Media, Darling: Benjamin Leszcz

I’m a freelance journalist living in London. Before leaving Canada, I worked at enRoute and a couple mags you whippersnappers may not know: Toro and Saturday Night. In 2009, I co-founded the online men’s magazine DailyXY, which I’ve edited for the past couple years. I’ve just given my notice there, and will be freelancing full-time. (Incidentally, I’m looking for my replacement – and an assistant editor – at DailyXY. Click through for details.)
Lately, I’ve been writing for some American magazines, like Details and Nylon, as well as collaborating on projects with Urban Outfitters and Google. I’m currently on contract at Winkreative, Monocle magazine’s sister creative agency. To learn more about me, you can visit my personal website, follow me on Twitter or watch this video of me eating poutine.

1.   How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
PR, like everything, is about relationships. If I receive a personal note from someone I know, of course I will read it and respond. (Eventually.) Might sound crazy, but I believe that the basic rules of human decency should apply to publicists and journalists, too.
There’s a flip side: If I’m receiving a note from a publicist I don’t know, I’m grateful if they take a moment to personalize it, and to introduce themselves. A note that is obviously copied and pasted is very easy to ignore.
The obvious attention-grabber – and I’m sure every journalist would say this – is demonstrate that you’ve read the publication. If a publicist pitches to a particular section, or mentions a recent story, I will always take a moment. 
I want publicists to make my job easier, not harder. Give me ideas that work.
2.  What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
I love it when publicists are super-responsive and super-available. Prompt replies to emails and requests are great.
3.   What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
There are common mistakes, and there are big mistakes. Common mistakes are sending me inappropriate pitches, or sending me too many pitches. But big mistakes: Being rude to me. Trying to exert pressure on me to cover a product, or run a particular story.
Another mistake that I see in the vast majority of PR shops is that they’re not protective enough of their own brands. A PR agency’s name should tell you something – before you even hear who the client is.
My pet peeve 
Follow-up calls. Please don’t call me. (I actually removed my phone number from my email signature for this reason. My sister, who’s had my Toronto phone for four months, still gets occasional follow-up calls from publicists. So I guess I’m okay with it now.)
5.   Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
As a freelancer, I’m tough to pitch, especially because I don’t have a clear beat, and I’m not contributing to any particular magazines regularly. Still, if an idea inspires me, I’ll pitch it. So really, it’s all quite simple. Just inspire me.

Media, Darling: Ilana Banks

Ilana Banks is a producer for CBC News: Entertainment, where she works with a dedicated team of journalists to produce uniquely Canadian arts & entertainment stories.
Banks cultivated her love for all things entertainment and pop culture related as the first high school intern at MuchMusic and has never looked back. Since then she has worked at CNN, directed a documentary in the Sudan, produced a youth-focused current affairs show at CTV, and various CBC Arts News programs.

Ilana working her magic with U2 and James McAvoy

Twitter: @IlanaBanks

How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
I will certainly return a phone call or an email if a pitch is specifically tailored to our team. What does this mean? A pitch that understands what we do and how we do it. We are not here to sell a product or event, but if you have a cool event or pitch with a news hook that you have researched, then we can tell the story.

Another critical point: we are a national news network. We report on stories that must appeal to Canadians, not just Torontonians, so craft a pitch that includes information about how your story idea could be of national interest. Another excellent way to grab my attention? Offer our team something unique – some type of special angle, access, or a way to involve our reporters in the story. We are looking to take our audience behind the scenes and reveal a story that they cannot see on another show or network.

What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
I almost fell off my chair a few weeks ago when a publicist sent a confirmation of our interview with the time and exact location in the building where our interview would take place. She even told me what the room looked and how many windows it had, so our camera man could bring the right lighting kit. I know this doesn’t sound revolutionary but this almost never happens, yet it is so simple and so useful. It is always best to provide as many details as you can, the less surprises, the better, for all of us.

What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
Not tailoring a pitch to our network and news programming. Very few name our reporters or display any knowledge of our programming or previous stories.

Your pet peeve?
Everything I mentioned my previous answer. Oh, and getting pitches for the show our team used to produce but has been off the air for years! My other pet peeve is when a publicist tries to control the angle of our story. I understand their job is to protect their client, but when you are approaching a large news organization like CBC with a story, there has to be certain amount of trust and understanding that we are looking to provide a balanced and accurate news story.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I love when a PR professional really “gets it” – when they have taken the time to do a little research and we can work together to get a great story out to Canadians.