I recently had coffee with WBTV’s local content producer, Maggie Solomon, to discuss her brainchild, Queen City Weekend.
Q: Queen City Weekend is refreshingly different. How did it come about?
A: I was a television reporter in Panama City, Fla., and realized that I really valued storytelling as opposed to breaking news. I happened to run across this opportunity, applied, and the next thing you know I got the job and was heading to Charlotte!
Q: For those who don’t know, tell us a little about what Queen City Weekend really is.
A: All our stories are very video-driven. We value telling the story from the Queen City’s perspective, not the reporters’. You’ll notice everything we do is more documentary style.
Our goal is for you to be able to go and find something you can do on any given weekend, whether you’re new to Charlotte or have been here for several years. It’s unique. It has been quite a ride and I’ve had a blast building it.
Q: What’s one of your favorite stories you’ve covered so far?
A: Southern Grace Distillery in Mount Pleasant. The facility itself is actually an old prison! I enjoy finding unique things within driving distance of Charlotte, not just within the city limits.
Q: Is Queen City Weekend just about the weekend?
A: Every day is someone’s weekend, but we do post a rundown of what’s going on each weekend. We have a calendar of events for folks to post to as well.
Q: Are your stories sponsored or do they go through “editorial?”
A: We have a good mix. It really depends on the story and how much exposure our clients are looking for. Your readers are welcome to ping me for a media kit if they’d like. There are some additional options like WBTV’s Morning Break, depending on how the story is structured.
Q: Do you have any advice for PR or marketing folks that would like to work with you?
A: Don’t be afraid to pitch me! What’s the worst that can happen, right? We love how-tos and upcoming events and attractions.
You can connect with Maggie and Queen City Weekend through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or email Maggie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to use our hashtag #queencitywknd!
Laura Leigh Elliott, the smiling face behind life and style blog, Louella Reese, let us in on how she is able to do what she loves full-time, the dos and don’ts of working with bloggers, and what she sees for the future. Check out our conversation below.
How did you get started as a blogger and when did it turn full-time?
Out of college I was as pharmaceutical representative; I was reading the same script in every office, wearing a uniform and my creative side was dying. During some down time, I came across a blogger on Pinterest and a few hours later, after reading ALL of her posts, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t have a plan or any kind of consistency when I started, but the more I blogged, the more I fell in love with it. That was four years ago and about a year ago I was able to make it my full-time job.
Once I began making the same money blogging part-time that I was in my other full-time job, I felt comfortable making the jump and knew I could succeed even more if I was doing it full-time. Also, the flexible schedule allows me to spend more time with my husband and do the things I truly enjoy.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
The hardest part for me was reaching out to companies, pitching myself and not being afraid to ask for money. I had to look at it as a business, not just a passion project, get out of my own head and grow my confidence. I have come a very long way since the beginning and enjoy helping others find that voice inside themselves too.
Another hard aspect is letting whoever you are working with know just how much work goes into a blog post about their product. Sometimes I might have to get supplemental items for the shoot, schedule a photographer or work a clothing item in with my current wardrobe, which can take additional time and effort. Many times, companies don’t think about compensating you for this time, so you have to explain what all is involved.
Where do you see blogging world going in the future?
I think it is around for the long haul. However, I do think that bloggers are evolving into influencers and are focusing in on one or two outlets, instead of having a blog and every form of social media. Long-form blogging is time consuming to write and sometimes for readers to keep up with, so more influencers are using social media as their main outlet.
I also see more brands, marketers and PR firms going to influencers instead of celebrities. Not only will they get more bang for their buck, but they will also see influencers as better able to relate to the people they want to touch, compared to celebrities. There are so many brands and companies out there that this will only continue to grow.
What entices you to work with a brand, company, PR firm, etc.?
There are a few factors that come into play when I am choosing what to say “yes” to. I get a good vibe right off the bat if I feel like whoever I am working with knows me, has done their research and truly cares. A lot of time people will address emails to my blog name thinking it is my name, which it isn’t, and that shows they probably haven’t read the blog at all. Not doing your research sets a bad tone from the beginning; I expect them to get to know me the same way they would expect me to get to know their company.
Before saying yes, I ensure it is a product or service that fits in with the rest of my brand and will be something of value to those following me. I ask for a lot of feedback from my followers using their comments, polls and Instagram stories, so I am pretty in tune with what they want to see and what keeps them coming back.
I also appreciate being able to meet the people I am working with. A lot of what I do is based on relationships and being able to put a face to a name and developing that rapport can make the experience for both sides more positive and enjoyable. This also helps to facilitate the conversation about what they are looking for by working with me so that I can provide the best service. I like to know if they have a very specific vision for the post or if I have most of the creative control.
Lastly, when I have a positive – or negative – experience, those stories usually end up being shared with my larger blogger community as well when we get together. All the girls in this world of influencers are very supportive of each other, like to work together and want to steer each other in the right direction. So even if you are working with one influencer, that experience can trickle down to others you might want to work with in the future.
What are you looking forward to as you go into year two of working on Louella Reese full-time?
I enjoy – and have seen great traffic – from my localized posts on things to do in Charlotte, such as my personal top five restaurants. I would love to incorporate more posts about weekend getaways, travel tips and top restaurants from Charlotte and other cities around the South.
I would also love to have my own clothing line or even just a few pieces under the Louella Reese name. When I was deciding on the name for my blog, I made sure that it was long lasting and one that meant a lot to me no matter where this adventure went. (Side note: “Louella Reese” is a blend of her family nickname, her grandmother’s name and her beloved dog’s name – so sweet!)
I recently sat down with one of our favorite early morning lifestyle reporters, Hannah Welker at WCNC. She is a hoot! Take a gander below. This may give you just the information you need to work with Hannah, landing yourself on Charlotte’s NBC affiliate.
Q: Hi, Hannah! Tell us about your role at WCNC.
A: I’ve been with WCNC for two years in June. Oh my gosh it has gone so fast. Let me tell you a little secret – I think I have the best job at the station because I get to do all the fun stories and show off the positive activities and events going on in Charlotte. I am the feature/lifestyle reporter so it’s a great way to see the city and meet some amazing people, and then turn around and show my segments to our viewers. I love to share my experiences and let people wake up with something positive.
Q: How do you book your shows? How is the decision made as to what you’re covering each morning?
A: It’s a collaborative effort. It’s on me to seek things out and book the shows but I also have an amazing assignment editor and executive producer who are sending things my way as well. You’d be surprised how hard it is to get people out of bed at 5 in the morning!
Q: How is the digital world changing what you do?
A: We constantly have meetings about how important social media is. Your presence online is just as important, if not more important than what you’re doing on TV. How many times are you watching your TV while on your phone, while also looking at your tablet? It’s a lot of competition so we’ve got to be on those other screens as well. It’s only going to get more digital. Look at late night talk shows – not everyone stays up to watch Jimmy Fallon but so many others catch him on social. I need to do the same because not everyone is up with me at 6 in the morning.
Q: What would you like to share with PR professionals?
A: 1) Answer your phone. I am so serious when I say that! Give me your cell phone number. We are on a strict timeline, so I am more likely to work with someone I can count on, is excited and responsive. One person I really enjoy working with is Steven Cole from Center City Partners. He’s always on top of things, has great ideas and/or connects me with others. 2) Make sure it’s visual and not too promotional! Remember: we are not here to promote your product or service; we are covering fun and interesting stories.
Q: Tell us something about you NOT work related!
A: I was a college gymnast! I competed at the University of Illinois. Go ILLINI! I always loved performing, so those skills helped me transition into broadcasting after I was done with gymnastics. As you can imagine, I LOVE the Olympics both summer and winter, so I’ve been glued to my TV.
You can find Hannah on Twitter at @hannahwelker, Instagram at hannahwelker or email her at email@example.com.
Our latest Q&A participant should need no introduction as she is a seasoned newspaper veteran who has served as a journalist since 1978, and as a food editor since 1989. As an award winner, cookbook author and James Beard committee member (among many other things), Kathleen Purvis has seen a thing or two in the food world and we were so thankful to be able to sit down with her recently. We talked about food inspiring hard discussions; her latest venture; and her advice for you. Take a look into her world:
Q: Of course, we first must ask, why food?
A: I started out as a hard-news journalist. I was a police reporter, national wire editor, general assignment reporter, and when I arrived in Charlotte in 1985, a page designer. However, coming from a family that cooked a lot, I always found myself intrigued by the food section and I wanted to learn more. At the time, many women were veering away from writing the food section because they didn’t want to get pigeonholed as just a women’s page writer, but I found that there was some good news to be found there. If you write about anything through the lens of food you can tell some really good stories. I started writing those stories, forced my way into the food section and looked at it with a wider lens of news and culture as well.
Q: Your recent article, which used cornbread as a catalyst to talk about race in the south, won an award. What inspires you to dig deep into these stories past just the food?
A: People want to emotionally engage with stories. And often, the ones that engage people are also the ones that start arguments and inspire intense feelings about the subject. To get to those takes a lot more analytical thinking and many times you must write about things other people are afraid to write about.
I was told, “not to go there,” on the cornbread story because it would cause an argument and tension. Yet, I’ve found that if we can start the discussion with something a little less threatening, like putting sugar in cornbread, then it can ease that tension and then we can talk about something deeper and more important. On the surface, writing about the difference in cornbread recipes seems funny but people really have intense feelings about their food. Sharing your food differences and similarities with someone can lead you to become comfortable talking about more profound issues.
Q: What is the latest venture you are working on and what have you learned from it?
A: I’ve been working on a travel/food book focused on touring southern craft distilleries. One of the things I found interesting was that this kind of travel hits Millennials and Baby Boomers, but it doesn’t hit the Gen Xers. The Gen Xers have stuff to do on the weekends – they are settling in, buying a home, having kids and don’t have the time to travel to do new experiences. But the other groups do. However, they go out for completely different reasons. The Millennials want to tell a story on their social media feed to all their followers. The Baby Boomers want an excuse for an experience, to see their friends, to experience something new and fun. I’ve visited 54 distilleries in 15 months and this finding was one I didn’t expect, but have truly enjoyed exploring.
Q: With the rise of social media and digital, what are some of the main changes you have seen?
A: Food sections used to be almost all recipes — that was the backbone. However, not long after I started, people were still interested in recipes, but they wanted to know how to do the more intricate parts of the recipes, not just the ingredients and the amounts. There was a heyday of learning to cook with whole, local ingredients, using specific techniques.
No one goes to the newspapers for recipes anymore. They look to Google, Pinterest and all the other websites. It amazes me that there are still two main players that have strong recipe sections — The New York Times and the Washington post. They grabbed what was left of the recipe coverage niche, did it well and now it really doesn’t exist for the rest of us. We had to follow the audience and change what we wrote about. I became very aware of my audience. For instance, the print readers are going to skew older, while my newsletter (sign up for Stir It Up here!) reaches a much wider audience. This plays into what information goes where.
We have also become more deliberate on how we handle photos, SEO keywords, the delivery, timing and so much more. With information being put out instantaneously, we must be ready at any time to deliver and act on a quick turnaround.
Q: What can chefs, restaurants and PR pros do to help you out?
A: Pictures. I want high-resolution photos (jpeg format) with permission to run them right from the start. Waiting around or having to run out to get a picture can totally blow your lead time on a breaking story, which is so important these days.
Whatever I’m are working on, I’m always ready for a breaking story to come in, to drop everything and get it out. Breaking news is breaking news, but I can’t rely on it, I can’t plan for it, and I never know when it’s coming. I have an idea of what might be coming down the line and I’ve been watching, but I can’t predict when it is going to bloom. I also understand that representatives are very strategic on who they are going to give it to first, whether it is me or another outlet in town. They have to think about who is most likely to use something well, who has the audience for it and which one is likely to pay off for the coverage they want. I never feel like I’m being played, I understand. I just hope that I can continually prove that if you help me out, I can do a good job for you.
I also want them to know that I approach everything like a true journalist. I am very skeptical. If you give me a story I am usually going to follow up with questions and ask you to prove it. My role is always journalism, no restaurant consulting, no pay-for-play and I rarely accept free meals. For me, it always comes down to the basic rules of ethical journalism. We always look at what the readers want, what they need to know and what they are going to get out of me writing about this restaurant or following this story.
Q: What is your best advice as we venture into the new year?
A: Be ready for constant change. If I’ve seen anything over my 40 years in the business, it’s that things are always changing. “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
I also encourage you to read widely beyond the area you are focused on for anything to have context.
Kathleen can be found on Twitter @kathleenpurvis, on Instagram @kathleenpurvis and at the The Charlotte Observer.
We recently sat down with Charlotte Business Journal’s (CBJ) newest reporter, Caroline Hudson, who covers banking, finance and technology. We wanted to get to know her a little better and understand how best to work with her. That is our job, right?!
Q: Hi, Caroline! Tell us a bit about yourself! How’s the new gig going? What attracted you to the CBJ?
A: I’m originally from Greensboro but I was in Greenville, N.C., for the past 2.5 years where I did more general assignment work with a daily publication writing about everything and anything. I’m enjoying my time at CBJ where now I can focus and home in on one particular beat.
My predecessor really set the stage for me, and I’m so glad she did. I’m walking into great relationships and have spent a lot of time my first few weeks cultivating those by networking with people and looking for potential sources. I generally do a story or two a day, but I’m so grateful that my bosses gave me that time to really get to know and understand the landscape.
One thing that attracted me to CBJ was the tenure of its reporters, mostly all being there for several years. Tenure really says a lot about an organization and, in particular, a newsroom.
Q: How do you think your time will be spent within your beats?
A: Definitely a focus on banking and financial services, but also touching fintech, technology and startups. There’s so much going on here!
Q: Any tips for PR professionals who would like to work with you?
A: Yes. Don’t be afraid to talk to me. A lot of people in the industry are trained to be on guard around reporters, which I understand and makes sense, but the vast majority of journalists aren’t out to get you or looking for dirt. So, if I ask you a simple question, I’m truly just looking for the answer to that question.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I receive a lot of quotes that are heavily edited. Readers are smart and know what canned copy looks like. Keep in mind the reader wants to have a conversation (via a quote) without actually having to have a conversation.
Q: How is social media impacting your job?
A: Social is a very important part of what I do. I’m now focusing on building a base on Twitter — and other channels — but social media is a great source for story ideas. It’s such a relaxed and comfortable form of communication. Story pitches from PR professionals still usually come via email. We also break a lot of news on social since it’s in real time.
Q: What’s your mantra on photos?
A: We try to take our own since we have a great photographer on staff, but sometimes the schedule just doesn’t permit so it’s nice when companies do have something on hand, as a backup, to illustrate the story if need be.
A huge thanks to Caroline Hudson. She can be found on Twitter @CBJHudson or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.