How to Get Noticed by Food Writers: a Journo’s Guide

Aug 16, 2021

Written by Wendy Hargreaves.

Journalist Richard Cornish has heard every PR pitch in the book when it comes to food and drink.

The award-winning author has been writing about Australian food and drink for almost three decades, amassing a cult following for his weekly column in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Richard has also co-authored best-selling books with MoVida’s Frank Camorra and bakery doyen Phillippa Grogan.

So where do food business owners go wrong in their quest for all-important publicity?

Here are Richard’s do’s and don’ts for getting the attention of food media.

DON’T: Expect press if you don’t have a story to tell.

DO: Reach out when you have something their readers will be interested in. If you are new. If you are making a new product. If you have overcome the odds to create something new. If you have survived a battle. If you have won an award or received recognition. It has to be worthy of the reader’s attention. PR companies are a good fit for medium to large organisations to make the contact and help with relationships but smaller operations may need to do it themselves. Look at the outlets you want to be in – websites, journals, industry publications, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, social media and contact the reporter/writer/journo/blogger directly. It is so easy using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram these days.

DON’T: Take your time if a journalist gets in touch.

DO: Respond promptly. People in media work to ridiculous deadlines, and they may be fishing around for several different ‘talking heads’ (people to speak to) in their initial research. Use the same avenue of communication to get back to them. Arrange a time that suits you both for the interview.

DON’T: Forget to do your homework.

DO: Get the writer’s name and media outlet and do a bit of reverse research on their work. There are some great journos/writers who can help your business grow, and there are some tyre kickers. If you don’t like their work, the outlet isn’t aligned to your values, or they are an Instagram influencer with 50K followers bought from a website in SE Asia, there is no harm in weighing up if the outlet is the right fit. You can say no.

DON’T: Be passive.

DO: Ask when and where the piece will be published. If you have concerns about how you or your business will be perceived, you can ask to see the article before it is published. Not all journos or writers are amenable to this, but it’s worth asking. As one great editor said, “If the business wants advertising, tell them to speak to the sales department”.

DON’T: Take the job on alone.

DO: Consult with colleagues, mentors and managers about the story and ask for their input. We all see the world differently, and having other perspectives can help develop your story.

DON’T: Waffle on

DO: Be concise. The journo is taking notes and looking for an angle and some killer quotes. You don’t want to give them RSI by talking about how difficult it is finding staff when the story is about your award-winning sausages. Have the story in your head and think about some lines that will look good in print.

DON’T: Spill the beans.

DO: Remember that when you’re talking to a journalist and have introduced themselves, everything is on the record. If you want to offer background without being attributed, you can say your comments are “off the record” or “this is not for publication”.

DON’T: Think this story is all about you, personally.

Do: Talk about the story of the business and its core values. It’s a chance to talk about its unique selling points and its offer to the public and/or other businesses. Your personal story can be intertwined with the business narrative, as many small businesses are, but keep the story tight and to the points above.

DON’T: Forget to share the love.

DO: Offer some of your product to the journo. It may be a small sample of your coffee, a meal or something for them to get a better understanding of what you do. It gives the journo a chance to develop their own way of explaining what you do and ownership of those words. Without putting too fine a point on it, most journos love a freebie. Be aware; some are not allowed to accept samples or free meals by their employers.

DON’T: Treat this as a one-off.

DO: Build the relationship with the journo. Keep them informed of changes, new stories. Stories are the lifeblood of media outlets, and journos like to be kept in the loop. An excellent way to piss them off is not to let them know about a possible story, especially if it appears in a rival medium8m.

DON’T: Orphan the story.

DO: A story becomes a much more potent tool when looked after and shared with many others. Use social media to amplify the story’s reach and use hashtags and names (including the journo) to make people feel included. Journos have egos. A quick follow-up email, if you are happy, helps cement the relationship.

If you have a good story that needs telling, email Richard direct on richard@richardcornish.com.au.

Richard Cornish – Food Journalist

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