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Daily Archives: November 21, 2011

In this debut “Trying to Get a Straight Answer” installment, I have questions for the PR people at two large restaurant chains.

I was in the Evanston Chipotle a few weeks ago and saw a new sign at the front counter: “Brown rice (You now have the option). Not only is it delicious, but it’s also nutritious, high in fiber and retains its natural vitamins.”

Did the chain, which has been business since 1993, just discover that? Here’s my email to Chipotle Communications Director Chris Arnold:

Hi Chris, I was pleased to recently see that Chipotle is now offering brown rice. (My doctor advises me to “go brown” in the rice dept.) Your sign in the store points out that brown rice is nutritious, high in fiber “and retains its natural vitamins.” So my question: Why did it take so long for Chipotle to offer this healthful option? Were there some hurdles you had to jump to do this — difficulties that might not be obvious to customers like me?

I will posting this question and, hopefully, your answer to my website, JimRomenesko.com, which is launching soon and will be read by journalists.

Thanks for your time.

That email was time-stamped Nov. 14, 11:25 a.m. The PR man’s response was timestamped the same day, 11:57 a.m. (Extra points for the quick reply!)

Thanks for the note, Jim. Glad you’re liking the brown rice.

Our model is built on having a very focused menu which very seldom changes at all. The idea is that by doing just a few things, we can do them better than others do. The more things you take on in a restaurant like ours, the harder it is to maintain the kind of quality we aim for and that our customers expect. On the rare occasions that we change things on our menu, it’s generally in terms of ingredient quality (such as our move to naturally raised meat or use of locally grown produce, for example) or cooking methods that make our food taste better. We have been interested in brown rice for a while now, and tested it as a replacement to white rice in some restaurants, which was met with pretty significant resistance by our customers. Now we have decided to include it as an option (in addition to white rice rather than instead of) and people seem to appreciate having the choice. While we are always interested in providing things that fit well within our system and that our customers will appreciate (like brown rice), we also need to be very careful about making changes of that kind to protect the integrity of our model and to be sure that we can do those things without sacrificing the quality or taste of our food.

Hope that helps.

Chris

My second email was to the PR team at Chick-fil-A. Their media contact page doesn’t have email addresses — only phone numbers — for the individual corporate communications executives. “For accredited media only: If you need assistance with a news story or interview request, send an email to: pressroom@chick-fil-a.com,” it says. I did that:

Dear Chick-fil-a media team:

I run JimRomenesko.com, a soon-to-launch website for the nation’s journalists (and others). I have an Ask the PR person feature and this question is for that:

I recently stopped by your downtown Chicago store and noticed that the greeter was an obviously gay man. (My gaydar went off the charts, to be honest. Just to be sure, I asked another employee and he confirmed that your “face of Chick-fil-a” is a gay man.)

Was this man purposely hired to diffuse criticism about your chain being anti-gay? (From Huffington Post: Chick-Fil-A donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009.)

Thank you in advance for your prompt response.

I never did get a response.

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While on the topic of PR people…. I was browsing old “Romenesko Media News” pages via The Wayback Machine recently and came across my readers’ summer of 2000 anecdotes about their dealings with PR people. There were posts by Micki Maynard, Brian Steinberg, Owen Thomas, Dan Mangan, Ted Allen, Jesse Angelo, and many others. You can read them here.

Filmmaker Andrew Rossi was asked by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in June if the New York Times Media Desk declared anything off limits when he was making his documentary, “Page One.” His response:

There were 14 journalists on the Media Desk. I’m not sure if every single one was there, but most were, including two females on the desk, Motoko Rich and Stephanie Clifford. I had asked them several times to participate in the picture, I really wanted to represent a full picture. Unfortunately, they both declined.

I wondered what Rich and Clifford now think about their decision not to participate. Did they like the documentary after seeing it? Here’s what they told me in emails:

STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
Andrew did ask me to participate in the film, but I wasn’t comfortable with it for two main reasons. When he started making the film, the company was going through a rough time, other newspapers were shutting down, and there was a lot of doubt about the future of the industry. Given the timing, I suspected it would be a documentary that painted newspapers, the Times and our group in a bad light. (Andrew came in when the memory of the Jason Jones Daily Show piece on the Times was still fresh.)

I turned out to be completely wrong — Andrew’s film was lively and interesting, and he showed the great personalities of the media group just as they are, but I wasn’t sure enough of his intentions going in.

The other reason I declined was because I was covering media people, who are pretty jittery about being covered to begin with. Many of them were talking to me on background or off the record, and probably would have been fired if their bosses found out they were talking to me. I didn’t want to compromise my sources, or alter the quality of an interview, by asking them to be on camera or having to tell them a filmmaker was recording my end of the interview. I was also imagining what would happen if, say, a particular Conde Nast caller ID showed up on my phone and the shot was accidentally included in the film — it would have gotten the people I talk to in trouble, and that’s not fair to them.

I think the film was terrific, and was a great portrait of what the journalists here do. And yes, I was totally envious when I saw Brian Stelter strutting the red carpet at the premiere, but that’s mainly because he has a better figure than I do nowadays.

MOTOKO RICH
I really enjoyed Page One. As you’ve probably heard, we had a staff screening in the Times Center and it was great to feel the warmth in the room for our friends in the film. I thought David Carr was a phenomenal movie presence, and Bruce Headlam was a break-out star. (Did you see his appearance on The Daily Show? The movie wasn’t a fluke…) And along with Brian Stelter, Tim Arango and Richard Perez-Pena, they all came across as fighting the good fight for the journalism we believe in.

It’s not quite accurate to say I completely declined to participate in the film, as I did give one to-camera interview to Andrew. It didn’t end up getting used.

It is fair to say that I didn’t want the camera following me around on interviews or on the phone. That was a personal choice; I’m happy to give interviews about my published stories, but didn’t feel comfortable being shadowed. It’s not my style and I worried my sources might feel uncomfortable. Still, more power to my colleagues, who represented the media pod and newspaper with great panache.

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“Page One” is now available on Netflix Instant Streaming.

COMING SOON: A Q-and-A with Andrew Rossi, who told me in email on Nov. 14 that “I am jumping on a plane to Paris for the French premiere of the film (the success of the movie internationally is actually a great story).”