The key to media relations is in the name: building relationships with the media. This means taking time to learn about a reporter's background, interests, likes, pet-peeves and most importantly...what he or she looks for in a story pitch. Last year, we launched a series of one-on-one Q&As with journalists in the tech sector. In our series re-launch, we're talking with reporters covering advertising, marketing and media. For this first installment, we had the privilege to catch up with Stuart Elliott, well known for covering the ad industry at the New York Times for nearly 24 years.
1. You, of all people need no introduction - but we are still interested in your journalistic roots. When you entered the journalism field, was the advertising beat always on your mind, or did you 'fall into it' at the start of your career?
I had always been interested in advertising; I remember reading the Advertising column in the New York Times when I was in high school. And I had always been interested in journalism and writing. My first job in journalism out of college was at a paper in Rochester, N.Y., where I had many beats, the last one covering TV and radio. It was during that time that I first wrote about advertising, in columns about commercials. At my next job, at the Detroit Free Press, I covered advertising, marketing and retailing for most of my time there, then automotive marketing. Then came Advertising Age, covering the magazine beat; USA Today, covering advertising and marketing; and finally the Times, taking over the Advertising column in 1991.
2. We would be hard put to find others who have covered the advertising, marketing and media industries as long as you have. What are one or two major things you've seen change over time in both the ad industry, as well as the media reporting on it? Have they been for the better or worse?
The biggest change for advertising and journalism has been, of course, the Internet, digitalization of those industries, and every other industry, the profound changes wrought by being online, the Web, mobile, social, etc. For good or bad? It is what it is, but clearly in media many legacy companies have been financially damaged by their inability to change fast enough to adapt.
3. As the previous advertising columnist for the New York Times, where did you get most of your story ideas from? PR folks? Agencies? Direct from brands? What's stirring the creative juices with your new Media Village column?
My ideas at the Times came from many sources: covering breaking news, getting tipped to stories about to happen, pitches from PR folks, inspiration from reading articles in trade publications, requests from editors, seeing ads in print or commercials on TV. My weekly column for Media Village is opinion, essay, based on what's going on in the news and what people in advertising, marketing and media are talking about -- or ought to be talking about if they're not.
4. You received a well-deserved reputation amongst publicists as someone who gave 'everyone' the time of day -- even if to simply say 'no thanks.' I can't image you received fewer emails than any other writer in the industry. What prompted your approach / philosophy?
I got hundreds of emails a day, plus numerous phone calls, press kits in the mail and by messenger and so forth. But I believed, and still believe, that I don't know everything and it's useful to hear out people who may have something interesting to tell me. Also, why alienate people by ignoring them? If you do that, when they have something that's REALLY good, they turn to someone else, a competitor. And there's also the Golden Rule, treating people the way you would want to be treated (corny as that sounds).
5. Based on the previous question: you went above and beyond, considering all of the off target and bad pitches out there. What's your one piece of advice to PR people for developing solid relationships with busy reporters?
One piece of advice: if you're dealing regularly with a beat reporter, read what he/she writes, get to know his/her habits, deadlines, contact preferences.
6. Where do you see media heading in the next five years? In a world full of listicles and 40-character information, is there still room for long-form journalism as an art?
I have no idea. I hope there's still a place in the future for long-form journalism, also for reported journalism, reliable journalism, objective journalism.
7. Riffing on the last question: How (if at all) will technology continue to improve how we disseminate and consume information? For you personally - hard copy newspaper or iPad with your morning coffee?
Dunno where things are headed, tech-wise. Personally, I still read the print edition of the Times, as well as the print edition of the Daily News and print versions of many magazines. That is augmented during the day with visits to many many websites of both legacy publications and new, online-only media.
8. As far as media consumption, what are the 'must-read' news sites or 'must-watch' shows for you every day?
The New York Times, the Daily News, adage.com, adweek.com, mediapost.com, jimromenesko.com, Poynter Media Wire, Google News, CMO Today blog, Digiday, Mashable, Campaign US, The Drum US, Gawker, Towleroad, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, the three network nightly newscasts.
9. Just for fun: You are well known as a lover of American history and nostalgia. If you could travel back in time and visit any era of our country's past, when and where would you go?
Great question! I am torn among Chicago in the 1920s, Hollywood in the 1930s, Washington in the 1940s and New York in the 1950s.