Blog Spotlight with Jeanne Horak-Druiff, editor of Cook Sister

A medley of food, drink, travel and photography is at the heart of today's Blog Spotlight. Cook Sister editor and blogging veteran Jeanne Horak-Druiff reveals what inspired her to start blogging and what makes her blood boil. 

Tell us about your blog, how did you get started? Why did you choose your subject?

My blog grew out of a weekly newsletter that I used to email home to family and friends. The part that people liked the most was always the detailed descriptions of where and what we had eaten that week, so when a friend introduced me to food blogs written by passionate amateurs with unrelated day jobs (like me!) I realised that this was something that I’d love to try. That was May 2004 and I have never looked back. In addition to recipes and restaurant reviews, I am increasingly focusing on travel pieces, often with a foodie angle.

How do you source content for your blog?

I love to cook and cook from scratch at home almost every night, which means it is easy for me to come up with at least one recipe post per week to blog about. My husband’s allotment has also provided a wealth of ingredients and inspiration for recipes this Summer. I write up restaurants that I have visited, both for review purposes and socially with friends – and living in London there is a lot of scope for dining out! I very seldom review products, but if I am supplied with an ingredient that I like, I might turn that into a recipe post, too. My travels (both press trips and personal trips) provide endless inspiration for my blog and all my other social media channels. What I do not do is publish guest posts or press releases!

Do you have a favourite post or one that best sums up your blog?

In a nutshell – no! I have such varied posts that it is hard to pick a favourite and hard to compare them! Of the recipe posts, I love the perseverance of this post and the writing in this post; of the restaurant review posts I love Trinity Restaurant and of the travel posts, I love the entire series I did on West Sweden.

Do you write reviews?

I do write restaurant reviews as well as hotel reviews. I will occasionally review an ingredient or a hamper of ingredients, but I will very seldom review a finished product (e.g. a box of chocolates, etc.). I sometimes review cookbooks, but usually only if I have a particular interest in the cuisine or know the author. My stats are available to PRs, on request.

How did you build a following for your blog?

I have always said “content is king” and I stand by this. People seem to think there are shortcuts to building a blog following and maybe there are, but I don’t believe this is a long-term strategy. My growth has been totally organic – I have never paid for a promoted post or any other sort of advertising, preferring to rely on my quality content as the best advert for my skills. I promote all my posts on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest and photo sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting, all of which has steadily built my traffic and following. I believe that interaction on social media channels is key – respond to comments and questions and make your voice heard in conversation, not just as a broadcaster.

Are you a PR friendly blog? Do you accept contributions and content for your blog?

I am PR friendly in that I love to work with and build long-term relationships with PR firms whose clients fit in with my subject matter and who “get” my blog philosophy. I believe that the relationship between PRs and blogs should be symbiotic in that everyone should get something they want out of it and nobody should be left feeling used and abused – it makes my blood boil when PRs source free recipe development for clients by dressing it up as “an exclusive recipe challenge for bloggers” – but I also cringe when bloggers accept trips and freebies and then refuse to write about them, positively or negatively. This benefits nobody. That said, I do not publish any content that I have not personally written (press releases, guest posts, etc.) and I retain final editorial control over everything that is published on my blog.

How best do you like to be approached by PRs?

An email is always good, explaining clearly in the first paragraph what they want from me before going into the background. A template email with no name or (worse!) the wrong name is not so good. I hate emails where the first line is “We love your blog and really enjoyed your recent [insert name of post here] piece” and they then go on to ask for follow links or invite me to a weekday event, indicating clearly that they have not even bothered to read my “PR queries” page. It would be great if PRs would spend ten minutes getting a feel for my blog and its content before firing off an email. For example – what on earth makes a PR think that I want to review a pain relief gel? Yes, this really happened! Press releases prefaced by “Hi, we thought this might be of interest as a feature on your blog” get deleted without reading. That’s spam.

Blogging is great because….?

It’s a creative outlet that affords me a huge amount of artistic freedom; it has allowed me to meet inspirational people, and because it has given me an international platform I never thought I would have.

You can find Jeanne tweeting @cooksisterblog.

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