As a food writer on the receiving end of countless PR emails, I confess I don't open them all and reply to only a fraction. I’m always much more likely to engage if the person contacting me knows what’s of interest to me and even better if they know who I’m currently working with. Email is by far my preferred method of communication as the chance of being able to talk when phoned off-bat, is pretty unlikely.
What makes me open an email is firstly if I have a relationship with the sender and secondly if the subject draws me in. For all journalists, the relationship with the agency / individual PR is key. You get to recognise, and trust, people who you know understand the titles they are pitching to and what the journalist needs.
The topics currently attracting me will shift slightly depending on the projects I'm working on however, I am generally always interested in food news, trends and problem solving. Stats and quotes that help pull a news piece together are really, really helpful too. My aim is to inform and inspire whether it’s a piece about not being able to find tomatoes and cucumbers and offering ideas for doing without or looking at the latest time-saving appliances and what they’re great (and not so great) for. For example, media content will often align with social media trends that can drive demand – as we have seen with TikTok and the incredible rise of air fryers.
Even stories that don’t go viral but offer a new or interesting angle can have a big moment in the sunshine. For example a clever campaign by Barilla on ‘passive cooking’ had a huge amount of traction with the Telegraph news team asking me to write and shoot a feature for inclusion the following day and in the main paper too, a relatively rare occurrence for food. This is because the resulting story ticked several boxes at once - it claimed to save energy (key in the current climate), it stoked engagement not least by enraging some readers (foodies and Italians), there were stats to back up the claim (reduced C02 emissions by up to 80%), it was very easy to get a range of opinions from well-known sources (Giorigio Locatelli and Gennaro Contaldo) and with a bit of useful homecook info from me, readers could try it for themselves.
I am always interested in hearing about new products either to feature in a shopping story / news item or in recipes. and personally I like to be asked in advance if I would like to receive product – so I can be sure its relevant / of interest and I won’t be inundated with follow up emails!. But what does work very well, especially in busy offices - e.g. the Telegraph with a culture of being at the work desk full time - is sending new products in on-spec to see if they'll be of interest. And they often are, especially on a paper with a features desk covering a range of areas such as health, beauty, interiors and food and drink, where everyone widely shares new products that come in and topics can cross over. For example, the interiors editor at the Telegraph was sent a beautiful little chopping board that didn’t really interest her but arrived on the day I, a couple of desks along, was hastily writing a feature on the butter board TikTok trend - I was delighted to be able to use it for the following day’s shoot and the board got its coverage. The timing of these things is, of course, sometimes down to luck. However, with so many of us spending at least part of the week WFH, sending a team who are on-site, for example Mon-Wed something wonderful but perishable on a Thursday is such an avoidable and wasted opportunity
Things I want to hear more about...
● News stories that highlight changing habits (cooking, eating, shopping) and include stats
● Recipes, ingredients and food hacks that are trending on social media
● News stories that directly affect readers especially if we can offer advice – e.g. last Christmas, when bird flu rulings meant a possible risk of a shortage of turkeys we offered ideas for other centrepieces
● Expert / specialist voices I can call on for a quote: e.g. watercress growers, honey sommeliers, pressure-cooker book authors
● Recipes with images that don’t feature the product in the shot (women’s weeklies often rely on this sort of free content but don’t want their recipe pages to look like an advertorial). Some suppliers create lovely new recipes but I would caution about over branding – as brands at the centre of every pic is always going to stop the food editor from choosing them
● Good news stories including food awards, especially unexpected, underdog or British winners
● Surveys and reports such as the incredibly useful Waitrose Food & Drink Report
And some I could do with a little less of...
● Niche or tedious ‘celebration days’
● Products that aren't available nationwide
● Products that are prohibitively expensive (though these may lead to a slightly negative story that the brand wouldn’t want anyway)
● A restaurant’s special Burns Night, Valentines, Mother’s Day or Coronation menu
● A coffee chain’s latest store opening or spring latte menu
● An invitation to review a restaurant. I get a lot but the only reviews I write or commission are booked under a pseudonym and always paid for so unfortunately, I can’t accept these
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