The Good Eating section of the Chicago Tribune is the creme de la creme of food coverage, so PR pitches pile up. But John Frank finds that knowing the publication and its reporters gets clients covered.There's an old question food aficionados ask to see how serious other folks are about their culinary pursuits: Do you eat to live, or live to eat?
Chicago is definitely a city where people live to eat, enjoying a wide range of choices in restaurants, supermarkets, and even at tailgate parties before Chicago Bears games. That collective love of food has driven the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section to become a top-flight feature.
"Unlike LA and other places, when you think of Chicago, you think of people who live real lives. It's a food city, and they're proud of it," says Jennifer English, president of the Food & Wine Radio Network. "I think Good Eating is one of the top 10 or top five food sections in the country."
The number-one daily in Chicago, with a circulation over 660,000, the Tribune reaches an upscale, affluent audience. The rival Chicago Sun-Times is seen as the more blue-collar paper, while the Tribune reaches trendy yuppies and upscale suburbia. That makes the Tribune the first choice for coverage by most food clients.
"To have a sentence or two in the Trib is worth a feature article in any other local publication,
says Whitley Bouma, an account supervisor with Magnet Communications in Chicago.
Routinely flooded with pitches as a result, the Tribune and its editors have a reputation for being pompous and even a bit dismissive of PR people.
Good Eating editor Carrol Haddix refused to be interviewed, replying via e-mail. "I couldn't bear getting any more calls from PR folks,
But food PR people who have pitched Good Eating say its reporters aren't nearly so standoffish.
"Both Renee Enna and Kristin Eddy (two Good Eating staffers) are two of the most responsive people. They return calls,
says Brooke Rogers, an account supervisor with Weber Shandwick Worldwide in Dallas who has pitched Good Eating.
The key to garnering placements in the section is simply to know which reporter covers what beat, to maintain ongoing relationships with reporters, and to anticipate what types of stories will be running during the year.
"Our job, the main part of it, is having a good relationship with these people and being a resource for them. They're generally receptive,
says Jennifer Walker, a media specialist with Ketchum in Chicago.
Good Eating appears in the Wednesday Tribune. It normally opens with a cover story that continues into the center spread of the section. Recent cover stories have dealt with macaroni and cheese, flat breads, and a cooking school in Tuscany.
Other regular features include the Market Basket, normally a half page spotlighting new products, places around town that sell food, and food media; Test Kitchen Connection, which answers food and cooking questions from readers; Cheap Eats, which spotlights low-priced restaurants in the Chicago metro area; and Wine of the Week, by wine writer William Rice (who also does a weekly piece on food and wine for the Tribune's Sunday magazine section).
The Tribune owns local cable TV outlet CLTV, and does a TV version of Good Eating that runs twice on the Sunday before a Good Eating section appears, along with a rerun the following Saturday. Steve Dolinsky, producer and host of that show, also does food features for the local NPR outlet.
While Good Eating doesn't release an editorial calendar, seasoned food PR people can anticipate regular features that will appear around various holidays. Such features might be worked on four to six weeks before publication, so pitches should be timed accordingly, says Michael Duffield, an account supervisor with Magnet Communications in New York.
Some major stories have even longer lead times of several months. "Start thinking about Christmas in July,
The CLTV version tapes three weeks before air date, says Dolinsky. His main story will always be whatever the print section's cover story is, so Dolinsky routinely finds himself scrambling for video to illustrate the print story. He's open to filming in various restaurants for stories on spices, ingredients, or new cooking trends. He also looks for creative ways to show the wine of the week, the video version of Rice's column that runs for about one minute on the show.
The print version's Market Basket is a good showcase for new-product placements, says Bouma, who recently got Heinz's new Ketchup Kick'rs spicy ketchups mentioned in the "Off the Shelf
subsection of Market Basket.
Whatever you're pitching, remember that food is supposed to be fun, so keep it light, PR people advise. "Talk to them as much as possible, but always use humor with them,
says Bouma. "After years of covering Valentine's Day cookies, they need a little fun."