Friday Q and A with Sally Shalam
Sally Shalam is a specialist writer on Britain, consults on pitches and client mentoring for PR agencies and on branding for independent businesses. A freelance contributing editor for Conde Nast Traveller, she is a former London Evening Standard travel editor and Guardian hotel critic. Sally has Recently returned from a week in Cornwall delivering Media Masterclasses to the hospitality industry.
1. What makes you open an email from a PR?
Curiosity. I know it killed the cat, but it’s what attracted some of us to finding out about things and telling other people about our discoveries. A good line in the subject field of an email is always a very, very good idea indeed.
2. Would you open emails from PR’s you don’t know?
Of course, all the time. There was a time when one could know pretty much everyone one needed to know, but PR seems a bit of a revolving door now, with lots of niche agencies springing up. It’s impossible to know everyone. I find it even harder to know who’s representing British destinations.
3. Do you answer your landline during a working day?
The walls are thick here and the mobile signal sometimes suffers. I like the landline and always use it if I’m interviewing or need really clear reception.
4. Do you like images within a PR pitch?
I’d say an image or two is essential with a release – unless you’re targeting someone you know well and it’s too soon for pics, but you want to give them a heads-up. Someone regularly sends me releases for rather expensive luggage with no images whatsoever, and I think that’s nuts. However I dislike being sent, unsolicited, a series of large images on email which clog up my inbox. I don’t have an IT department squirrelled away somewhere at the bottom of the garden to sort out that sort of thing. I do understand though, that it can be hard, with so many different ways of doing things now, to tell who will be handling pictures when a feature is being researched. Some glossies have a picture desk, some writers source images themselves, and so on.
5. When is the best time for you to meet a PR?
I don’t mind what time, what matters to me is location. No, I’m not coming up to London. There are more than half a dozen assorted travel writers and editors in and around Bath. You’re selling, we’re buying. Get on a train.
6. And which day suits the most?
Unlike an editor or regular columnist, I don’t have a routine, especially as I combine writing with consulting. No two weeks are ever the same.
7. What are your top 2 tips for a PR trying to secure coverage?
When I’m holding a workshop for regional, independent business, and helping them to understand the power of PR, I often recall a travel piece submitted to me back in ES days. The writer had gone to Scotland to learn to fly fish and the ghillie told him he had to ‘learn to think like a trout’. With PR it helps if you can think like an editor. That means tailoring, it’s more about identifying what they want and seeing where the story is for them.
Often PR professionals are well aware of where the stories are but the client won’t listen and wants to push something different. This is often when an agency will bring me in. Because a client is sometimes more likely to take advice on board when it comes from more than one source.
If you can do the tailoring, then the next tip, which is to target accurately, is implicit. If you’re already thinking about what that writer or editor will like and need, then you’re already devising something suited to their readership. Which we like. I’m surprised at how some really upmarket agencies still carpet email.
8. Are you happy to be contacted via social media / what are the boundaries?
It’s useful as an initial point of contact, and from my perspective, Instagram is great for showing people what I do and what I like. But can anyone explain to me why a PR professional would message at 11pm on Friday or Saturday night – because that’s when it seems to occur?
9. Spirulina or Sauvignon?
One is for the morning and the other for the evening, no?
10. Stylist or The Spectator?
Really like them both!
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