Being a public relations professional is not easy. Especially not in the highly skeptical Philadelphia market. Especially if you lean on the tired trope of cheesesteaks.
In general, there are ways to do it right, and promote your clients while still maintaining integrity. Personal connections are key. At an event last week hosted by the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, a panel of experienced food journalists all agreed that a customized note is always more effective than a mass-emailed pitch.
The best publicity pros craft customized messages and build rapport with writers and editors. They stay aware of the relevant landscape, and figure out ways their clients’ messages fit in — in ways useful to both the news outlet and their audience.
Mediocre agents send out generic statements, leaving the reporter to decide if they have any merit or relevance.
Then there’s the worst: Flacks who pretend they’re keyed into a certain scene, but give away their inauthenticity with obvious faux pas. These people aren’t just incompetent, they’re doing their profession a disservice.
Last week, an egregious example landed in the inboxes of Philly-area food scribes.
The email, sent by a Canadian-based firm to promote a Canadian-based chain, attempted to play off ostensible excitement surrounding the Eagles playoff run. Except, well, thanks to Carson Wentz’s season-ending injury and the last few games with Foles at the helm, things here in Philly are pretty subdued. People on the ground know that. Out of towners? Guess not.
Just for fun, here’s a line-by-line read of the silly pitch, which — spoiler — tries to sell you on cheesesteak-inspired poutine:
I wanted to connect with you regarding an opportunity that I believe may interest you that involves the local Smoke’s Poutinerie and the current Philadelphia Eagles playoff craze.
The Eagles are the No. 1 seed, sure, but we’re the underdogs going into this thing. Vegas has the line at -2.5 in favor of Atlanta, a historic diss for a top-ranked NFL team. Instead of a “craze” sweeping the city, it’s more like we’re holding our collective breath in fear of what could happen.
Philadelphia is a city on the top of the world as the beloved Eagles are primed to make a playoff push for the Super Bowl! Excitement is at an all-time high and fans and local businesses are coming up with crazy and unique creation to celebrate the occasion.
“All-time high”? A 6ABC article about “excitement” building in advance of the game couldn’t even come up with any exuberant quotes. “We’re hoping for the best,” one Birds fan told the station.
And then there’s the fact that no, in fact, most businesses around the city did not bother to come up with “crazy and unique creations” to celebrate the playoff push. A few are running specials during the game — some of which celebrate both teams! — but there weren’t enough to inspire a roundup from the Philly food blogs. A local PR pro who sent over some Eagles-related quotes from a restaurateur noted, “I had this queued up, but no one asked for them.”
One of these creations is the epic Limited Edition Philadelphia Eagles Poutine, made exclusively by the local Philly Smoke’s Poutinerie.
Did Smoke’s actually make an endorsement deal with the Eagles for this poutine? Doesn’t look like it. If not, it’s definitely no exclusive. And they might want to hope Jeffrey Lurie’s lawyers don’t get wind of how they’re co-opting the trademarked team name for promotion.
The classic dish of crispy golden fries, smouldering gravy, and mounds of delicious squeaky cheese curds has taken a wild turn in Philly as the honorary poutine has been released for all die-hard fans of the Eagles and delicious food lover across the city.
A “wild turn”? Wow, like the truly out there combos offered at locally-grown Shoo Fry, where you can get poutine in flavors like PB&J or scrapple? (And which, it should be said, is running a very spot-on promotion.)
The Philadelphia Eagles Poutine features the choice of chicken, steak, or veggie, topped with vibrant seared green pepper and onions, and finished off with white cheddar cheese sauce.
Oh, you’re going for a cheesesteak. But doing that wrong, too. Note to Canada (and everyone else outside of Philly): Green peppers are not part of that classic combo. Sorry not sorry.
Of note, Shoo Fry has a regular cheesesteak poutine on the menu. It’s got steak, fried onions, and your choice of American or Whiz.
There is no restaurant in Philly more weird, wild, and wacky, and the desire to spread the buzz and keep the party going through the playoffs with the Eagles.
Keep the party going? It’ll be a surprise to all of us if we make it past this weekend. And as for going on about being the weirdest, wildest and wackiest spot in town — that’s kind of like telling people you’re a genius. If you have to make a big deal about it, it’s probably not true.
We would like to offer you the opportunity to experience the latest in Eagles football fandom and get you some of the new Eagles Poutine to try!
If anyone can explain how chowing down on fries and curds is a football fandom experience, they deserve a medal.
You may perhaps be looking into a story about the Eagles creations that are popping up all over the city and this unique dish could be a great starting point.
A) Again, not a unique dish. B) Eagles creations did not pop up all over the city. C) The fawning attempt at pretending to be helpful — “you may be looking into a story” — is grating to begin with. Putting it at the very end of a pitch is insulting.
The overall takeaway is to not send pitches that make assumptions. If you know the landscape, great. If you don’t, don’t pretend that you do. It’ll backfire. Promise.
Anyway. Eat local. Go Eagles.