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

 

 

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

Between You and MEdia… with Kelsey Fabian

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!


Having the energy and drive to be up and working before the sun rises takes a certain type of person, and Kelsey Fabian has proven through multiple jobs that she has what it takes. Fabian just celebrated her one-year mark working as a morning reporter for PHL17; the job that’s brought her back to her home state after years away in various parts of the country. The Lancaster County native spoke with University of the Sciences communications manager, Colby Gallagher, about what makes a morning show special and what she looks for when preparing for live shots. Photo courtesy of PHL17.

Kelsey Fabian PHL17

Kelsey Fabian, PHL17

How many years have you been in the industry and where have you worked? 

I’ve been in the industry for about 8 years, a little more than six of them have been on air. I started at NBC10 in Philadelphia working for the web team. From there I pursued a career on-air which took me to Alpena, Michigan; Portland, Maine; Greensboro, North Carolina, and finally back to Philadelphia.

How did you get started as a journalist and why?

I grew up with parents who were avid news watchers and at a young age I took interest in being “the lady on TV.” I took public speaking classes all through high school and wrote for the school paper and enjoyed both so broadcast journalism seemed like the right fit.

What advice would you give to public relations professionals when making a pitch to you?

I work on a live morning show so we do a lot of live feature segments. We have one reporter designated to that every morning. The pitches that makes us want to book your feature are the ones that are visual and interactive. If it’s a cooking segment. let the reporter cook alongside the chef, if it’s previewing an art festival let us make art with a local artist. If we are talking about a kid event, bring kids! If you can’t make it super interactive give us multiple people to talk to interview, it helps to move the segment along.

Journalists get hundreds of emails and pitches. Between you and me, what makes one stand out? Is it the subject line? Do you have to know the sender before opening it?

I would say the subject line and the first two sentences are key. If you don’t grab my attention quickly, then I will assume it isn’t going to grab the viewer’s.

Many PR professionals come from news, but it’s rapidly changing. What’s one thing you wish PR pros did more of?

Send an info sheet once the interview is setup. If we are doing three live hits with you that morning, send me an info sheet that includes what we are showing/doing each hit and the name/names and titles of the people I will be interviewing for every hit.

Also include a small summary of the most important information like time, date, event details, etc. I love when PR people do this; I print it out the morning of and take it with me, it helps me stay organized and is almost like a cheat sheet.

Also, please don’t give me a list of questions you want me to ask and don’t ask me for a list of questions that I am going to ask! I will gladly give you an idea of what I want to talk about and some specifics I want to cover, but I do not pre-write questions for a live segment.

Is there are particular topic or story you prefer over the others? Why?

Not really unless it’s animals, animal stories always win me over. I love variety though, so I like covering almost anything.

What’s a fun and/or interesting fact about yourself that most don’t know?

I am terrified of karaoke. Haha. People assume that just because you are on tv you aren’t shy about anything, but that’s not true.

Best way to pitch Kelsey for PHL17: kfabian@phl17.com

Between You and MEdia… with Ayana Jones

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!


First published in 1884, The Philadelphia Tribune is the nation’s oldest and continuously published newspaper of the African America community. While the publication has a small staff, the outlet is supported by a strong digital presence, several trademark events, and consistent and accurate reporting.  The Tribune’s longtime business reporter, Ayana Jones, chatted with Bellevue Communication’s and PPRA Blog Co-Chair, Samantha Byles, for this edition of Between You and MEdia.

A native of Philadelphia, Ayana moved to the Virgin Islands with her family in high school. She attended the University of Virgin Islands, where she focused on communications and journalism. After a stint with a local publication, she returned back to Philadelphia, and started her launched her career with The Philadelphia Tribune.

AyanaJv2

Ayana Jones, The Philadelphia Tribune

How did you get started?  “I started off at the Virgin Islands Daily News, where I worked as an editorial assistant.”

What did you find different about the news culture in the Caribbean vs. here in the states? In Philadelphia? “I don’t think that the news culture is that different in the Virgin Islands vs. the states, other than the coverage being hyper local. The local news outlets highlight news that is happening locally in the community, politics, the educational system, and the business sector. They also run stories about major news occurring stateside and other Caribbean islands.”

What advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you? “As a business and health reporter, I am often pitched stories about particular products. I am not interested in product-driven stories, my interest lies in writing personalized stories that are impactful.”

Take us through your story process – What elements do you look for when determining if it a story? Where do you start? “There are a number of elements to consider when determining whether something is a story. I typically look for interesting stories that will resonate with the Tribune’s readership. I try to put a human element to my stories. I often start with the answers to these questions – Is this an issue, person or platform that my readers would care about? Why should people care? How important is the issue? Does this person have a story that would resonate with others?”

What’s your favorite piece that you’ve worked on? “I did an article in 2016 highlighting how Philadelphia is battling the lead poisoning crisis. I enjoyed working on this piece because it highlighted how lead poisoning is impacting children and the measures being taken to address the problem.”

Can you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself? I am a crafter who enjoys creating cards and other items.

Best way to contact Ayana? Via email, ajones@phillytrib.com

Between You and MEdia… with Aunyea Lachelle

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!


It’s rare that a Philadelphia TV news station launches a new program that focuses on the positive things to see and do in Philadelphia. But that’s what NBC10 did last month with the launch of “Philly Live,” which is in partnership with Visit Philly. The digital-first show, which airs Monday through Friday at 11:45 a.m., is hosted by Aunyea Lachelle, who is new to NBC10 but not to Philadelphia. The Northeast Philly native sat down with Bellevue Communications’ Kareen Preble to provide some insight into the new show. The following has been edited for clarity and brevity. Photo courtesy of NBC10.

AunyeaLachelle_Smile_Pink

Aunyea Lachelle is the host of NBC10’s Philly Live.

How did you get started as a journalist?

I majored in communications at West Chester [University] and I was also a radio board operator and radio host at West Chester as well for 3-4 years, so I did television and radio.”

Between you and me, what’s your favorite aspect of your job?

“Everything that I get to do. I’m from Philly, born and raised. But I’m still discovering new things that I didn’t know existed in this town. I love the fact that I get to be myself, and I like to say to the viewers all the time – look, I’m your homegirl….I know the city just like you do, but I’m also curious about the city just like you are. I’m introducing our viewers to new things that they might not have known, but I’m also experiencing those things myself so that I can give them that full experience when they watch the show. I never knew you could take a flying trapeze class in Philly, but I did it and I’m terrified of heights! So that goes to show how committed I am to this show and to our viewers to give them the best Philly experience possible. I mean I get to meet celebrities like Billie Jean King and get an exclusive tennis lesson with her. I played foosball with Brian Westbrook. We’ve covered restaurant week, fashion week. So, I love that I just get to showcase my personality and have a great time on the show. It’s something I get to have fun with.”

What inspired you to get into this business?

“A lot of things inspired me. I can’t credit it to just one thing. My family was one. I come from a very Christian family, [they] founded Porter’s Daycare and Educational Center, which is a nonprofit daycare and elementary school that’s been open for nearly 40 years now. They were a huge inspiration to me because I realized that people that do the work that they do and that people who work in nonprofits in general don’t get enough buzz and attention, they don’t get the credit and recognition that they deserve. So part of [my inspiration] was wanting to tell those stories. Another part of it was that I’ve always been a creative person and I’ve always been interested in the arts and the performing arts, especially with music. I used to play and sing at coffee shops in college, act in high school plays so I’ve always had a passion for the arts and as I got older, it transpired into broadcast television.”

What advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you?

“I know PR pros tend to put their clients first, which is great because that’s your job and that’s why you’re great at it. However, my advice when reaching out to us is to focus on the viewer whenever you’re sending a pitch. Attack it from the viewer’s perspective, and think of what they would like to see, what they would like to hear and the way they would like the story to be told.

We’ve worked with tons and tons of PR and we’re so happy that they are excited about this show and that they have clientele that would be perfect for this show. As far as what we’re looking for, it’s any and everything that there is to do and see, and it’s not just Philly, but it’s also the Del Valley and the whole Southeastern Pennsylvania region that we’re covering, as well as parts of New Jersey, so it really is a tri-state area show. I like to describe it as Philly is the heartbeat and we connect to all the other cities and our surrounding regions as well.”

You’ve only been doing Philly Live since September, but has there been a highlight so far?

“You know I’m one of those people where every project I take on becomes my baby and so, almost every story that I take on becomes my baby and I become really passionate about telling the story the right way. It wouldn’t be fair to pinpoint one specific segment, however, as far as my favorites… I mean, the restaurant segments, I love, because I’m a huge foodie. Blume was probably one of my favorite restaurants that we covered; it’s super instagrammable and on trend with flowers and flower-themed cocktails. Fashion week was really fun. I love featuring and working with local people, local business owners. We get to feature some nonprofits as well with our live interviews, so I would love to work with more nonprofits and do more community-based stories, which I think is something that we’re definitely going to be highlighting very soon.”

Best way to pitch Aunyea for Philly Live: PhillyLive.Viewers@nbcuni.com