Letters from the Industry
Editor’s Note — The food world is full of talented chefs, restaurateurs and producers, but it takes the efforts of many to make sure their creations reach the community. That support often comes in the form of a restaurant publicist. In the latest installment of our “Letters from the Industry” series, we asked one Los Angeles food industry representative, Diana Hossfeld of JS² Communications, to share with us a glimpse inside the daily routine of restaurant public relations.
The shrill sound of chirping birds bolts me awake. My hand flies to my phone, which I’ve purposely buried underneath a pile of t-shirts in my bedside dresser—my futile attempt to stifle the temptation to check it overnight. I quickly scroll through a dozen monitoring emails that inform me when one of our clients has been mentioned in an article (Glamour Online––yay!), and fire off a quick, “On it!” response to a journalist in need of a quote from a bartender we work with for a story she’s turning in this morning. I debate how long I should wait before texting him––just how crazy will he (and his wife) think I am if I message him prior to 7:00 a.m.? Prior to 8:00 a.m.?
These are my burning questions.
Battling an innate lack of coordination, I stand up at the prompting of my Bar Method instructor and begin raising my legs to “the beat” of the music. I try to focus on the sound of her voice, reminding myself that this hour is for me. It’s probably the only part of my day that won’t, in some capacity, revolve around food, beverage or the people who create it. I proceed to spend half the class fantasizing about what I’ll eat for breakfast afterwards.
Back from my workout, I hurdle across my apartment in the direction of my phone, simultaneously reprimanding myself for being “that girl”—a slave to the contents of my inbox. A national travel writer has responded to a dining destination pitch about the thriving restaurant scene in Los Angeles’ Arts District, and is looking for examples of architecture and art galleries to substantiate my claim about the renaissance in the area (apparently, there are people who care about things other than eating out?). I’m relieved that my 11:00 a.m. meeting has been cancelled, so I’ll have time to do additional research when I get to the office.
I’m running late, but can’t resist taking a photo of my fig-topped chia pudding under the stream of early morning light flooding in through my kitchen window. Getting figgy with it? Figs in a blanket? The fig is up? I contemplate caption options before posting the image to my Instagram account, a vestigial limb of my former life as a blogger, back when food was merely a passion rather than my vocation.
As I speed-walk the three blocks between my apartment and our office, I text one of my chefs to let him know the 9:30 a.m. call he has with a producer to review logistics for an upcoming cooking segment has been cancelled. “Can you do tomorrow at 9:30 instead?” I type, nearly tripping over a crack in the sidewalk in my effort to multi-task (see also: lack of coordination).
Finally at my desk, I plug in my earbuds and announce to my co-workers that, “I’m going in the zone.” A photo editor I’ve been working with on an exclusive first look at finished interiors of a new restaurant, set to open next week, has clarified a definitive time she’d like to send a photographer to shoot the space––11:00 a.m. I email-slash-text-slash-call to lock it down: “I’m so sorry for the last minute notice, but…”
After sending off hyper-linked examples of new mixed-use retail, gallery and exhibition spaces in the Arts District to the freelancer (Google saves the day!), I change gears and email the final version of a press release to a client for approval. I’m hoping to send it out this morning, but might need to wait; it depends on whether an outlet I’ve wanted to break the news gets back to me. I feel vulnerable, like I’m pining for a guy to tell me he wants to see me again after a date. But there’s no time to overanalyze; if it doesn’t happen, I’ll move on to Plan B.
“We have lift-off!” I say to the photographer, confirming that the 11:00 a.m. photo shoot has now been cleared. I set a mental reminder to check in with him afterwards to ensure everything went smoothly.
Momentarily placated that things are in motion, I pause to address one of the actual items on my to-do list for the morning: putting through a reservation for a writer interested in dining at a restaurant that we represent. I describe the nature of the visit to provide context and send it off for the owner’s approval.
I find out: A.) The photographer was early, B.) The space wasn’t ready to photograph when he arrived, and C.) The shoot will be happening tomorrow morning instead, pushing back the run-date for the exclusive even further, meaning, D.) Diana now needs to eat all the chocolate.
I turn my attention to a spreadsheet detailing media who have applied for credentials to an upcoming food festival that our agency is publicizing. I make comments and return to my colleague with instructions for the distribution of approval (or disapproval) emails. I advise her to not take it personally when someone inevitably lambasts her for not receiving accreditation: “Sometimes our job is as much about saying, ‘No,” as it is about saying, ‘Yes,'” I say.
A smile extends across my face when I receive a fact check from a local magazine editor who is including one of our restaurants in an upcoming issue. Though naysayers try to proclaim, “Print is dead,” it still carries meaning in our line of work, particularly to the clients we represent. The thrill of seeing placement “in the flesh” never gets old—as the precarious stacks of tagged magazines and newspapers on my desk would attest.
I receive a text from a client reminding me that it’s a specific national food holiday in two days, and they’d like to be on TV. We’ve been pitching them for appropriate opportunities and have some placements lined up already, but I do another round of follow-up in case any previously scheduled guests on the local morning news circuit have fallen through. I pause to consider whether it’s less annoying to say, “Just circling back,” or, “Just checking in.” Survey says? Both are equally annoying.
On the third attempt, I finally get clarification on a chef’s availability for a phone interview with an editor. He can speak in 17 minutes or in 47 minutes. Frantic emailing ensues.
Unable to ignore the hunger pangs that are now interfering with my rhythm and focus, I grab my lunch from the fridge and hunker back down in front of my computer. In between forkfuls of my quinoa salad, I try to read Besha Rodell’s latest restaurant review on LA Weekly, but keep getting distracted by emails. After four interruptions, I finish the review. I make a few quick notes regarding referenced dishes that share similarities to those at my clients’ spots for possible trend story pitches. Hot dogs are like, so haute right now.
Estimating that the 1:00 p.m. interview has concluded, I send a quick thank you to the writer and check-in to see if there’s anything further he might need. I’m met with––silence. I tell myself it’s probably because he doesn’t need anything and/or is in the process of writing the piece, rather than the worst case scenario––that he’s decided he doesn’t want to do the story anymore, and I’ll have to gouge my eyeballs out a little bit.
I hear back from a local freelance writer I shared an event press release with the previous week, and offer an angle suggestion that might work for a national outlet. After rereading the email five times to ensure I’m coming across like, supes causal and not pushy publicist, I hit send.
The chef who fielded the 1:00 p.m. interview emails to ask when the story is running. And if it will be in print (See: Why print can never ever, ever be dead. And why I keep a lot––a lot, a lot––of chocolate in my desk drawer).
Eying the clock, I put the finishing touches on a new business presentation for a 4:00 p.m. meeting with a potential restaurant client that the President/Co-founder of our company and I are taking together. “Please don’t let the printer jam,” I plead. “Please, please don’t let the printer jam… do I have parsley in my teeth?”
We arrive at the restaurant, presentations in hand (and parsley dislodged). I’m looking forward to meeting its owner, hearing his story and having a conversation about how we might be able to work together. It would be a fun client to have, and I’m excited to see where things might lead.
Handshakes conclude our discussion, which seemed to go well, but in a way that makes me wonder if in a few months I’ll run into him, and he’ll recognize me and not know exactly why. I’m always grateful for an opportunity, whether it leads somewhere or nowhere at all, but I leave feeling like I want to be part of his and the restaurant’s journey. I want to be the one to find the stories that lie within the four walls of his life’s work, and to help share what he is doing with the world—even if it is just the world of our nerdy food community. It’s a reminder of why I entered this field more than four years ago, why I crossed the great divide between food blogger and restaurant publicist, and why I have married myself to a career that seamlessly bleeds into my social and personal life.
My blood sugar low; I eat two plums in rapid, rabid succession before taking a few minutes to catch up on the latest headlines: Eater LA, Los Angeles Magazine’s Digest Blog, Los Angeles Times’ Daily Dish, LA Weekly, and Zagat LA. I see a story on all the crazy Orange County food fare (deep-fried coffee!) and think, “Someone should do a roundup of where to find versions at Los Angeles restaurants.” Cue: Impromptu brainstorm session with my colleagues about which of our restaurants offer dishes that could be a fit. Street corn? Yes. Corn dogs? Yes. Churro beignets? Yes! Yes!
Even though the intensity of the day is starting to impact my ability to think clearly, I tackle another item that I had set out to complete before I leave for the night: Writing menu copy that describes a restaurant’s collaboration garden. Mid-sentence I start fantasizing about having a glass of wine at home. Mmm, wine.
I continue going back through what seems like an endless number of flagged emails —declining requests for event sponsorships and paid placements (“Unfortunately, they don’t have a budget for advertising at this time”), and fielding a query for a chef to appear in a low-budget food documentary this fall. I try to be polite and respectful, filtering out the words I’d really like to say long before my fingers strike the keyboard. Enthusiastic exclamation points are my best friend!!!!!
Finally alone. It’s late, but I have three back-to-back meetings the next day, so I push through, creating an agenda for a kick-off call with a new client, and sending off press clip reports to our existing clients. This is the fun part—sharing the placements we’ve secured for them that day.
I take one last look at my inbox to make sure I’ve responded to everything that needs a response and set the alarm for the office. I feel momentarily sad that I’m missing a happy hour mixer I was invited to attend, but I’ve come to look forward to the evenings I have at home more than those I spend out eating an endless array of courses. Tonight, there will be vegetables and Netflix—the antithesis of the tasting menus and opening parties that, on the surface, seem tantamount to my profession. I’m momentarily grateful for the reprieve, even as I keep one eye affixed to my phone, waiting for the next email, the next request, and the next opportunity for one of our clients’ stories to be told.