MEDIA PROFILE: Finding way into Washingtonian is never an easy call for PR pros

Its lofty status among DC's elite affords Washingtonian the luxury of being averse to pitches - especially phone calls - and forces PR pros to display their creativity to secure coverage.

Its lofty status among DC's elite affords Washingtonian the luxury of being averse to pitches - especially phone calls - and forces PR pros to display their creativity to secure coverage.

Washingtonian has the kind of readers marketers dream about. They are affluent (median household income is $151,000), well-educated (96% went to college, 46% have advanced degrees), active (75% dine out at least five times a month), and politically aware, occasionally to the point of being senators. Issues stick around the house for months because they contain all matter of practical information (and because 85% of readers are homeowners). It's a glossy, stylish resource for finding the best restaurants in town, the best beauty salons, the best weekend getaways, even the best doctors. Unfortunately, Washingtonian editors are borderline hostile to being pitched. But you can't blame them. PR pros are ravenously eager to get into their pages. Press releases hawking new hair products, CDs, book tours, cocktail parties, overseas getaways, lipsticks, and "great gift ideas" line the trash cans of their downtown DC offices. You're welcome to add to them if you'd like, but there are much better ways to get their attention. First, understand the magazine and what it's all about, which is being a Washingtonian. Other than politics, not much ties the mostly transient residents of our nation's capital together - but this nearly 40-year-old mag has made its living within those narrow margins. "Our chief missions are to educate and entertain people, so we have some very different types of stories," says senior editor Sherri Dalphonse. "We obviously cover politics to a certain extent, but we have a very large emphasis on consumer services. Our readers turn to us for everything from where to find the top doctor to the best restaurants to where to buy furniture in Washington." Around town, Washingtonian is known primarily for its perennial rankings issues, particularly the restaurant rankings. Power lunches and political soirees are the heart of DC's social scene, and Washingtonian provides the most reliable, lively roundup of local venues. Another popular feature is its front-of-book Capitol Comment section, a collection of desultory half-page quips mostly covering local celebrity (read: politico) happenings. It's here you'll find the gossipy items about who's child attends which private school with whom, and who's in line for the presidency of the Political Spouses Club (latest word is Bob Dole, with Bill Clinton as campaign manager). Bar chatter inevitably pops up around their semi-annual Best Places to Work issue. (Ironically, more than one PR firm has found its way in through that door - it's the one time you're encouraged to make your own case.) As you may expect, press releases are welcome if you're opening a new restaurant, hotel, or spa in the area. "You can send me something about a brand new bed and breakfast or resort that's opened in the Washington area, because that's something I might need to know about and cover," concedes Dalphonse. But stick to e-mail. And never, ever call - even "just to make sure it was received" - and don't lobby too hard. At best, you won't help your case. At worst, you'll doom it. Also remember that looming over the entire operation is an unusually long lead time that makes it nearly impossible for the magazine to cover cocktail parties or most political happenings. "Suppose that something happens tonight. The Washington Post will have a story tomorrow, but we can't get a story in print until January," Dalphonse explains. "So what is the point of us covering your party?" The general rule is allow two-to-three months' notice. If you're going to try and pitch an event, provide the editors with a fresh, Washington-specific angle. And bear in mind that Washingtonian is interested in politics, but not issues. The everyday lives of politicians are well within its beat; Capitol Hill deals and legislative minutiae are not. Owing most likely to the preponderance of consumer information inside its pages, Washingtonian gets a massive number of new-product notices. These too go unheeded. "We don't cover new products," Dalphonse insists, "and we don't publish any sort of a gift guide." In the end, your best bet for getting inside Washingtonian is the same as with most Washington publications: a good tip. Seen Newt Gingrich boozing it up at a local nightspot? Overheard a high-profile lobbyist disparaging his newest - and equally high-profile - client? Been sideswiped by an ex-President on one of Washington's many maddening traffic circles? Then by all means, let Dalphonse and company know about it. But for the love of God, do it by e-mail. ----------- Contact list Washingtonian Address 1828 L Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036 Web www.washingtonian.com E-mail editorial@Washingtonian.com Senior editor Sherri Dalphonse Editor-at-large and Capitol Comment Chuck Conconi Executive Wine and Food editor Thomas Head Lifestyle Editor Leslie Milk

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