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The Strategy Room

Meet Judith: How Mastering The Kitchen Helps You Master Public Relations

By: Judith Rontal

I’m at my most comfortable, and confident, julienning carrots, folding sourdough, or hosting a dinner party for friends. Being around food – touching it, talking about it, growing it – invigorates me. Everybody needs to eat, which means everybody has a story to share about food.

Storytelling is at the core of any successful public relations campaign. My job is to discover the stories of my clients and find a way to make that story enticing to a reporter and their hungry audience. Sometimes that means connecting to current events, just like my cooking is connected to seasonal ingredients, and other times that means building relationships with reporters over time, like letting my kimchi ferment over the course of several days, to wait for that magic moment when timing and trust come together for a story.

Mastering the basics is just as important in cooking as it is in a career in public relations. Here are some ways to sharpen your tools in both endeavors.

Mise en Place

French for “everything in its place,” this cooking technique has you prepare all your ingredients before you begin cooking. Not only does it guarantee you don’t miss that teaspoon of salt as you scramble to find a can opener, but it lays out a structure, and strategy, for your end result.

Preparation is key to a good pitch. You always want to be five steps ahead of the reporter, providing details, case studies, timeliness, and answers to any questions they may throw back at you. Will they need a photo? Get ahead and include them in your pitch (pro tip: use Dropbox to share several photos but paste one in the text of your email to grab a reporter’s attention).

Preparing your pitch, just like preparing your recipe, sets you up for success. While it’s easy to get excited about your angle and want to share your story with reporters right away, make sure you have everything you need from your client before you reach out. Not only does this enhance your pitch, it also improves your relationship with the client and means you won’t need to go back to them with time-sensitive requests for things you could have asked for beforehand.

Sharpen Your Knives

A dull knife is one of the most dangerous tools in the kitchen. It may sound counterintuitive, but sharp blades are safer than dull ones. You can get cut with any knife, even plastic ones, since a dull blade easily slips instead of slicing.

Keeping your tools in a good working condition is essential for any job. In PR, we also have tools that need routine maintenance. Writing is one of our strongest assets and can always be improved upon. When was the last time you wrote a press release? What about a tweet? Writing has many forms, and it’s important to practice the ones you don’t use on a regular basis. Seek out opportunities to write, offer to edit colleagues’ drafts, and brush up on the latest AP style rules. Just as knives get dull, so do our PR tools and we need to keep them in working shape to get the job done.

Season As You Go

Ever wonder why many people place a salt dish by their stove? Seasoning is the process of adding things like salt, spices, or herbs to food to enhance its flavor, and it’s one you use along all stages of the cooking process.

Salt changes its purpose as you use it. For watery vegetables like eggplant or zucchini, salting them helps draw out excess liquid. Once you begin cooking, salt is used as a flavoring agent like in cooking pasta. Salt is lastly used as a finishing touch; a quick sprinkle of salt over a dish before serving to help brighten the final taste. This salt is in its purest form and offsets the dish instead of blending into it.

Just as we season our food throughout the cooking process, we need to season our relationships with clients and reporters.

Relationships are the core of any successful public relations campaign. It takes a lot of trust from a client to ask an agency to reach out to reporters on their behalf, let alone strategize messaging, new platforms and a growing brand awareness. Season your relationships as you go to build up the trust and flavor of your partnership. Ask questions about goals, communicate quarterly strategies and pitch ideas, and always be open to feedback. Relationships evolve over time, just like an ingredient changes throughout the cooking process, and maintaining that connection through seasoning is what makes an agency shine.

Everyone has stories to tell, and my favorite part of my job is discovering them and getting more people to hear them. Always being open to listen, and learn, drives me in my career and in the kitchen.




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