Media, Darling: Maryam Siddiqi

Maryam Siddiqi is the editor of Post Toronto and the deputy managing editor of the Features Department at the National Post. She first started at the Post eight years ago as the managing editor the paper’s business magazine. Prior to that she worked in public relations. Extracurricular activities include drum lessons. She can play a fairly accurate rendition of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Cool.

Twitter: @MSiddiqi


How did you get your start as an editor?
After university, I completed the post-grad PR certificate program at Humber. I worked in PR for three years and hated it, so I completed Ryerson’s Magazine Journalism continuing education program, then got an internship at Saturday Night magazine. As that came to an end, I sent a few freelance pitches here and there, including one to the National Post’s business magazine. Luck, timing and a solid story pitch landed me an interview with the magazine’s editor (his managing editor had just resigned), who hired me.

If you weren’t a Media, Darling, what would you be doing right now?
Writing for TV. (It’s my hope, anyway.) Or urban planning.

Pitching or follow up: Phone or email?
Email, please. I’m really not a phone person.

We know irrelevant pitches, calling you the wrong name and eight follow-ups are no-no’s; what else should publicists avoid doing?
Please take no as an answer. I know you think your story is really important, but sometimes I don’t (sorry!). Plus, I’m dealing with you times, like, 30, so if I turn down a pitch and you come back to me with it, well… it’s going to make me not want to run the story just that much more.

Don’t send emails bigger than three or four MB. If you’ve got lots of photos or PDF’s attached to an email, find out if there’s a group mailbox you can send it to. Send me a 12MB message and it paralyzes my email and makes me not like you.

If something can be sent electronically, please do so. At times, I feel like I’m responsible for a not-insignificant pile of landfill with all the press material I get.

Please contact me at my work email, not my personal email, not on Facebook.
Sunrise or sunset? Sunrise.
Scent? Bond No. 9’s Fire Island or L’Occitane Green Tea with Mint.
Cookie? Can’t go wrong with PC Decadent chocolate chip, but if I’m looking for something healthier I love Whole Foods’ spelt ginger snaps.
Flower? Hydrangeas.
Ticklish? Yes.
Shower or bath? Shower.
Film? Grosse Point Blank. Or 28 Days Later. (Scares me every time.)
Crush? Cute boys with English accents. Specifically, Henry Cavill.
First job? My very first pay cheque came from McDonalds. I was a cashier.
Inspiration? People who take action instead of just talking.

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.