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

 

 

#PPRAMemberMonday – Michelle Kane

#PPRAMember Monday_Kane

Michelle Kane is the Founder and CEO of VoiceMatters, LLC. She has been a member of PPRA for 11 years. She currently serves on the Communications Committee.

Twitter: @voicemattersllc

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/voicemattersllcusa/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelledawnkane/

A confessed “word nerd” and “information junkie,” Michelle is a senior marketing and public relations strategist who helps clients tell their unique story using strategies & tactics tailored to their benchmarks of success. Throughout her 20+ year career, she has worked with organizations in the automotive, telecommunications, fashion, legal, and financial services fields and non-profit agencies. Her services include strategy development, brand management, content creation, and voiceover.

She lives in Telford, in northeastern Montgomery County, where suburban life is good but she requires regular doses of Philly and NYC.

PPRA: Who are your clients and/or what are you working on right now?

MK: Right now the main focus of my work is on communication management for my retainer clients – strategies, implementation, and outcomes.

PPRA: What is your favorite part of your job?

MK: I still get energized when a campaign clicks. I love working with a creative team, creating content and collateral that communicates all of the good a client can do for their customers. 

PPRA: What was your latest & greatest accomplishment at your job?

MK: That I’m still in business after 10 years? Ok, that was mostly kidding. I’d say that I still have a passion for sharing people’s stories. That and it’s almost a year since I launched a podcast with a colleague on working as a solo practitioner: That Solo Life

PPRA: What one piece of advice would you give to your fellow PR pros?

MK: Be a good listener and be open to the opportunities that arise when things don’t go according to plan because that’s where success beyond your estimation can happen.

PPRA: What book or movie could you read or watch again and again?

MK: To Kill a Mockingbird

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

MK: Mann Music Center on a summer evening with a view of the skyline.

PPRA: If you weren’t in PR, what profession do you see yourself in and why?

MK: Either a teacher or a therapist. Being in PR, you get to be a little of both!

PPRA: Favorite Philly Food?

MK: Have to go with a cheesesteak – Jim’s on South Street.

Tips for Students during COVID-19

Students around the region: We hear you. There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the communications industry right now, and it can be daunting to think of your next steps in the midst of the current crisis. But one of the key characteristics of a good public relations professional is being nimble and pivoting to maximize any opportunity. Below, the PPRA Board shares some tips for building the foundation of your career during this time. We encourage you to reach out, connect with us and get engaged – now is as good a time as ever to start forging the professional relationships that will serve you well throughout your career!

We’re so #PPRAProud of you all, and we look forward to welcoming you to our community. To learn more about PPRA and how it supports students, reach out to the Co-Chairs of the College Relations Committee: Ryan Wall and Thomas Logue.

“Take note of examples of organizations that are really practicing stellar public relations at this moment. Then reach out to the people behind those organizations, introduce yourself as someone who is entering the field, and let them know what you noticed about their good work. Ask if they’d mind having a Zoom coffee meeting as an informational interview. I’m doing this too and making new connections as a result.” – Adam Dvorin, Media Relations Director, Winning Strategies; Adjunct Professor, Temple University adamdvorinppra@gmail.com

“Remember that nearly every industry is struggling, so try not to take it too personally. Use this time to hone your skills, relax and reconnect with loved ones. The rest of your life will be spent in the rat race anyway! :)” – Alexa Johnson, Senior Marketing & Communications Manager, Visit Bucks County alexaj@visitbuckscounty.com

“Get creative and stay hungry. Find new ways to make connections. Even though it’s our profession to watch the news, don’t give in to the ‘doom and gloom.’ We will get through this.” – Anthony Stipa, Communications Manager, PHLCVB; Temple alum anthonystipa@gmail.com

“Find something you care deeply about and volunteer your communications skills to an organization that supports your cause. You will make a world of new contacts and build your portfolio at the same time. Keep a diary of your COVID-19 experience. You are living through an extraordinary time in history. You are a writer, so write! Also, reach out to alumni from your school who work in communications and ask for informational interviews now. One of my best employees ever came to me that way. When someone we had just hired took another job, the woman who had the informational interview got the job! Finally, know that ‘no’ isn’t final. It means ‘not today.’ Keep in touch with the network you build. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what happens over time.” – Bev Volpe, Partner, Snap2 Marketing/PR; Penn State alum bev@snap2mkt.com

“Research companies in the news, research their web sites and who their spokespeople are. Pay attention to universities and non-profits.” – Bonnie Grant, Executive Director of  PHL Life Sciences, Philadelphia’s Convention & Visitors Bureau; Temple alum bonnie@discoverphl.com

“Join professional organizations in your desired field. Network as much as you can. Taking the first step to a new connection can make all the difference. And remember to nurture these relationships.” – Deirdre Hopkins, Director of Public Relations, Visit Philadelphia; PPRA President deirdre@visitphilly.com

“While there may never (I hope) be another event that affects the world on such a scale, there will always be obstacles to overcome. Understand that and prepare for them, even if it is getting used to the sense that you cannot control every variable. Learning to be flexible, how to pivot, how to adapt, is one of the most important skills one can have in their career and in life. It allows you to see new opportunities and let go of the things that don’t work anymore. That’s not to say ‘give up on your dream’ but know that most paths are not a straight line. Try to learn new things and add skills wherever you can find them. Be open to new employment that may not fit your ideal job description.” – Hope Corse, Director of External Relations, Science History Institute; Temple alum hcorse@sciencehistory.org

“Invest in yourself, professionally and personally. Use this time to read a book, learn a language, make a bucket list. Consider what this pandemic has shown us about the future of work and consider enrolling in a free course to fine-tune your digital skills.” – Jennifer Micklow, PR Account Director, Brownstein Group; Rowan alum jmicklow@brownsteingroup.com

“Use this time to reconnect with others. Invest time in your relationships and they will often pay dividends in the future. Don’t let fear or self-doubt keep you from reaching out. You’ll often find that people are generous with their time and advice.” – Kellsey Turner, Account Manager, Vault Communications; La Salle alum kturner@vaultcommunications.com

“Use this time to develop new skills – there are so many free courses out there right now, it’s a great time to take some on Adobe Creative Suite, photography, videography, SEO, Google Analytics, Facebook Advertising and more. These are the skills that will set you apart when you’re trying to get hired in a hyper-competitive environment. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals right now – we’re all figuring this out together and 9 times out of 10 the person you’re hoping to connect with will be willing to chat.” – London Faust, Digital Media Manager, Bellevue Communications Group; PPRA President-elect; Temple alum lfaust@bellevuepr.com

“Use this time to build your portfolio. Review past projects, refine them. Get additional feedback and work to put a stellar collection together.” – Melissa Fordyce, Executive Director, Marketing & Communications, Philadelphia Foundation; Temple professor; Villanova alum melissa.a.fordyce@gmail.com

“Read. Read. Read. Know what is going on in the world from many perspectives. This will help you become an asset in PR or any field and will help you have thoughtful conversation with prospective employers, mentors and the media.” – Michelle Sonsino, Director of Marketing and Communications, Germantown Friends School; UPenn alum msonsino@germantownfriends.org

“During this time of social distancing it’s important to have a polished digital portfolio. Update your LinkedIn profile by publishing articles on relevant topics to the area of communications or public relations that you are interested in. This will help you stand out from the competition. You may not have the opportunity to meet prospective employers in-person so become familiarized with video-conference interviews. The days of handshakes may be behind us but making a good first impression will never go out of style!” – Nina Rodebaugh, Adjunct Professor – Digital Analytics for PR, Temple University; Immediate Past President, PPRA; Cabrini alum nina.scimenes@gmail.com | Twitter: @NinaScim |LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ninascim/

“When I was a sophomore, a summer internship I thought I had secured fell through and I was devastated. But, a week later, I found another opportunity that ended up forming the foundation of my professional career. Don’t compare yourselves to others, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to adhere to a strict timeline. Attitude is everything, and if you keep your chin up, you’d be surprised to find that the world is often smiling back at you, cheering you on.” – Ryan Wall, Account Executive, Brian Communications, La Salle alum rwall@briancom.com | Twitter: @ryan_wonderwall | LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ryanmwall/

“First, be sure to take care of yourself. This is a strange and uncertain time and it’s okay to be uncomfortable with that. In the same spirit, once you’ve settled in, take the time to think about what you want, your immediate goals and plan accordingly. Figure out how you can get your dream job or internship – does it require you to know a specific skill? Then, find a free, online class. Do you need to reach out to someone in that field? Do some virtual networking, or send an email to a professional (that includes professors!). During this time, build a clear roadmap for yourself and put it to action!” – Samantha Byles, Senior Account Executive, Bellevue Communications Group; Temple alum sbyles@bellevuepr.com

“Always follow up after applying for a job! Don’t assume “they don’t want me.” They probably are just busy. I got internships at the White House and U.S. Senate by simply making a follow up call – in both cases, they called me back right away and I’d secured the internship by the next day. Following up shows that you’re committed, responsible, and mature.” – Sarah Maiellano, Owner, Broad Street Communications sarahmaiellano@gmail.com

“The COVID-19 crisis will likely put a freeze on communications hiring for some time, so set the stage for success on the other side of this. Use every opportunity to make yourself more marketable. 1) Closely follow the news. We are living in a watershed moment that will likely change the way communications professionals think and operate. Be conversant in how this has impacted our world. (You don’t want to be caught off guard in an interview). 2) Bolster your resume. Whether you’re simply touching it up or getting new certifications outside of the classroom, do what you can to make your resume stronger your peers’. 3) NOW IS THE TIME TO NETWORK. Set aside 15 minutes (or more) every day to research a company or agency that seems interesting to you. See how they operate. Reach out and share your story. (You were looking into their company because they appeal to you in some way, and you’d like to learn more.) Have a genuine conversation with them, (avoid asking them about openings) and learn everything you can about where you might want to land in future.” – Thomas Logue, Account Executive, AKCG – Public Relations Counselors tom@annekleincg.com

#PPRAMemberMonday – Jimmy Contreras

#PPRAMember Monday_Contreras

Jimmy Contreras is the Public Relations Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. He has been a member of PPRA for several months.

Twitter: @jimmystyle

Facebook: @iamjimmystyle

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jimmystyle

Known for his no-nonsense approach, Jimmy has launched fashion, hospitality, destination brands and cultural institutions through comprehensive marketing and public relations, collaborative partnerships and social media. Jimmy has worn many hats in his professional life, from building homes in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, dressing women in beautiful dresses, opening his own namesake boutique, placing stories in the New York Times to chatting it up live on TV with Skinny Girl, Bethenny Frankel.

Jimmy was integral in introducing iconic brands to the Philadelphia market, including Wilhelmina, Timberland Company, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Anne Klein and Suitsupply. Jimmy has reinvigorated existing brands such as The Ritz-Carlton, Macy’s, Whipped Bake Shoppe, The Franklin Institute and Chestnut Hill Business Association with creative marketing tactics. Jimmy’s direct demeanor and energetic personality has made him extremely successful with placing stories in the local, regional and national landscape. 

Jimmy proudly serves as a board member of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, PHL Diversity and American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign.

PPRA: Who are your clients and/or what are you working on right now?

JC: I work in-house for The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia.

PPRA: What is your favorite part of your job?

JC: Working for a legacy luxury brand and bringing it to life in our community with partnerships and collaborations.  

PPRA: What was your latest & greatest accomplishment at your job?

JC: Launched the Moët & Chandon Mini-Matic at our hotel property. The champagne vending machine is the only one of its kind in our city. Cheers! 

PPRA: What one piece of advice would you give to your fellow PR pros?

JC: Two things:

  1. Do not burn bridges. You will always need to cross a bridge to get to the other side.  
  2. Never make promises. If a PR Pro makes a promise – you need a new Pro!

PPRA: What book or movie could you read or watch again and again?

JC: The Color Purple. My favorite book and movie. 

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

JC: Kelly Drive.

PPRA: If you weren’t in PR, what profession do you see yourself in and why?

JC: Non-profit. I worked in the non-profit world right out of school and it really opened my eyes on how hard organizations work to make a positive impact in communities they serve.

PPRA: Favorite Philly Food?

JC: Beiler’s Doughnuts – not a pretzel or cheesesteak but it’s definitely Philly!

Between You and MEdia… with Stephanie Farr

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!


With 16 years under her belt as a journalist, a majority of which was spent in Philadelphia, the Inquirer’s Stephanie Farr has a natural sense of what makes a story uniquely Philly. Covering Philly Culture, Stephanie is inspired by the people she writes about and the people who read her work. Journalism was never Stephanie’s first choice in careers, but today, her favorite part of the job is meeting and learning about the incredible people of Philadelphia. Hear more about her process in the edited interview below. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Farr.

HeadshotPhotoshopped_1

Stephanie Farr

How did you get started as a journalist? I’m probably one of the few journalists left who fell into the career. Quite simply, I needed a job and I could write.

I graduated with a dual degree in creative nonfiction writing and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. I had no idea what the hell to do with my degrees so I began freelancing for my local paper in Williamsport shortly after college. Within a month or two, I was hired for a full-time position – first as an obituary writer, then as a news reporter.

 

I never worked for my high school or college paper and I was never interested in doing so. I was required to take one journalism class in college as part of my writing degree and I absolutely hated it. The professor, a miserable copy editor with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, only reinforced my belief that journalism was dry, boring, and devoid of creativity.

It was only after joining the staff of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and learning the kind of freedom I could have as a reporter that I fell in love with journalism.

Between you and me, what advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you?  For the love of all that is sweet and holy, please learn what reporter is the best one for your pitch. All of our beats – with descriptions – are listed clearly on our website.

One of my biggest questions when people pitch me a story is “What would get you to read this story if you didn’t care about the subject?” – and be honest with yourself. I know you’re beholden to clients, but I’m beholden to our readers – and I don’t want to bore them. The more unusual aspects or facts of a story you can provide, the more likely it is that I might be interested.

Also, if you believe you have a story that’s a perfect fit for me, pick up the phone and call me. I had this happen the other week and it was so refreshing I thanked the PR pro for doing it. I also worked harder to pursue the story than I otherwise might have done.

I get so many emails that even those pitches I may be interested can get pushed down in my inbox and quickly forgotten about. Phone is still the primary method of communication for me.

To get your email pitch to stand out, make sure it’s personalized to the reporter. And yes, we can tell when you’re just cutting and pasting different reporters’ names into the same email. That’s almost always an automatic delete for me.

How many pitches do you get a day from PR folks? So, so many. I’d guess anywhere from 50 to 100, and most of them are about things I would never cover.

How much follow up is too much on a pitch—with someone you don’t have a relationship with, and someone you do? This a major pet peeve for me and many other journalists right now. The “follow-up” and “just circling back around” emails – especially from PR pros I don’t know – are killing me and overloading my inbox.

If your first email pitch was not personalized to me (i.e., it appears to be a blanket pitch you’ve made to many reporters) and I am not interested in the subject, sending me a “follow-up” email will only enrage me. Sometimes, I’ve received as many as five “follow-up” emails from the same PR pro.

Now, if we know each other and/or I’ve expressed interest in your initial pitch, it’s OK to remind me of the story idea. Like I said, the amount of emails we receive on any given day is overwhelming and even the good ones can be forgotten.

Can you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself? I circumnavigated the world aboard a ship during my study abroad program, Semester at Sea. Our ports of call were Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Japan. I caught a serious case of wanderlust during the voyage and I’ve been traveling ever since.

Favorite spot to think through a story? This is so boring, but it’s usually just at my desk. I once interviewed Salman Rushdie and asked his advice for aspiring writers. He said something like “Butt in chair.” He said the hardest part of writing for most people is forcing yourself to sit down, to put your butt in the chair, and begin. I’ve found that to be very true.

A memorable story that you’ve worked on: Most recently what made me glow was to see an artist with autism I profiled for my “We the People” series go from being relatively unknown when I first interviewed him to having his works sell for $25,000 by the end of last year. Kambel, his dad, and his brother expanded my idea of what I thought was humanly possible, and that is a great gift. When I walked into the gallery show opening in November and saw that the people of Philly had shown up for Kambel’s show – some because they’d read my articles on him –  I was moved to tears.

How to pitch Stephanie: sfarr@inquirer.com and 215.854.4225