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Five Lessons PR Should Learn from 'Top Chef'
By: Mike Bush
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Each season on Bravo’s Top Chef, restauranteurs and chefs alike gather to compete for the title of...yeah, you guessed it…“Top Chef.” The competition brings out fairly unique challenges along with a veritable who’s who of established chefs to serve as guest judges.

For PR people paying attention, the show also carries lessons that we as flacks should incorporate into our regular media, err...mixing bowl.

Everyone has their own palette. One of the most unique aspects of Top Chef is the variety of guest judges the show incorporates each season. From French master Hubert Keller to molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne, and from Jimmy Fallon to Pee-Wee Herman (yes, really), the show does a great job connecting with a wide range of folks with unique views. As you’d imagine, it’s up to the contestant to make sure they’re meeting individual expectations for guest judges. In other words…one size does not fit all. Sounds like something PR people should consider when pitching stories to reporters.

There are judges, but you’re not one of them. Every season, a contestant gets voted off the show, and in the post-production interview, they say something like “As far as I’m concerned, I had the best dish here.” Guess what…according to the people whose views matter most (the judges), you did NOT, in fact, have the best dish. The same is true of the PR/media relationship. If a pitch isn’t being well received, make the necessary changes. Don’t assume that your “killer pitch” is simply too good for people to pick up on. It isn’t.

Sometimes, you have to give up on old recipes. Ask yourself this. When was the last time someone said, “Hey, I’m having tuna noodle casserole”? It’s a dish from like, 1976, and one that seems to have been retired from the collective conscience. There are PR tactics that maybe aren’t 40 years old…but maybe need to go the way of the casserole. This can include everything from spray-and-pray PR, carpet-bombing the comments section with promotions drivel, and a variety of other not-best practices that can be, and should be, removed from our collective cook books. 

Half-baked is never OK. Serving raw or partially cooked meat is the fastest way for contestants to be knocked off the show. Yet every season, someone offers some variety of “I was hoping they wouldn’t notice it was a little under-cooked” as a reason they’re getting sent home. Switching shows for a minute, if you’re looking for a variety of new curse words, watch Kitchen Nightmares on Hulu with the censor turned off. Gordon Ramsey has an entire vocabulary dedicated to raw food. The same has to be true about PR. There’s “sending test balloons” and trying out a pitch on a few targets, and then there is sending out half-baked, half-arsed pitches. These don’t get results. They alienate reporters. And they take away from PR folks who are doing the job the right way.   

The amuse bouche. Each season, contestants will create, as part of a meal, an amuse bouche. This particular course is typically one bite, served pre-appetizer, and offers diners an idea of what’s to come. In a recent conversation with Adweek’s resident Friend-of-Flack-Me Patrick Coffee (hey, his name fits into the theme!) he talked about how some agencies were sending an idea for a contributed piece, with the whole article attached. Kids, kids, kids…this shows a few things. 1. There’s a pretty good chance you’re pitching the same contrib to multiple publications. Which means you’re ignoring the whole “everyone has their own palette" thing. 2. It also isn’t giving an editor the opportunity to think about it. In short, this approach is turning the amuse bouche into the amuse douche. Don’t be that flack.


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About the Author
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc. 
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