MEDIA FOOD: The right ingredients make for tasty PR

New food products - and PR pitches to promote them - are constantly being cooked up. David Ward asks PR people in the know how to make a food-related story stand out to an already bloated press

New food products - and PR pitches to promote them - are constantly being cooked up. David Ward asks PR people in the know how to make a food-related story stand out to an already bloated press

New food products - and PR pitches to promote them - are constantly being cooked up. David Ward asks PR people in the know how to make a food-related story stand out to an already bloated press

When Heinz introduced its green ketchup in summer 2000, the news was immediately picked up by virtually every major print, wire service, TV and radio outlet in the country, often gaining prominent placement simply for the novelty of the product.

But not every food product can be as newsworthy as green ketchup. PR firms representing food companies have to deal with a myriad of journalists who are besieged with new products, as well as new uses for old items.

However, the major advantage in pitching food-related stories is the breadth of potential media opportunities. Not only does every newspaper have a section devoted to food and cooking, but magazines, TV and radio programs that specialize in health, medicine, lifestyle, women's issues, family, seniors and even celebrities, all regularly devote segments to new food products and/or recipes.

Getting on the media menu

While some magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, McCall's, and Redbook are ideal outlets for new food items, Patti Londre, founder and president of the Los Angeles-based Londre Company, said you should really target every large circulation publication. 'For some publications when you get a hit, you get a huge hit,' she says. 'The National Enquirer is an example. People read it for a lot of reasons and many of them like recipes.'

Virtually every major newspaper has a food section, as well as a food editor, but Stacey Bender, founder of New Jersey-based Bender Hammer-ling Group, said the most sought-after food writers are those working with wire services and syndicates. These include AP food editor Joan Brunskill, and Universal Press Syndicate columnists such as Jeanne Jones (who pens Light Cooking) and Bonnie Tandy Lablang (who writes the weekly Supermarket Sampler and the daily Express Lane Cooking). 'Once you get one of those you cover a lot of ground,' Bender says.

Lablang knows most food journalists welcome a PR pitch if it's well-targeted and well-researched. But one of her pet peeves is PR firms that pitch products without having thoroughly researched her column and audience.

'I've had people pitch toothpaste and dog food and I have to ask them, 'Have you ever read my column?''

In general, Lablang prefers pitches from PR execs who have taken the time to develop relationships with her. That even includes the occasional unsolicited product sample, but again she stresses doing homework. One agency sent a fresh chicken to Lablang's home office in Connecticut one August. Unfortunately she was on va-cation at the time. 'My neighbors still talk about the smell,' she confesses.

The other key target for mass-market food products are the morning and afternoon TV shows, including Today, The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Oprah.

These shows cater to a wide audience, and while not exclusively devoted to food, often have segments featuring either celebrities in the kitchen or an overview of new and/or favorite products. Among the most influential TV food personalities is Phil Lempert, 'Supermarket Guru' for NBC's Today.

The growth of cable has opened up several new potential outlets for food stories, but again, the product must match the audience. One TV outlet that draws mixed reaction is The Food Network. Londre, who represents Dole packaged salads, Mrs. Field's cookies and Mrs. Dash seasoning among others, says, 'a packaged product doesn't have a great chance of being on those shows because chefs want to be perceived as cooking from scratch.'

Of course, some products are tailor-made for the high-end chefs that host many of the Food Network programs. Deborah Kwan, VP of San Francisco-based Magnet Communications, said she's had several Food Network placements for her client, chocolatier Scharffen Berger. Stories on Scharffen Berger have appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bon Appetite, Food Art as well as Martha Stewart's TV show, magazine and column.

Kwan said much of her early effort on behalf of Scharffen Berger was spent educating the media on the company, its chocolate making process and its products. But more recently she has been tailoring her campaigns around recipes for baked goods such as brownies, cake and pudding.

Bender explains that ethnic and senior publications are often mistakenly overlooked. 'There's a lot of Hispanic, African-American and Jewish media who are looking for recipes and trends that involve your clients' products,' she said. 'There's also magazines such as Modern Maturity.' Bender represents French's Mustard, Frank's Red Hot Sauce as well as French's Taste Topper french-fried onions. 'I've gotten hundreds of stories on green bean casserole (topped with the onions) with a back-to-basics and home-cooking theme,' she says.

Tailoring your recipe

Whatever your product, Robbie Vorhaus, president and CEO of New York-based Vorhaus & Company, believes the key to any successful food campaign is to tailor your pitch to the magazine's audience. 'We certainly won't give Town & Country the same story we would give McCall's or Parade,' he says.

Vorhaus, who represents Bertolli Olive Oil and Russell Stover Chocolates among others, also stresses giving reporters not just a product pitch, but also a story to go along with it, whether it be a health, trend, business or a lifestyle angle. 'With Russell Stover, there's a wonderful business story,' he says. 'There's also a wonderful story on how to determine what the (filling) is in a piece of chocolate. Chocolate is also the perfect portion control food, so that's a health story.'

As with any industry, food products have more than their share of trade publications, which are read not just by managers of retail purchasing executives, but also by the editors of mainstream consumer publications looking for an early peek at upcoming trends. Supermarket News, Frozen Food Age, Food Processing, Gourmet Retailer, Gourmet News and others are often looking for new ideas and may be more interested in marketing and sales strategies rather than the products themselves.

Timing is crucial, and it's important for PR execs to understand both their food product's seasonal appeal as well as their target media's lead times. 'The long-lead magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, is a six month thing,' explained Londre. 'In July we're talking Christmas and at Christmas we're talking Fourth of July. For newspapers, you want to get to the editor far enough in advance so you're the first one that they've seen, but not too far out front so that they've thinking, 'Why are they sending me this now?''


Consumer magazines:

McCall's, Redbook, Working Woman, Good Housekeeping, Men's Health, Health & Fitness, Parents, Parenting, Family Fun, Home Cooking, Modern Maturity, Midwest Living, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food Art, Foodie

Trade magazines:

Supermarket News, Frozen Food Age, Gourmet News, Gourmet Retailer, Discount Store News

Web sites:; com;;;;;;;;

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in