Branding and Marketing Advice for Sustainable Food Entrepreneurs: DIY Press Savvy
January 26, 2012 | Alisha Lumea and Polly Legendre
This week in our branding and marketing advice column for sustainability-minded food entrepreneurs we kick off a three-part series on working with the media that will cover how to develop your story, how to make your approach to the right reporters, and finally how to leverage the coverage you receive.
The media plays such a huge role in society that it often gets talked about as something abstract and impenetrable. Getting coverage is really not all that mysterious, and the priesthood of PR agents isn’t required. With a few pointers and “rules of the road,” you will have everything you need to be a great press agent for yourself. And you will have what no one else can give you — authenticity. Nobody can tell your story with more passion, or explore more facets of it, than you. Authenticity, passion and a well-structured story mean more than an address book full of media contacts.
Part One: Finding The Story
The biggest piece in learning to represent yourself well to the media is understanding what writers and editors need to build a story, and how you can help them put the pieces together.
If you don’t consume much media, such as foodie-focused magazines, local restaurant reviews or newspaper food or environment sections, start now. Look at the stories you read with a critical eye. What are the elements that are strung together to form the narrative of the article? Reading relevant media sources will also help you get to know which writers are interested in what kinds of stories, so you can target your approach (more on that in Part Two).
The first questions you need to be able to answer are: Why you? And why now?
News needs to be, well, new. There needs to be something going on that can capture attention. If you’re new on the scene, you’ll need to introduce yourself and why you matter. If you’ve had some coverage before, you’ll need to give them a reason why you should have more.
“I’m a beet farmer, and beets are really yummy” is not news.
“I’m a beet farmer. I grow a funky heirloom no one else around here has, and these chefs in town are featuring it on their menus.”
Now we’re talking. Your beets aren’t just beets; they’re part of something going on, a trend. If you can’t line up the pieces like this now, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through some ideas of how you can make yourself part of a story.
To create a pitch that you can approach the media with, you have to line up the elements of their article. The more complete your narrative or outline is when you present it, the more likely it is that someone will pick it up. If you’re looking for video coverage this is even more important. They will literally want you to paint a visual picture of what the story will look like — where they can shoot, who will appear on camera. If you have a big sunny kitchen to shoot something cooking or a picture-perfect barn, let them know.
Here’s a few tips to help you put together a press-worthy pitch:
Get personal. You don’t have to unpack your full life story or innermost thoughts, but give your pitch a personal touch that will help the author flesh out an article. This speaks to the ultimate truth that people are interested in people. Even in coverage of storms and technological innovations, a general interest article will focus in on the people affected, not the wind forces or mechanics.
Are you a career changer with a back-story very different from what you’re doing now? Are you farming land your family has farmed for one hundred years? Do you specialize in heirloom seeds that reflect your heritage or have a special connection to you? Perhaps you learned about them from your time in the Peace Corps or in a restaurant in which you cooked. One of the reasons people like supporting artisans and farmers is because they can feel connected on a human scale. Mentioning a few little details about yourself helps strengthen this connection.
Jump on a train in motion. Taking advantage of existing momentum and getting coverage as part of a trend is a lot easier than breathing life into a totally new topic. Look at what you do with trend-conscious eyes. Is there a new scientific report or news section story that relates to something you do? Is a certain kind of restaurant all the rage in your area and you supply several of them?
Look around your community and reach out to others who could be part of the same story. One farm doing something is random, but three farms doing the same thing is a trend. Line up the potential players in the story when you pitch.
Create your own “why now?” Events are a great answer to why something is deserving of coverage now. If you don’t have anything on the horizon, create something. This isn’t cheating. Organize a farm visit day to celebrate a harvest or talk to your chef customers about creating a special menu featuring produce from your farm. The restaurant might even have a PR firm on retainer that can pull the story together and bring you along with their efforts.
Festivals or holidays, with the exception of ultra-competitive Thanksgiving and Christmas, are also great to tie your events to. Perhaps your region has a seasonal festival or fair. Do you produce something that is part of a traditional food dish, especially one that connects to an ethnic group in your area? That’s a story waiting to happen, and you might be able to get yourself mentioned as part of it.
Being the first one to do something is always a good angle. If you have something new going on in your field, use it. If you’re really not doing anything new and different from your neighbors, you may want to start brainstorming what you might be able to create in order to generate a little flash.
How do you make your pitch to the media once you’ve lined up the elements of a story? Tune in next Thursday.
About Alisha & Polly’s company: Polish Partnerships
Polish is a branding and communications company for the new gastroconomy. By creating strong partnerships with food and beverage producers, hospitality groups and industry innovators, we go the extra distance, transforming hopes, dreams and expectations into tangible, sustainable and polished realities.