Between You and MEdia… with Marilyn Johnson

As PR professionals, we all know the importance of building meaningful relationships with members of the media – reporters, producers, assignment editors, etc. But how does that happen, and where do you start? 

In this new section of the PPRA blog, PPRA members will share insight, tips and tricks, and fun facts learned from members of the media through informal interviews. You won’t have to wait for our “Media Mingle” or “Editors Panel” to get your tough questions answered and connect with the media. Our goal with this blog section is to continue engagement with our media counterparts in an informative and fun manner. So, between you and me – enjoy!


Marilyn Johnson started her blog 12 years ago, with the intention of sharing her love of writing about food. Now her blog, PhillyGrub is a must-follow for Philadelphia (and South Jersey) foodies. With more than 400,000 followers, the blog features interviews with local chefs and restaurateurs, restaurant reviews, and more. Learn more about how Marilyn turned her hobby into a career in the edited interview below. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Johnson.

Marilyn Johnson, Philly Grub

How did you get started as a journalist? By complete accident! I always loved writing and writing about food. So, I started my blog 12 years ago with the intention of sharing personal stories about the things I was cooking and talking about where I was eating in the city. Then I branched out into writing news pieces when PR people added me to their media list. I eventually embarked on writing restaurant reviews and other commentary about the Philly food scene. And then, a few years ago, I became a freelance contributor to various publications and media outlets on the side. It’s been immensely satisfying to grow what was originally a hobby into a career!

What’s your favorite story that you’ve worked? There isn’t one specific story that is my favorite. My favorite stories are the ones where I am able to feature lesser-known restaurants and share stories about the people you don’t already hear about working in the hospitality business. It gives me a lot of pleasure to help people, especially small businesses, get exposure.

Favorite food in Philly? Impossible to answer. But I’ll tell you that experiencing the Japanese Wagyu at Barclay Prime was pretty much life-changing… and yes, I wrote about that.

What advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you? Don’t just put me on your media list, blast out a press release to me and be done with it. I’m looking for unique stories that nobody else is writing about. I want people to come to Philly Grub and get a great story they’re not getting anywhere else. So reach out to me on a personal level with something awesome, not just the same old media alert you’re sending to everyone.

How much follow up is too much on a pitch—with someone you don’t have a relationship with, and someone you do? If I have responded positively to a pitch, then I feel there can never be enough communication. I try to get as many details and facts as I can so that I can put together a good piece. But if I haven’t responded to a PR pitch and the PR person is too aggressive, it may turn me off. I almost always respond to emails either way. I tell them, “yes, I can run this story,” or “no, I am not interested in covering this.” Most people get it; some don’t. Although, if I get a pitch for something irrelevant, chances are I will ignore it. I’d hope the PR person did their research on my beat and looked at my site for the type of stories I publish before reaching out. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with many PR people who I love working with. They are respectful and understand the kinds of stories I like to write.

How do you step away from the 24 hour newscycle? What do you do outside of work? I like to watch a lot of cooking and food-based television shows. I enjoy reading, especially vintage cookbooks. With that said, I love cooking at home and trying new recipes. I love being with my cats, spending time with my hubby, and traveling. The latter is on hold for the time being, of course.

How have you seen the world of blogging transform since you first got in the industry? It has changed drastically. Many people don’t even blog anymore! A lot of the bloggers that started around the same time I did have entirely abandoned their blogs. Some of them only create content for social media, while others have moved on in their lives. Also, anybody with an Instagram account can be considered a content creator. There is an entire cottage industry around social media influencers right now. Some PR people prefer to work with influencers over journalists and writers, and that’s fine. It depends on the client’s goals. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle since I have a fairly large, engaged audience on social media. I don’t like to call myself an influencer, though.

Best way to pitch Marilyn:  email at phillygrub@gmail.com

 

 

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