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    Coffee with a Journalist: Ian Kumamoto, HuffPost

     Ian Kumamoto is a contributing writer for HuffPost and Into. His writing centers on the lives and well-being of queer people and people of color. 


    In this episode, Ian shares valuable insights into his inbox management and what catches his eye when considering pitches. He discusses the importance of building organic and respectful relationships with publicists and how a personalized and identity-focused approach to pitches can make all the difference.

    Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn


    Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:



    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    Inbox Management


    [0:02:53] BB: How is your inbox?


    [0:02:47] IK: Oh, it's really embarrassing.


    [0:02:49] BB: Okay. Okay. Tell us more.


    [0:02:52] IK: Right now, I literally – and this is also my fault. But looking at my inbox, I have 39,000.


    [0:02:58] BB: No. Oh, God. You're a let-it-roll person. Wow. That's okay. There are many of those people. It's okay.


    [0:03:06] IK: Yeah. It's probably something I should get checked out. But I would say like per day, I probably get around between 20 and 30 PR emails. And I definitely mostly just open the ones that just like pop out at me when I look at the subject line. That's probably why I have a lot of unread emails.


    [0:03:26] BB: Okay. And so, it sounds like you just let it roll? You're good. Just let it roll?


    [0:03:32] IK: Yup. Just chaos.


    [0:03:35] BB: Yeah, chaos. Chaos. Okay. Okay. Is there a point in which you search then the chaos for something where you're like, "Oh." Like, "God, one of our –" I don't know. Anything like that?


    [0:03:48] IK: Yes. Usually, at the beginning of the week or towards the beginning of the month, when I'm really starting to pitch things to my editors, that's when I really go back and try to scan through things that maybe I missed. And that's sort of when I sparse things out. Maybe archive some things or like put things in certain folders. But I would say at the top of the week or beginning of the month that's usually when I'll pay a little bit more attention to PR pitches. Because I'm usually more open to all sorts of stories during those times.



    How to Write a Pitch that Grab's Ian's Attention


    [0:04:36] IK: Something that really, really works for me and makes me have more of a sense of urgency is when there's like a big all-caps invite in the subject line. Because I'm someone who loves to go to events. Loves to just like get out of my house and just go to different things that are going on.


    For me, I get so stuck in the house and in an office, just staring at a computer all day. If I see that there's like an event associated with whatever is happening, I'm more inclined to just like click on it, first of all, because I want to see where it is and what time. And also, because love just like leaving my house.


    [0:05:15] BB: Got it. Oh, this is so good to know. He wants to be invited.


    [0:05:19] IK: I love to be invited. I love to go places. I would say if something has an invite, to me, it feels more urgent. Because, obviously, invites for events, it's not just going to be like whenever I decide to read it. Because whatever the event is might already have –


    [0:05:33] BB: Yeah, might already pass. Yeah, exactly. There's built-in urgency.


    [0:05:37] IK: Yeah. There's built-in urgency. I would say that is like every time I see an invite in all caps, I always click on those emails.


    [0:05:45] BB: Mm-hmm. Okay. That's a good little insight. We like that. What about the structure of the actual pitches? Is there anything that allures you where you're like, "Hmm. I really like how that's worded."


    [0:05:55] IK: Yeah. I think definitely because I can definitely tell when someone has read my stuff because they'll always try to work in an identity angle to it. For example, if it's something that – if there's like a new store that's opening or whatever and they don't mention that the owner is like queer, or POC, or like a woman, or just things that have an identity that is marginalized and they're just like, "Oh, new store opening." To me, that kind of also like tells me that like they just kind of are reaching out to like all the writers they can.


    Versus like if someone says, for example, there was a recent tequila brand that reached out to me and they open in the email of just saying how this tequila has been in this family for generations and just how important it is for them to keep local tequila producers, especially with a lot of American and other people from other countries kind of coming into Mexico and producing tequila. Just how that really resonates – that kind of stuff really resonates with me and it makes me understand that, okay, this person actually knows what would be interesting to me based on what I've written. And so, to me that is always – leading with that always – I feel like my time is being used well and I'm more inclined to like want to respond even if. I can't do a story at that moment I'm more inclined to be like thank you. I definitely keep this in mind.


    [0:07:24] BB: Yeah. You paid attention. You know what I'm up to. And one thing with you is you're consistent across all your outlets.


    [0:07:32] IK: I try to be. Yeah.


    [0:07:33] BB: Yeah. It has to be in theme of identity. That's nice. Versus a freelancer who's wide-ranging. Because then you're like, "Well, does it fit for that or this? Or whatever it is."



    How Ian Handles Embargo Pitches


    [0:07:40] BB: What about exclusives or embargoes for you? Do you ever get exclusives or embargo pitches? And what do you do with those?


    [0:07:49] IK: Yeah. I used to actually write some stuff about immigration and just environmental justice stuff for VICE. I would get embargoed stuff. But it was more so on the politics side. Sometimes I do get it for like products. And usually, I don't mind them. I totally understand that there's a certain time that people want things released. Yeah, I actually don't mind getting those emails at all.


    [0:08:15] BB: Okay. What do you then do with those?


    [0:08:19] IK: Usually, if it's something that is really could be interesting for audience, I'll just talk about it with my editor and then decide from there if it's something that we want to write about. But yeah, I usually bookmark those if it's something that's interesting or seems like something I want to write about. But I always have to run it through editors first.


    [0:08:40] BB: Always. Always with that. By the way, how much time does that normally take you? And I ask that particularly. Because if you're just pitching a regular reporter, they talk to their editor maybe in the day or whatever the pitch meeting is. For you, it's maybe a bit removed. You got to go to your various editors and so forth. What would you say?


    [0:08:58] IK: Yeah. Because I have a contract with HuffPost and I have a really good relationship with my editor there, usually I'll pitch things to her first. And that's pretty easy. Because I can email her at any time of day. Maybe she could take a couple of hours to respond. But usually, it is towards the beginning of the month that I usually try to send most of my pitches. Because then we have like a workflow throughout the month of like what articles are due when.


    But usually, if it's something urgent or it's something like really timely that would be a really good fit, I just email her. If it's not a fit for HuffPost and I'm really passionate about the story, I'll start pitching it to other editors. And usually, that could take like two to three days for them to get back. I would say like I go through that process of HuffPost is always like the first place I pitch a story I really want to do and then I go from there.



    Publicist Pet Peeve: No Follow-up 


    [0:10:23] BB: Okay. Do you have any pet peeves from publicists? And shall we talk about them?


    [0:10:29] IK: I have a couple. And I think one of them was more like maybe less about them being in PR and more about like a respect thing. But there was a person who invited or who sent an invite. Because I love my invites.


    [0:10:42] BB: Yes. Yes.


    [0:10:43] IK: Yeah. I got an invite to go to a restaurant, and they were like, come and try this food or this new dish. And I was really excited about it. And it was actually like the week of my birthday. I took the whole day off, and I was like – it was something I was looking forward to because I would have loved to write about them too because it was a Caribbean-owned restaurant. And I went there, and I told them the person at the front desk of like okay, I'm here from this email. And he had no clue what I was talking about. And he was like, "Oh, please. Can you wait at the bar?" And I waited at the bar for like 20, 25 minutes, and I kept asking the staff if they knew if there was someone who was expecting writers. And no one knew.


    [0:11:27] BB: Oh, no.


    [0:11:29] IK: Honestly, I'm sure the place looked great.


    [0:11:31] BB: Well, let me ask you though. Let me ask you. Did you have the publicist's contact information? Their cellphones? Were you able to text them, "Hey, what's going on?" Or were you just totally abandoned?


    [0:11:42] IK: Yeah, I had their email. I emailed the email address that sent me the invite, and then I didn't get a response from them. But then the next week, they invited me to something else and I was like, "This just seems – I don't understand what's going on. But I am not going to anything this person invites me to." And that's just a professionalism thing. I don't think it has anything particularly to do with PR. But it was just one of those things where like people not making sure that people are being taken care of.


    [0:12:12] BB: Yeah. Well, even more so, when it's you who invited me and you – in this situation, just curious further, because I think there's learnings in here. There was no, "Hey, how did it go, Ian, last night?" Or there wasn't any follow-up. You just suddenly got the next invite. It's like, "Oh, no."


    [0:12:30] IK: Yeah, exactly. Aha. That's just like a carelessness thing. Yeah. Probably wasn't keeping track. Maybe they don't have a system of keeping track of things.


    [0:12:41] BB: But not your problem. Yeah.



    Publicist Pet Peeve: Assuming Free Products = Media Mention


    [0:12:48] IK: Just one more that I – and it might be like controversial. And I could see different sides to this. But for me, it's – when someone offers me to send me a product and I wouldn't consider writing about it, I just don't tell them. I don't ask them to send it, right? Because to me it's like I don't want to waste their time. I wouldn't ask them to send me a product. But there are times when I have genuinely been interested in potentially considering if to write about a product or a brand, and they offer me samples, and I say yes. And then before they send it, they ask me, "Oh, just like before we send, could we like know like –"


    [0:13:32] BB: If you were going to write about it.


    [0:13:32] IK: Right. Or being kind of stingy with like I might send it, but I might not. Because to me, immediately I'm like, "Well, if I like it and it's a good product, I promise I'll write about it." But I'm also going to like – I also can't tell you right now that I'm 100% going to write about it. And I think to me that like when someone starts asking me those types of questions, I actually don't even send it. Because now I feel like I'm going to have this like pressure to – I just don't feel like it's an organic relationship.


    And for me it should feel the best relationships I have with PR are the ones that feel organic. The ones where I'm like, "Okay, maybe I don't love this product, but another product from this brand I actually really love." And I'm always going to keep it in mind for gift guides. To me, it's kind of like a mutual respect thing of like, I'm not going to waste your time. But also, I work for this publication. I don't work for the brand you're working for.


    [0:14:31] BB: That's right. We have different alliances.



    The Power of In-Person Events


    [0:14:35] BB: Ian, we heard that you like to get invited to things. That's noted. And you are based in Brooklyn. If you're in New York City, we know where to find you. How else can people make relationships with you?


    [0:14:46] IK: Yeah. I just love meeting people in person.


    [0:14:49] BB: Me too. In-person is the best.


    [0:14:51] IK: Yeah. Totally. And also, if someone is like, "Oh, can we hop on a call?" Someone did that a couple of weeks ago. And I actually really appreciated it because it was a way for them to ask what I was interested in. And then I talked to them about their clients. And to me, it just felt less soulless, and it felt more like I got your back. You got my back.


    At the end of the day, we just want to create stories that uplift voices and products that we believe in. It's like we could be a team, but sometimes the way I feel like on both ends we approach each other, it almost feels like sometimes antagonistic or like a route to get each other. But it's really like we just want to create genuinely good stories, which is why when someone is like, maybe I'll send you something, but are you sure you'll write about it? To me, that's already it's not authentic, an authentic relationship.


    [0:15:49] BB: Also, I feel that that is almost not professional. Because we should know that as a publicist, you have no obligation. You are going to give your opinion of the experience, the product, the whatever. It's like telling a movie reviewer, "Hey, go to see the movie." But, oh, if you don't like it, don't say anything. If you really thought it – you know what I mean? You have your role. We have our role. Yeah, it just seems –


    [0:16:14] IK: Yeah. And I would say, for the most part, it does end up paying off. Good relationships end up paying off. It might not be immediately. But I have PR people who I really, really like who I've worked with for two, three years. And, like I will almost always eventually pitch me something that I will like. Yeah, I would just say the long game. Sometimes people don't play the long game, and they're just – I feel burn bridges sometimes.



    Rapid Fire Pitching Preferences


    [0:16:45] BB: Video or phone interview?


    [0:16:48] IK: Video.


    [0:16:49] BB: Bullet points or paragraphs?


    [0:16:50] IK: Paragraphs.


    [0:16:52] BB: Paragraphs. How many?


    [0:16:53] IK: Two to three.


    [0:16:54] BB: Two to three. Okay. Okay. We just covered how long or short. Okay. Images attached or Dropbox ZIP file?


    [0:17:00] IK: Images.


    [0:17:01] BB: Attached?


    [0:17:02] IK: Yeah, attached.


    [0:17:03] BB: Oh, attached. Email or Twitter/X? Whatever the hell we're calling it. DM?


    [0:17:08] IK: Email.


    [0:17:08] BB: Email. Always the winner. Even when you have 36,000 emails or whatever you got going on there. It's all good. One follow-up or many?


    [0:17:17] IK: If it's timely, many is fine. But if it's not time-sensitive, one.


    [0:17:22] BB: One. Direct or creative subject lines?


    [0:17:24] IK: Direct.


    [0:17:25] BB: Press release or media kit?


    [0:17:27] IK: Media kit.


    [0:17:27] BB: Time you prefer to read pitches?


    [0:17:30] IK: 9 to 11am.


    [0:17:33] BB: E.T. Got you.


    [0:17:34] IK: Yes.


    [0:17:35] BB: Sources you look for?


    [0:17:37] IK: Sources –


    [0:17:38] BB: I mean, actually, do you even need sources? Some folks are like, "Oh, yeah. I really like MDs who specialize in human longevity or –"


    [0:17:46] IK: Oh, got it. Aha. Aha. Yeah, usually, I tend to talk to a lot of – because a lot of my stuff is about wellness, and queer wellness and stuff. Definitely, therapists, and psychologists. Just people who have studied mental health. Yeah, I always, always need them for articles no matter what.




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