Surviving a “Meet-the-Media” Meat Market

With all apologies to Twitter, I firmly believe the best way to connect with a journalist is to meet ‘em in person. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done because most journalists are overworked, always on deadline and naturally reclusive, skeptical types (who often refer to us PR folks as working on the “dark side” of journalism).

To address this problem, many professional organizations routinely hold meet-the-media events. They are set-up like mini-trade shows, with the flacks standing in booths chatting (hopefully) with the hacks circulating throughout. While this format sounds good in theory, in practice its effectiveness varies wildly. As with tradeshows, it’s easy for certain booths to monopolize attention, while others languish (regardless of their mint bowls). The “A-List” journalists in attendance are usually there out of obligation, not interest, and are simply going through the motions — if they show at all. More common are freelancers and bloggers trolling for free schwag or junkets, as well as pay-for-play cable and syndicated show producers (the ultimate bottom-feeders on the journalism food chain).

Not all meet-the-media events are lame, though. I’ve attended several good ones, including the recent Holiday Lookbook event in Manhattan. As per usual, the paying customers — PR people like me — were delivered a wide selection of freelancers, Web site editors and bloggers of varying influence. But there were just enough national-level media to make the event interesting, and the theme — holiday gift ideas — helped all parties, hack and flack alike. Also, the products were classified into topical categories, the best of which (“green” products) fit one of my clients nicely.

So what’s the take-away here? First, I’d suggest closely analyzing how your product or client fits into the overall scheme of the event. It’s not always obvious. Since the New York event’s participants, media and overall vibe were very female-focused, participation by a padlock manufacturer and a line of sports braces would seem counterintuitive, right? In reality, the holiday gift ideas theme worked out well, even with the girly-est of media outlets. As one snooty fashionista editor said, “I personally have no interest in this stuff, but they make great suggestions for our readers to give their husbands and boyfriends.”

Suggestion two: have some fun! After getting only limited conversations in the New York show’s first hour, I began taking on and off my client’s various back and knee braces. Silly? Sure. But people started talking. Then I got the exhibitor next to me — a petite, pretty Asian woman displaying her boutique baby clothing line — to wear the knee brace for a while. That really started conversations. Finally, I chatted up several of the other green product reps and told them about my athletic braces made from recycled materials. We agreed to cross-promote each other, which pushed several more writers my way, all of whom had a specific interest in green products.

The bottom line? While I’m still skeptical of meet-the-media events, I’m starting to accept them as a necessary, albeit flawed tool. Just don’t think a bowl of mints will make them successful.


DINING: Had dinner at a great Italian joint on E. 20th Street, La Pizza Fresca. This narrow trattoria boasts a Tuscan-style brick oven and an inventive menu (including wild boar ragu and spaghetti with duck) but the real eye-opener is the wine list. Owner Brad Bonewell, a reformed ad exec, has a cellar bursting with everything from classic Italian Chiantis and French Bordeaux to cutting-edge California blends, Super Tuscans and other “new school” favorites. I got to try two drop-dead reds: Overture ‘07, a cab-based blend from in Napa and Flaccianello ’06, an intense Tuscan sangiovese.

HOTEL: I stayed at the Hudson Hotel, 356 W. 58th Street. While I was thrown off by its undercover exterior (no sign, no marquee) I loved the ultra-hip interior and my room was more than adequate. Best of all was the price — about $100 less than I was expecting to pay.

TRY EXPENSING THAT: Never before have I seen a beer that cost over $100 a bottle. That changed when I stopped in at L’Express on S. Park Ave., where a particularly rare Belgian Trappist Ale will set you back $110. (I opted for Diet Coke.)