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Steven Cole 2

 

You may or you may not be familiar with Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP). Because we are a public relations (PR) agency with clients in Uptown, it’s crucial for us to have relationships with people like Steven Cole, Director of Communications. So, we caught up with him recently to hear what he had to say about CCCP and best practices for PR and communications professionals.

 

For those who aren’t familiar, tell us a little about CCCP.

We are a 501(c)(4) that collaborates with and convenes organizations, government and non-profits to make center city and South End a more livable, workable and playable place. Creating one central hub of employment and culture is great for the city because the infrastructure is already in place. We perform functions ranging from economic development, strategic planning and quite a few events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Charlotte City festivals. We also manage the 7th Street Market and Charlotte B-cycle.

 

Is your background in communications?

I practiced PR in the army for 8 years. I spent time with the Honor Guard doing media relations in Afghanistan and working jointly with the international agency, Fleishman Hilliard. Some of my most recent work was in Los Angeles in the film and TV industry where I did some fun and interesting things like product placement and brand management with entertainment media.

 

What skills and experiences have you taken from the army and applied to your role at CCCP?

Time management, which I know most PR/marketing pros can appreciate! Also, something that’s more similar than I thought is the importance of organizational thinking — always relying on and reminding yourself of the organization’s mission to help keep you on track.

 

You have a newsletter, right? What’s its purpose and how can marketing folks work with you?

Absolutely; it’s weekly, and you can sign up through charlottecentercity.org or our Facebook page here. The format can differ slightly depending on what’s going on but we typically have a feature article written by someone on staff, then we’ll also repost articles from other sources highlighting different events and economic development interests. I encourage anyone within our constituency to send me relevant story ideas or events for consideration. You can email me at scole@charlottecentercity.org.

 

What’s your biggest PR pet peeve?

I guess I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve, but people often think all you need is a relationship with a journalist to get quality coverage. Relationships are great, but you must have quality content first.

 

Any advice for PR folks in Charlotte?

Build a diverse team of subject matter experts. That way, you’re not relying on one individual for all interviews and/or content.

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Tell us about your position as digital editor at QC Exclusive and how it is different from being a writer. What is your day to day like?

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I do a little bit of everything now! QC Exclusive is really small. There are seven of us who are full-time and only part of that is editorial. The rest is sales. Magazines are a little different than any other media form because they take longer to come out. We curate articles for the magazine

As an editor, even though the official title is digital editor, I do a lot of the print stuff too: writing, editing, curating, helping with scheduling and then also assisting on photo shoots, as well as the website and all of the social media. I mean we all kind of have our hands in everything to a certain extent. When I was writing I was just writing and now it is a little bit of everything. And I still do the writing process too: setting up interviews, doing the interviews, transcribing the interviews, writing the piece — which is awesome, it’s all really fun. Our owner and editor is like an artist and is very passionate about the magazine. He does the layout. I think you can tell when you look at the magazine that the form and pictures matter to him a lot.

How does QC Exclusive balance what goes in print and what goes online?

Magazines are a little different than any other media form because they take longer to come out. We curate articles for the magazine that we know will look really good in print visually and that are a good story. But then it also must be something that isn’t super timely, because if it is and we miss it, then it doesn’t make sense to put it in the magazine. So, something that’s very timely we will put online.

Sometimes there is a really cool story or something super popular in Charlotte, but there just isn’t a good way to photograph it. So many times, those work better for the website as well. And then everything that is in print, we stagger on the website about a week after the magazine comes out.

Looking at what goes in the magazine and online, what does the split look like between earned and paid opportunities?  

Well, it depends. We have advertisers who, for example, will get editorial if it makes sense for the magazine. But we also don’t take advertisers who we would never put in the magazine to begin with. We are definitely picky.

And that’s one of the challenges with print right now; a lot of people don’t want just an ad anymore, understandably. I always tell people, ads are great for your brand but that’s not what is interesting about your business. We do stories on clients, but we don’t sell those (except for an advertorial section, which we just started doing again in the last couple months). The end of the magazine is a sponsored content section. But other that, story-wise, it is pretty much true editorial.

As for you, what do you look for in your stories? What attracts you personally?  

I really like people stories. A lot of times, even if that’s not the focus of the piece, say it is a restaurant opening and the focus may be more the actual restaurant itself, I enjoy getting to hear about the person who opened it. I really like that side of it. Sometimes it’s the main angle in an article and sometimes it isn’t, but I like digging that out either way. I’ve been in Charlotte for under 2 ½ years so pretty much everything going on in this city is still interesting to me. A lot of it is stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of or done, which makes it fun for me personally.

I also love writing for a magazine and have always been more drawn to that than newspaper-style journalism. The form is a little more restrictive in terms of the type of writing you can do and more creative at the same time.

What is your advice for those reaching out to you for a story?
I think if someone addresses you personally where you can tell that it’s not spam, that’s awesome. We just get so many emails; sometimes when it’s a mass one, it’s not that I won’t read it, I just won’t read it first. And then I would say anybody who clearly understands the brand. For example, you were pitching a person and their story and that made sense for what we do. When you get e-mails where the person either doesn’t understand or didn’t take the time to figure out what we would put in the magazine or online, then the only real answer is “we don’t do that.”

However, Charlotte is a small enough city that when you can work with a circle of people, it’s very useful. You all might know something that we just don’t know about yet and that’s awesome for us!

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Big Fish in a Little Pond
Katie, formerly a U.S. News & World Report economy reporter, moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 2015 and was hired on as the retail reporter. Her role has since expanded to cover breaking business news (e.g., HB2 issue, shooting protests) and sports business. She feels that she can make a big splash in a mid-sized city like Charlotte whereas her impact might be more like a drop in the ocean in Washington, D.C. She enjoys working alongside the award-winning staff at The Charlotte Observer – many of whom have won Pulitzers for their journalism.

What Gets Katie Out of Bed
When asked which stories she gets most excited to write, she very quickly stated it is when she can hold public officials or executives accountable – particularly if the story pertains to where the city’s/community’s/company’s money is going.  She noted that it’s also fun to write the short, quick stories, such as a new restaurant with a cult following or a business that conjures up nostalgia for her readers.

Pitch Tips
I was also able to elicit some information from Katie that can serve as pointers for any of you who do, or will be, pitching her in the future. What falls in the won’t-cover box? Executive role changes and awards. Mainly it’s because we all must ask ourselves the, “Who cares?” question, and when it comes to that type of “news,” the only folks who do care are within the four walls of your company. Katie, as do all journalists, works in a shrinking newsroom and time is money. She must dedicate her time to stories that truly interest readers – the stories that make readers pick up the newspaper or click the digital edition open every day. Also – don’t write her a novella of a pitch. Short, sweet and to the point is best. She’s even drawn in sometimes by one or two lines that offer her a teaser of a story – and especially something exclusive or breaking. Lastly, if she feels like a certain topic has been fully covered by CharlotteFive or other local outlets, she might very well decide to not cover as the story has been told to the local community and she will free up time to tell a different story.

Here for You
I asked Katie what she wants our readers to know about her and/or The Charlotte Observer. I promise I’m not just saying this because she will read this as well but I thought she gave an impressive answer – simple in words but grand in its meaning. She wants all of you to understand how accessible she and her colleagues are. A quick google search on Katie and you’ll find her email address and Twitter handle. She invites you to send her tips, comments, etc. at any time. I can attest to her accessibility! She is always responsive when my team and I send her pitches (maybe I can also give oursevles a pat on the back for writing good pitches?), and she responded immediately to my invite to participate in our Q&A series.

She also expressed that she doesn’t have an agenda. She doesn’t insert her own opinions into her writing. She puts the onus on herself to tell you what you don’t know. It makes sense why “holding public officials/executives accountable,” is what excites her. She sees it as her job to uncover the story and tell it to you so you are fully aware of what’s going on in your city. No matter what you do, how old you are, Katie wants to hear from you.

Thanks again, Katie, for letting all of us get to know you better, and for keeping Charlotteans abreast of what’s going on in the Queen City

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We’ve all been told to network so we understand the benefits but, whether you’re starting out your career or are 5, 10, 15 years in, you may feel out of your comfort zone at networking events. Some of you may even say these types of events aren’t worth your time. We want to open your mind to a slightly different approach this summer while you have “longer days” and maybe a slightly lessened workload. Follow our tips below to make the most of your time and make hay while the sun shines. Then, let us know how it went!

Ask the Right Questions

Many times we miss out on an opportunity to make a great connection because we are asking the wrong questions. Ditch the same old, “What do you do?” and open with:

  • What are you reading these days? | The book someone has on their nightstand can tell you about them. It could give you a mutual jumping off point to discuss a book you both enjoyed or allow the other person to share some of their interests with you. It can also give you a great follow-up point: “Hey, I read that book you recommended and really learned a lot.” Our top summer suggestions include one oldie but goodie, and two new PR must-reads.
  • Have you been to [insert Charlotte’s newest hot spot here] yet? | Charlotte is full of new restaurants, bars, activities (Top Golf, anyone?) and venues. As an industry with their finger on the pulse of the QC, there is a good chance whoever you are talking to has been to the new hot spot or is dying to go.
  • Do you have a “wow-project” that you are involved with? | When you do want to delve into work, this question will allow you to dig a little deeper than just getting a generic job title and a company.

Think Non-Traditional

Sometimes the traditional model where you show up, get a drink ticket, listen to a speaker, pass your business card around to a few people and leave just isn’t what you’re looking for. We’ve pulled together a few other “networking” events to help you shake things up this summer:

  • InstabeerupCLT | A casual monthly event hosted at a variety of locations that serve beer. As CharlotteFive said, “No sponsors. No agenda. No registration. You just show up and drink beer and hang out with people. It’s all very human.” Just follow #instabeerupclt on social media to find out when and where. Hint: It’s usually the last Thursday of the month.
  • Take a class | An event doesn’t have to have networking in the title to be a place to meet new connections. Enhance your public speaking and presentation skills with a Public Speaking Masterclass at SkillPop or by joining the local Toastmasters Chapter. Step outside of your comfort zone cand give yourself you a casual atmosphere to learn about those you are learning with.
  • Volunteer | Put your extra time to do some good! To double up on the benefits, look for opportunities with PRSA or a bevy of other communications professionals’ organizations. They are always looking for folks to help on the committees for communications, membership, accreditation, new professionals and awards. To get a feel for all of the organizations out there, join us at the Alphabet Bash in August to network with professionals from across the city, and support a local charity while you’re at

And Lastly, Just Reach Out!

If a group setting isn’t your jam, another way to get your toes wet is to reach out individually to someone in the community who you would like to get to know better; whether they are a colleague, a member of the media or someone at another company you admire, all you have to do is ask. Cleary state your intentions (no selling, no pressuring, just connecting), and suggest a casual place to meet such as a coffee shop or a brewery, depending on your connection with the person. If you want a little more backup, bring a friend who is also interested in the industry to break the ice and keep the conversation flowing. And hey, if they say no, give us a shout, we’ll grab a beer with you anytime!

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Q: Tell me about your path to digital editor, as well as arts editor, at Charlotte Magazine.
It’s interesting. I moved here 4 years ago as a freelancer. Then I became the freelance web editor in the summer of 2013 and then a couple months later (because of my arts writing background), they said, “Hey, our freelance arts editor position is coming open, would you want to take that?” So, for the last 4 years, until a few months ago, I’d made a full-time role out of being a freelance digital editor and being a freelance arts editor. Then, earlier this year, they asked if I wanted to come on staff and do what I’m doing but from the office and put a ring on it—along with some new duties. So pretty much my day to day is to manage all the web editorial projects; assign stories to freelancers on the digital side; manage our digital outlets; to help translate the product from print to web and to try to amplify the things that work in print—while also living this life as an arts writer.
I also maintain a career as a freelance arts journalist and critic for a few national publications. One is called Hi-Fructose Magazine, another New Noise Magazine, and a few others. Most people do this in reverse, but I was a national arts critic before I was a local one. I was a local arts journalist in newspapers and online for a number of years, too.

Q: The big question is, out of all the hats you wear, which is your favorite?
I am very lucky in that I can’t really pick. I really enjoy working with people. I really enjoy getting up every morning and seeing what’s happening in Charlotte and beyond. Charlotte magazine has been around for almost 50 years now. For the magazine, I consider part of my job as looking at things we’ve done in the past and trying to recontextualize or marry what we do to the digital sphere. Sometimes that’s assigning stories and trying to figure out how to tackle something. And there’s sorting through a lot of pitches. I enjoy all of it. Being an arts writer is a lot of fun but I think it’s hard for me to break all of these things apart because they are all tethered in a way. But I am very lucky to be able to do them all together.

Q: Why the arts?
As a kid, from the moment I gripped a pencil to high school, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Then at one point I gravitated to this magazine called Wizard: The Guide to Comics. It’s no longer in business because comics journalism isn’t easy, but I always enjoyed writing and eventually discovered that I could be immersed in all of these worlds in a different way. I was one of those kids who from an early age was a “generalist.” We would have called it being “annoying” at the time. I was into marching band, theatre, art club, all these different areas of the arts. I wasn’t great at any of it — mediocre, really — but I loved this idea of process. I felt like I had a knack for sharing the arts with folks in a conversational way.

Q: What is your recommendation for folks who like arts but don’t really know where to start – for the novice?
When we talk about the arts, on a practical level, we’re really talking about a handful of disparate industries. They intersect, but from person to person, theatre could be a major love while paintings just don’t interest you. If you have an interest in visual arts, go to the free Uptown crawl. It is the third Thursday of every month and they have a trolley that goes in between each museum or gallery on the line-up. If you’ve always wanted to check out certain spots in Uptown, that’s a good entry point. Galleries are open all the time and free any way, but if you’re hesitant on any museum, look on their schedule to see what days are discounted or free. Otherwise, look for the galleries or programs in the pockets of Charlotte: Jerald Melberg Gallery in Cotswold, Goodyear Arts soon in North End, Gallery Twenty-Two in Plaza Midwood.

For theater, I would say it depends on what you are in to. We have these big musicals, national touring productions, that run at Belk Theater. But Blumenthal also rents out its smaller theaters to local productions and troupes. Tom Gabbard, president of Blumenthal, once told me he sees Blumenthal as just as necessary as Theatre of Charlotte, Three Bones, CTC — to have an ecosystem that’s thriving you have to have it on every level and you must have localized theatre. XOXO’s experimental works and Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte say so much about the talent here.

Q: Switching gears slightly, because of your print and digital side, what are your thoughts on print form as far as dying and going away?
Considering I primarily work for print publications, it’s safe to say I very much believe in its power. There is a lot of strength in print, and we need to lean on those strengths. I think what people are finding now is that you have to make a lot more cutthroat decisions about what goes where, where to allocate resources. You also must understand which stories are worth giving which treatment. It’s a precious thing. When we put something into print whether it’s fun or extremely serious, we are deciding about what we think is important for you to have in your hands this month in Charlotte. Vital stories happen in print and online, but the products have—and I’m sorry for using this word—a synergistic relationship. We are always analyzing what works where.
Sure, print is not in the same place as it was when I was reading Wizard Magazine as a kid, but there is just something about reading it in your hands that is different and part of our job is to make it worth it for you. Like a book, you keep coming back to them and hold on to them. And I think we have that mindset sometimes – what are the things that are going to make me want to revisit it?
As a side note – Andy mentioned: “To really write about art, you should pay for it sometimes and know what it’s like to hand someone money and ask, ‘can I have this experience?’ You have to know what it’s like to sacrifice part of your income in order to experience culture. I won’t go as Andy Smith, the arts journalist. I’ll just go as me, the geek who likes art.”

Q: What is one thing that you want people to know about you?
What I’m trying to do every day is contribute to an entity that is trying to tell Charlotte’s story. For the arts, it’s daily conversations with people who are accomplishing things with an enormous amount of obstacles, like the rest of us. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s amazing. Everyone deserves that opportunity to express. And the journey of discovering what’s here continues to excite me.

And I want people to tell me about what excites them. What am I not covering? What am I not doing a good job of? There is always room to grow. There are always things to write about that we aren’t. Whether through email or social media, tell me about what excites you and what I’m missing. And I’d love to talk to anyone about that.

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finickly lady and trish

Want to be featured in our journalist / influencer Q&A series? Contact us

 

This blog will apply to all of you because either (1) you eat and want to know the best places around town; (2) you want to influence the Charlotte food community and/or (3) you want to reach a target audience. For #3, this blog is a tease for next month’s blog, which will be a deep dive on influencer relations. Stay tuned!

Some of you are already familiar with the term, “influencer,” and are leveraging key influencers in your industry. If not, Dictionary.com defines an influencer as “a person who has the power to influence many people, as through social media or traditional media.” As PR practitioners in 2017, we work with influencers as much as we do with traditional journalists. They are an extremely valuable resource to our/your PR efforts!

Within the food world, we call it “infoodence” – get it, get it? Given our work with Craft Tasting Room & Growler Shop, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Evoke, the Moo & Brew Festival and the N.C. Brewers Celebration, just to name a few, we’ve become friends with the foodies in town.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of our foodie influencer friends, Jessica Moore (@finickylady on IG), so you all could get to know her a bit better. If you want to know ALL the best bites, spots and dives in town, click follow on IG right now.

1. Tell me about yourself. 
I’m from North Carolina and was born in Hickory – the foothills. I was raised by my dad and he loved to cook; that’s where my love for food started and I became open to trying new things. I was his little taste-tester in the kitchen as a kid. We lived with my grandparents for a while because he was a single dad going to school, raising me and working all at the same time so I learned a lot of my values from him … by seeing how hard he worked.

We moved to Charlotte when I was nine (so I’ve been here for 25 years; my whole life almost). I’ve always had a full-time job and actually worked two jobs for a while. I even had two jobs my senior year of high school; I guess I just like to work! I’ve always enjoyed having my own money and buying what I wanted to. My grandmother was a big influence in my life too – she told me to always be sure I could take care of myself and not depend on anyone else to get what I wanted. My motto is: have a high work ethic, be kind to people and do what you love! I’m very happy in my job now; it gives me the extra free time for opportunities like new menu tastings and fun food events.

2. What’s your full-time gig?
I work for Maersk Inc in labor relations. My title is Assistant Manager of Operations.

3. Tell me about your path to being a foodie influencer.
I always enjoyed being in the kitchen, chopping veggies and plating things. I was the sous chef (by the time I was able to handle knives of course) to my dad, a self-taught chef. Even to this day I serve as his assistant for Sunday dinners.

I started taking pictures of food, probably back when technology advanced and the iPhone came out. I loved seeing how pretty food could look on the internet. When I started cooking, I was so proud of what I made that I wanted to show it off. It escalated to going out to dinner where the food was also well-plated and pretty. I wanted to share it and recommend it to friends and to strangers even. If I show you something beautiful, my hope is that you will want to try it too, and then tell me about it. I didn’t go to school for writing or anything. My writing is just a compilation of my thoughts put out there to the public eye.

4. Do you remember going to your first event?
A friend tagged me in an Instagram post right when Eat Work Play (EWP) was brand new and they were looking for brand ambassadors. It was a flyer looking for writers. That was when I realized – I do this on my own time ANYWAYS, so I applied. It was a platform that could get me out there and invites that I would’ve never known about. I was chosen with about 10 other people from a pool of more than 50 back in October 2015. I honestly didn’t think I even had a chance. So, the EWP invitations were some of my first. I still talk to Davon and Jacob and go to some events but I’m trying to be more of a freelancer now. We are all still friends; I owe it to them.

My goal in 2017 is to be more in the public eye and to step outside of my comfort zone, by not always doing food. I recently was involved in a nearby retail store’s marketing efforts so maybe I’ll add fashion to my list. My niche will always be food but doing something different is never a bad thing!
5. What are your thoughts on the food community?
It’s not a competitive community here and I feel that might be a rare thing. When it comes to food, food always brings people together. I love being asked where I would go for dinner. My first question to you will always be, “What side of town?” because I need some kind of direction or I’ll end up giving you a list of 25 places. Even people at my office job ask me, “What’s new?” and “Where should I take my wife on date night?” I would really like to be the guru of Charlotte restaurants. I wish I could have a different iPhone and have people just text me all the time and ask, “Hey I have a friend coming in town, where should I go for dinner?” I really enjoy being a resource in the food community, at my full-time gig and even in my personal life. I like helping others; it makes me feel good.

6. Tell me about how you came up with Finickylady.
I was invited to join Gmail (way back when, haha) and I was trying to come up with a good nickname. In short, it all started with conversations on where to go for lunch. For example, I knew I didn’t want salad or steak or a burger. Or, that I was in the mood for a wrap but I didn’t want it cold, it had to be a warm one. I always have particulars in my mind about things I want, whereas most people might not really care too much. I typically want to figure out exactly what I’m in the mood for. Since my colleagues didn’t mind, it ended up being me who decided. That’s how finickylady stuck; they knew they could count on me to narrow down the lunch choices.

7. What’s been your favorite event you’ve been invited to and why?
I went to a spring menu luncheon recently and there were about 30 people there and they gave us six courses in 45 minutes — I was blown away. It was so fast! They even had the chefs come out and talk about each course while we were all taking photos. Packing all of that into a lunch-hour was impressive. Really, it just comes down to how the event is organized. I don’t ever have high expectations. I’m just thankful to be invited but when events aren’t done well, it makes it hard to have an enjoyable experience to then talk about it later in a positive way.

8. Do you need anything beyond the basics (e.g., décor, personalized items)?
If you decide that what you have is worth presenting to people for free, I’m just happy to be there because you asked me. I don’t need a nameplate, decorations or anything fancy. I just need a drink to go along with whatever I’m eating. Seamless and smooth is all I need. I focus on the food and would rather not be distracted by things that don’t really matter. My friends can always tell from my IG posts when I wasn’t highly impressed by a particular restaurant or event because I won’t be as enthusiastic with my words. I will still make a “Thank You” post because that’s the right thing to do. I was treated to something and it’s important to show appreciation.

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