Beyond barbecue

How to break the mold when pitching your city’s unique assets to national outlets

Nationally, Memphis is synonymous with dry-rubbed, slow-roasted barbecue. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pulled pork plate, but I know that Memphis has amazing assets beyond the barbecue pit that deserve national attention.

When you’re responsible for promoting local, lesser-known must-sees to a journalist from another market, it can be difficult to divert their attention away from your city’s claim to fame. But, as PR people, it’s our job to provide opportunities that satisfy the reporter’s urge to experience the most popular attractions while giving them material that makes them look like an insider.

There are two avenues you can pursue to gain coverage for your city – pitching a story about your city or offering an in-person experience to a journalist. Both have their pros and cons. Pitching a story allows you to better tailor your message, but can lack the personal touch that a reporter adds when they actually visit your city. Media tours can produce amazing pieces of journalism, but one bad experience can taint a trip and your coverage.

Whichever option you decide to pursue, the first step is identifying the right reporter. Thoroughly read the work of reporters at your target outlet and contact those who cover the “local” experience. Reporters who have an interest in acting like a local are more likely to be interested in restaurants, hotels and attractions that are off the beaten path.

The next step is to build a list of attractions you’d like for the reporter to cover or experience. The likelihood that a reporter would travel to your town and create an entire story based upon the menu of the restaurant you represent is low. But, a trip to your restaurant in combination with having a drink at a beloved dive bar, seeing a local band at an intimate concert venue, sipping coffee in an urban village and a taking a scenic trek through a hiking trail creates a unique city profile that a reporter can use.

If you’re pitching a story, compile high-resolution photos that give the reporter a feel for your city. Include photos and information about the owner, the history of the joint and its current reputation amongst locals. If you’re inviting the reporter to come to town, be sure to book accommodations well in advance and plan a well-balanced itinerary with some downtime included.

Regardless of whether you’re pitching a story or inviting the journalist to town, work with the PR or communication professionals at other local joints (if you don’t represent them, too) to create a PR packet with key information. Ultimately, it’s your job to make your city easy to cover.

Finally, don’t shy completely away from what you’re known for. My mother always told me, “Don’t order the burger at an Italian restaurant.” Essentially, “Don’t bring a reporter to Memphis and NOT feed them barbecue.” I’m going to be upset if I visit Chicago and don’t get pizza, or if I travel to San Francisco and don’t see the Golden Gate Bridge. Be sure to give them a small taste of what you’re best known for and then dazzle them with the local hot spots.