with egregious spelling and grammatical mistakes, mistaken facts and outright false claims, especially when they say “the only”, “the first” or “the largest” – because if anyone knows (or should) that market or beat, it’s the person you’re pitching to. Be it bullshitting or ignorance, neither is endearing.
Also: Sending unasked-for samples then hounding about when exactly we are going to cover that-which-we-didn’t-ask-for-in-the-first-place. Also? Pointlessly elaborate promotional items. Someone recently sent a ceramic dish actually heat-printed with invitation information. Not a sticker – a custom printing job right onto an otherwise serviceable platter! It was ugly (who wants to eat off a logo’d invitation?) and wasn’t foodsafe anyway. The inks couldn’t be scraped off and we couldn’t even give it to Goodwill, it was trash. The waste of materials and money put me off to the point that I was loath to attend, and now I’ll forever associate that kind of dumb waste with the brand. (Please send baked goods instead – and not those awful brittle cookies with the hideously inedible rock-hard logo icing, either. They’re offensive and will also go straight into the bin.)
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I just read my answers and realize I kinda sound like a malevolent misanthrope who lives under a bridge. But I like good publicists and couldn’t do my job well without them. I have to agree with Andrew: the best marketing and publicity pros, the ones who last and are successful, are the ones who pitch well and selectively, and build a good relationship over time by keeping in touch, even when sometimes there’s nothing to pitch. Preferably, with baked goods.