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    Coffee with a Journalist: Melissa Daniels, Modern Retail

    Melissa Daniels is a senior reporter who covers the retail industry, with a particular emphasis on e-commerce, ESG, FinTech, and home design. 


    Melissa breaks down her process for assessing the hundreds of pitches she receives daily, she talks about the importance of making sure pitches are extremely related to her beat, her resolution about not taking cold pitches, and more. 


    Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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



    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    Thought-Process of a Journalist


    [0:06:59] BB: Back to the subject line, because that's part of the four seconds priority. What is it
    in the subject line that stands out to you? And you're like, “Yes, must click.”

    [0:07:08] MD: Having the brand in there is huge for me. I want to know –

    [0:07:14] BB: Say the brand.

    [0:07:14] MD: Yes. If you're telling me like, okay, I pulled a couple examples of ones I really
    liked, and these are both ones that turned into stories. One is, Healthy Baby target launch under
    embargo? Well, this caught my eye because it's an embargo. So, this is still percolating. We
    love a target story. I love a target scoop. And healthy baby caught my eye because I really enjoy
    covering the home and baby and cleaning sectors. So, this had a lot for me. Just those five
    words, that had a lot for me.

    [0:07:48] BB: And you actually liked the question mark with the embargo of like, “Oh, yes, do
    you want to? Do you not?” I don't know.

    [0:07:53] MD: Yes, doesn't bother me. Doesn't matter to me. This PR person, actually, she just
    got back to me last week with something that she wanted to – a similar setup, with a very similar
    subject mine. I didn't end up writing about it. It wasn't a fit for where my head's at right now, and
    for my calendar. It just was something I had to pass on, which is going to happen. I mean, I'm
    juggling 5 to 15 topics on a given day.

    [0:08:15] BB: God. Yes.

    [0:08:18] MD: This is how I live.

    [0:08:18] BB: Yes. That's how we live. Okay. So, how do you then know, a story is worth
    pursuing? The reason I asked that is because usually when we have editors on there saying,
    “Hey, well, we're deciding, and I'm going to match this assignment out to that reporter, or this
    reporter, I go to my meeting to hear pitch stories. For you as a reporter, what is that process
    like? Or is there any process?

    [0:08:41] MD: Yes. Well, there's a process in my head, and then there's a process editorially.

    [0:08:46] BB: Of course. Tell us.

    [0:08:49] MD: Yes, the process editorially is I bring ideas to my editors, and we can kind of yay
    or nay, or meet in the middle. That process may take anywhere from one hour to one week,
    depending on the urgency of the pitch, and the timeliness of the story. But in my head is a much
    more, I think, interesting processes. So, like I said, at the top of this conversation –

    [0:09:12] BB: In my head, yes, continue.

    [0:09:13] MD: Yes, because reporting is a heavy job.

    [0:09:16] BB: Sure is, multifaceted. You have to be notably intelligent in order to keep up, in my

    [0:09:24] MD: I got some folks, you need to talk to you.

    [0:09:27] BB: Maybe. They haven't been on this podcast just for the record. So, there you go.

    [0:09:32] MD: No, I love it. It's like, I think these things through. I can guarantee you that there
    are pitches that have been sent to me on one day that I would immediately say, “No, this is not a
    fit.” If they hit me back three weeks later, and other things had happened with that company, or
    there were other news pegs, I might reconsider it. A no is never a final no, because these things
    are all happening in an ecosystem of other news of topics that have my interest at the time of
    what my bandwidth is for reporting.

    So, if you send me a pitch that's a new brand, that's going to be in Target set. Let's stick with our
    other example. Well, if that's a brand that's in my wheelhouse of what I already cover, it's a
    cleaning product brand. It's a furniture brand. My head's already in those spaces. I have sources
    that I can talk to. I have my finger on that pulse a little bit. But if it's something that it's like, “Oh,
    we're going to be launching a product in I don't know, maybe it's like an apparel line.” I don't do
    a ton of apparel. So, that's not necessarily going to resonate with me.

    However, three weeks later, if you come back, and it's because that apparel brand has, I don't
    know, Stanley Cup branded T-shirt selling like hotcakes, and that's going to Target, well, maybe
    then I'll take that as a news hit. Do you know what I'm saying? It's so not in a vacuum.


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    What Not to Do When Building Relationships


    [0:15:47] BB: Anyway, so we covered inbox zero, we covered relationship building, a little bit on the
    story approval process. Is there anything you wish to impart to publicists of like, please, I do not
    want this?

    [0:16:07] MD: Yes. I have a list of them. I'm going to preface this by saying in December
    between the craziness of Q4 pitching and holiday and trying to write ahead of the break, I had a
    moment or two where I was like, “I’m going to stop taking cold pitches next year.” Because I had
    gotten myself into some situations where I took cold pitches, and then the expectations of what
    they thought I was writing, it seemed like they didn't trust me. They're like, “Oh, well, you're not
    going to print that, are you?” I'm like, “Well, that's not how this works. This is not that kind of
    relationship.” Even after the story ran, they were coming at me saying, “Oh, can you revise her
    quote to say X, Y, and Z?” That is not how this works. It wasn't even like – it's one thing, it's a
    fact error. It's one thing if I screw up, the year your company was founded. But simply because
    you don't like the verbiage, the colloquial interview is not enough for me to go back.

    So, I don't like that. I don't like people telling me I'm doing my job. That really grinds my gears.
    We talked a little bit about the subject lines matters. I don’t like my name in a subject line. It
    feels very patronizing.

    [0:17:12] BB: Oh, like, “Melissa: Exclusive for blah, blah, blah.”

    [0:17:17] MD: Yes. Because it's like, I have run email marketing too. I know how that works.

    [0:17:22] BB: Yes. Exactly.

    [0:17:23] MD: You're not really first of lessons to me. I know, to me, it's almost like a sign that
    your mass pitching this, but wanting to make – we're not getting fooled by that anymore. If your
    response to a question during the interview, listen, there's a lot of reporters that think it's insane
    how often I let, or have like PR folks sitting in on my interviews. I mean, my counterparts in
    government and policy journalism would be astounded. They'd be like, “Why do you do that?” I
    said, “Well, I know how to do it now.” I think, when you're working with really good publicists and
    comms people, they know their role, and they know that they're there to support, and assist, and
    be informational, and follow up, and support their client. But like, “Please don't interrupt.”

    [0:18:13] BB: Oh, like what?

    [0:18:15] MD: That's tough for me. Unless it's something where, like, your CEO said the wrong
    date, the CEO had the wrong figure, or you say, “Melissa, I'm going to get back to you, because
    I think Joe shared those Q4 numbers, but I'm going to send you the link to the transcripts so you
    can have the correct ones.” That’s okay. But don't come in with your talking points on top of the
    CEO that I'm interviewing.

    [0:18:39] BB: Oh, I bet that client doesn't like it either.

    [0:18:47] MD: Let’s lower –

    [0:18:47] BB: My comms person had to hop in.

    [0:18:49] MD: That’s not the best look.

    [0:18:52] MD: I don’t really like – back to I think the sort of specifics of email. I like a really clear
    – your mileage may vary. Some people may not like this. But I'd like it to be clear and concise. If
    you say, “Hey, I have this expert and here's five different things they could talk about.” That's
    almost like too much for me to process. Do you know what I'm saying? I much prefer, especially,
    if it's a cold pitch coming in from someone, or a PR agency, or a company I have no relation to. I
    like a very specific ask of me. “Would you like to talk to my leader, Joe Schmo, about our
    company's launch in Y retailer?” Make it a clear ask. Be specific in what you're offering.

    [0:19:37] BB: Mm-hmm. Specific. In other words, you don't want to pitch that’s like, “Hey, would
    you maybe be interested in product?” It's like, interested, why? Because it's a launch? Because
    it's new?

    [0:19:48] MD: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I get a lot of those and it's not that the brands aren't
    interested. I just have nothing to do with it. Unless you hit that lucky strike where, “Oh, I'm
    already writing about upcycled clothing brands. I'm already writing about candle companies,
    new candle company.” Hey, maybe that's a great fit for that day. You hit the jackpot, that
    moment, maybe. Not that I’m a jackpot. Not that I’m a prize, Beck. That means you got to deal
    with me. That's the other thing. Know who you're pitching. If you don't want to deal with me,
    don't pitch me.


    Rapid Fire Pitching Preferences


    [0:20:23] BB: Melissa, as we come to the end here, we have a little rapid-fire session here.

    Let me see your answer. So, here we go. Video or phone interview?

    [0:20:37] MD: Phone.

    [0:20:38] BB: Yes. Bullet points or paragraphs?

    [0:20:41] MD: Bullet points.

    [0:20:43] BB: Short or long pitches?

    [0:20:46] MD: Long.

    [0:20:46] BB: Long? What? Like long how? What? I'm so surprised by this.

    [0:20:53] MD: I mean, like, I think of long individualization. Give me your intro sentence. Give
    me your bullet points. Give me your closing sentence. Give me your link to your embargoed
    press release. Give me your link to your Dropbox. Give me your signature.

    [0:21:06] BB: That doesn't sound that long, though.

    [0:21:07] MD: I guess that's not that long. Maybe I’m saying like –

    [0:21:12] BB: But it's specific and meaty.

    [0:21:12] MD: Yes, and like compartmentalized, organized.

    [0:21:16] BB: It's organized. Yes, I love it. Okay, you already kind of mentioned this but images
    attached or you like a Dropbox file?

    [0:21:24] MD: Dropbox.

    [0:21:25] BB: Email or Twitter DM or X, or whatever the hell we're calling it?

    [0:21:28] MD: Email.

    [0:21:30] BB: One follow-up or multiples?

    [0:21:33] MD: One.

    [0:21:35] BB: Direct or creative subject lines?

    [0:21:37] MD: Direct.

    [0:21:38] BB: Press release or media kit?

    [0:21:40] MD: Media kit.



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