MEDIA PROFILE: Early preparation helps whet The Best Of's eclectic appetite

PR practitioners prove to be a valuable asset to The Best Of as programmers seek great restaurants and talented chefs. As Matthew Arnold finds, the key to pitching is location, location, location.

PR practitioners prove to be a valuable asset to The Best Of as programmers seek great restaurants and talented chefs. As Matthew Arnold finds, the key to pitching is location, location, location.

Now wrapping up its fifth season, the Food Network's The Best Of is at the top of any restaurant publicist's menu. With a sizable audience and a place among the pantheon of TV's top food shows, a good review from hosts Jill Cordes and Marc Silverstein can bring a wealth of business, and the show is always hungry for edgy restaurants and rising young chefs to check out. Each themed half-hour episode features five restaurants in five cities. Recent motifs have included Best Barbecue, Best Picnics, Best Meatless Eats, Best Waterfront Favorites and Best Romantic Retreats. In addition, up-and-coming chefs are featured putting together their top dishes, and the show also regularly airs special episodes spotlighting bed and breakfasts and hotels with restaurants. The Best Of is produced by production company Segueway Productions, along with Home Run Entertainment, under the supervision of Food Network programming manager Allison Page and VP of programming Kathleen Finch. Page is in charge of the hands-on management of the show, along with a stable of other Food Network shows, and therefore should be the first point of contact for publicists, though Segueway Productions' Dan Sitarski and Eileen Matthews are also open to pitches. "I leave creative control to the production company as regards matters of matching location and subject to restaurants, but I prefer pitches to come to me," says Page, "because quite honestly, I oversee other shows as well, and a lot of the time something that might not be appropriate for The Best Of might be good for other shows." Page prefers to be pitched by mail, preferably with pictures or video footage of the venue or chef. "It's hard to tell from a written description," says Page, "particularly when there's talent involved." Pitches should include a venue's history and profile or a chef's favorite dish. Getting a venue or chef onto the show is largely a matter of timing and geography. Some segments are put together as far ahead as a year before airtime, as The Best Of crew travels from city to city, filming a number of venues in each before moving on, covering around 20 cities a year. "When we go out to Seattle, we're shooting seven restaurants that will appear in seven different shows," says Page, "So once we've been, we've been, and there's no chance until next year." Page looks for venues that fit an upcoming theme, so it can be critical to know what the show is working on. The Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitor's Bureau (GMCVB) recently consulted host Cordes on an upcoming trip to that city, where the crew filmed five segments for upcoming shows on the themes of Little Italies, Take-Out, Delicious Dives, Fifties Favorites and Cocktails, and covered venues ranging from tony Brady Street trattorias to the likes of Speed Queen BBQ and Leon's Frozen Custard. "She knew what she was coming for, and I filled that in by giving her recommendations and making arrangements," says GMCVB PR manager Wendy Haase. "You can't really go in blindly - you need to know what categories they're looking for well in advance, because she was already set on those categories." Some show themes are planned as much as a year ahead of airtime, though often less, according to a flexible production cycle. "When we don't have any more shows, we order more," says Page. Page typically rewards pitches according to presentation and gut reaction, but occasionally researches worthy prospects. Kris Brown, PR director at Scottsdale, Arizona firm Lavidge & Baumayr and owner of a local restaurant, benefited from positive press relationships when she pitching The Best Of for her venue. "We had them come out, and they included the restaurant and bar in a segment on Best Tropical Drinks," says Brown. "I think the key was already having fantastic local print reviews and good relationships with local press. Producers contacted local restaurant critics and food writers and asked about some of their favorite spots in town. It's best to keep [the theme] in mind when you're pitching them." The eclectic mix of themes featured on the show opens it up to a variety of venues, from the most upscale and urbane of eateries and bars to the sleepiest country bed & breakfast. Just note that Page gets upwards of 200 e-mail pitches per day from publicists and restaurateurs, so as with the dishes, careful preparation is needed to get your client on the table. ------------ Contact list The Food Network's The Best Of Address The Food Network, 1180 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036 Phone (212) 398-8836 Fax (212) 736-7716 Programming manager Allison Page Hosts Marc Silverstein and Jill Cordes

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