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Food Network: A PR Success Story

Posted At: November 18, 2009 12:58 PM
by Alysar Alameddin

In recent years, Food Network has become more than just a household name. The network, known for its cooking segments, competitions and travels, reaches 98 million U.S. households and continues to grow more each day. Carrie Welch, vice president of public relations at Food Network, said there is much planning, strategizing and executing that goes into PR for each of its shows.

“About six months before each show launches, we create a press plan where we decide what types of media we’ll focus on given the type of show,” Welch said. “We start contacting long-lead magazines at that time to begin to interest them in the show and chef or cook featured. We plan for select outlets to cover behind the scenes as the show shoots for articles and segments that we ask run closer to the show’s premiere date.”

But one of the main challenges at Food Network is the sheer amount of shows it premieres in a given year, Welch said. “Sometimes we’ll premiere more than one show a month, which is very rare for cable networks. We are one of the only cable channels that programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that’s a lot of shows to promote at once.”

The public relations team at the Food Network is made up of six people.

“Many of us have worked together for over five years, so we love the people we work with and our chefs and cooks,” Welch said. “It’s always fun to go on set when Iron Chef America is filming and stand in Kitchen Stadium; it really makes you remember what you’re working for. And, we do get to eat great food a lot.”

The six team members are in charge of the PR for the entire network.

“Our team handles PR for the shows, network, brand extensions and much more,” Welch said. “We divide the shows up between about five people who are designated as the point person for that show or talent for the production companies and internal programming directors to communicate with. We also handle talent relations as for any network needs like photo shoots, etc., so we are in touch with the chefs very often.”

Welch started as an administrative assistant in the Food Network’s PR department nine years ago and now runs the PR department. She said she shows up to work every day not knowing exactly what it will hold, but knows it will be exciting.

“It’s fun showing up to work every day not really knowing where that day will take you,” Welch said. “You could be escorting talent to a morning show at 7 a.m., making sure the food is correct and the plugs are in the segment, then back to office attending lots of meetings where we love to brainstorm and update, then out to lunch with a food writer or fellow publicist, then back to pitching, following up, tracking clips, then even dinner out with a producer, talent or vendor. Not to mention we all travel often to promote the shows and chefs while on the road. It can be a really intense schedule, but we are all very detail oriented and make sure we all know who’s coming and going at all times.”

Recently, the PR team started incorporating social media into their list of effective tactics. Welch said they have fully embraced Facebook, Twitter, blogs and more. She said it’s a great promotional tool, so immediate and helpful in many ways, but as a PR professional you always have to think about leaks.

“Because social networking sites are usually more personal than professional, people sometimes forget that there is information they have access to that’s not ready for release,” Welch said. “Many media companies have begun instituting rules for employees on what can and can’t be posted, and we are taking a look at our security measures as well. At Food Network, our online department manages our Facebook and Twitter pages, but we give them information and tidbits to promote on a weekly basis to be sure our priorities are being posted.”

Food Network’s mission is to connect people to the power and joy of food. Welch said the Food Network views itself as its viewers’ best friend in food – “an encouraging resource on-air and online as you’re navigating the world of food.”

“We are an interesting mix of a corporate office, television network with sets and production teams, and professional kitchen all wrapped up in orange and green décor above the Chelsea Market,” Welch said. “Chelsea Market is an old cookie factory, originally owned by Nabisco (the Oreo cookie was invented here), which is the perfect home for Food Network. We have the normal corporate structure you would expect for a mature cable network, but many of us have worked here for a long time and everyone is seriously, seriously NICE. Many describe it as the nicest place they have ever worked.”

Having been at the Food Network for nine years, Welch said she has many favorite moments, which include traveling to almost every major city in the U.S. with their chefs and having had the most amazing meals.

“I’ve eaten with Emeril at an elegant restaurant outside of Detroit, had margaritas at a fancy L.A. bar with Bobby, and eaten down home Atlanta food with Alton, to name a few,” Welch said. “But my real favorite moment is not really a moment, but the opportunity the network gave me.”

Advice Welch gives to future PR professionals is for everyone to understand their place in the world. She said it is difficult to balance when to talk, when not to talk, when to be aggressive and when to be patient.

“I think future PR professionals should pay attention to every detail and learn from every person they meet,” Welch said. “Don’t discount someone because you think they’re not important enough or quick enough. Make sure people know you respect them, and they’ll respect you too. And you need that credibility to formulate the relationships that help you do your job. It will be surprising to practitioners entering TV PR now just how many people you depend on just to make your job happen each day. But, I think that’s the fun part.”

As for advice for students wanting to eventually work in network PR, Welch said there are three important areas of PR for an internal person at a cable network.

1. “Phone – Decide if you like pitching and talking on the phone. It’s a huge part of the job.”

2. “Writing – An even bigger part of the job. Take a PR writing course, if not a full English minor! You will be writing every day of your life so make sure you either love it, or learn how to do it really well.”

3. “Cocktail parties – Learn how to engage people in conversations at cocktail parties, make smooth introductions, remember people’s names and work the room in a way that doesn’t look like you’re ‘working the room.’”

She also said, especially in TV, to get to know the entire crew when you’re on set during a show.

“It’s good to do this even when you’re on the set at a morning show or other press appearances,” Welch said. “These guys have been doing it a lot longer than you, and you can learn a lot from them. Plus they’re usually freelancers and move from show to show, so if you’re nice to them once or twice, they’ll probably remember you. You have no idea how many times my crew guys have saved me. And one more – get tight with your mailroom. They can make or break your very expensive press mailings, so make sure they are well taken care of with lunch once in a while, coffee, whatever small gesture wins them over.”

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