PR pitches are the lifeblood of Page Six, and its legendary reputation makes it an effective place to be seen. However, it has high standards, and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Julia Hood reports.
"La 'Page Six' est une veritable institution, reports Paris Match magazine in an interview with editor Richard Johnson. New Yorkers do not need to be told that; for over 25 years, the New York Post's infamous gossip column has gleefully unearthed the dirty little secrets of celebrities, regional politicians, and business leaders.
Thanks to the internet, Page Six has gained a worldwide audience. Diehard newsprint fans still get their fix as the column continues to anchor the Post each day. (Print version novices may be surprised to find that Page Six rarely, if ever, appears on the spot that gave it its name, frequently migrating to page eight or 10 instead.) The tabloid is not light on gossip, and features such noted columnists as Liz Smith, Cindy Adams, and Neal Travis.
But Page Six reigns above them all. Consider the numbers: the New York Post's gossip-dedicated website was launched in February 2000, and gains more that 11.3 million page views a month, with 620,000 unique visitors.
Viewers may access the column through the Post's website, but the standalone page (pagesix.com) includes photographs and other eye candy. Out of those 11.3 million monthly views, 25% read the Page Six column, the site's biggest attraction. Celebrity photos come second, attracting 15% of the audience.
Richard Johnson started on the column in 1985, then left the paper in 1989 for three years, returning to Page Six in 1991. Gossip columnists rely on PR pros, and vice versa. Johnson says PR pros are often his best source for stories. His wife, Nadine Johnson, runs her own PR agency, so Johnson clearly understands the relationship.
But he also experiences many of the typical problems that crop up in thoughtless media relations. "A lot of publicists don't even seem to read the column, and then if they do read it, we are amazed they try to pitch something so boring and inappropriate, he says. "They don't realize how annoyed we get dealing with them."
Whether the pitch is mailed or e-mailed, a follow-up call is generally not a good idea. "I usually tell people, don't call me back. If I'm interested, I'll call you back. Press releases are not a great idea either. "I'm inundated with general press releases, which is idiotic because we live for exclusives."
Johnson is not coy about his relationship with PR folk - he needs scoops, and good ones. And rewarded will be the person who delivers them to Page Six. Stories about celebrities are always popular, and the New York political scene is often of interest to a wide number of readers.
But Johnson says his favorite stories are those that connect with the top news stories of the day. "I like stories that are very newsy, and if weren't in my column, could be on top of the business and news sections, he says.
For example, Johnson coveted a story that recently ran in the Post's business section, about Jennifer Lopez's clothing company trying to poach one of Sean "P. Diddy Combs' top staffers. "That's a Page Six story and a business story, Johnson says. Last week, Page Six featured a story about gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson being offered the editorship of Rolling Stone, a story that could even have appeared in The New York Times' media roundup.
For those who deliver the scoops, there is unapologetic quid pro quo.
Page Six, Pagesix.com
Address: New York Post 1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-8790
Tel: (212) 930-8000
Editor: Richard Johnson
These items will most often pop up in the "Sightings or "We hear" sections, which are rife with items about celebrities attending charity events or being seen about town. "We do our best to disguise the plug as a genuine item, Johnson says.
Shameless plug or not, Page Six's briefs are a great place to be seen.
Monica Neufang, media relations director for Weber Shandwick Worldwide in Dallas, pitched Page Six an item about a Meg Ryan sighting at a client's hotel. Her advice for hopeful pitchers is culled from successful experience: Give them exclusives. "Send them juicy 'blind items,' establishing a relationship, like with any other media person," she advises.
Caroline Enright, senior publicist for Stewart Tabori Chang, says that authors who may not be aware of Page Six learn quickly that it's a good hit. "Everybody reads Page Six. When a good mention of an author comes up on Page Six, everyone e-mails me."
Johnson sees PR pros as a vital part of Page Six's enduring relevance.
"In a perfect world, you have hundreds of PR people who are your foot soldiers, increasing the omniscience of Page Six, he says. "So nothing can happen that we don't know about."