Media Interview with Samantha Lyster, deputy editor of Fresh Produce Journal
About the FPJ
Who reads it and how many of them are there?
Fresh Produce Journal is the leading weekly trade magazine dedicated to covering the fruit, vegetable and flower industry from field to fork. It’s over 115 years old and is read by all levels of management everywhere from large suppliers and retailers to wholesale traders and growers. The majority of our readers are decision makers, from supermarket buyers to farm managers and wholesalers.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
We obviously report news connected with the fresh produce industry; that’s fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. This can range from business developments and activity to new launches. Recently we covered the criminal trials of the Sainsbury’s potato buyers convicted of fraud. Food security and supply is another area we are concerned with reporting on. Food supply is an integral part of maintaining a functioning society and people take it for granted that there will always be produce on the shelves. However, with the changes in weather patterns we are seeing farmers across the globe losing entire crops to storms or extreme drought. We aim to provide readers with as much information as possible to help them run their businesses.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
It is the only UK weekly magazine dedicated to fresh produce. Given the heritage of the publication, it has access to some of the most important decision makers within the industry. We cover food from field to fork, so we will run stories on new seed technology to supermarket campaigns. We are always looking to help our readers with information that helps keep them up to date with what competitors are doing, to features that might possibly inspire ideas for how to move their business forward.
The magazine has recently undergone a series of changes with the aim of improving its social media strategy. Can you outline them and explain how they set out to achieve this?
We have a very loyal following in a highly sociable industry and we wanted to provide readers with an opportunity to show that side of the business. We have a back page called Bushel Box, which is the area where readers can submit images and news of the various social or charity events they are involved with. However, there’s limited space so we wanted to expand that opportunity by promoting events though our Facebook page. The idea is to lead readers from the print page to the Facebook page and to give it coherence by having the same design across print and online. We also wanted to have an area that connected with the wider food world, which is reflective of the way our Twitter feed works. Twitter is incredibly important to the magazine; it’s a great way to connect with readers but also to gather information for articles and to keep up to date with trends in the food industry.
Food security and environmental issues are hot topics in the global food production industry due to the huge impact they are having. Does the FPJ tailor content to address these salient issues?
Every week our news pages are looking at these issues. I recently wrote my first editorial leader and I commented on how I now understood why so many of my conversations with growers and producers are about the weather. We’re not just interested in the problems but also in the solutions. When we write features looking at, for example, alternative energy production we do so from an industry perspective. We want to know if what’s being offered is realistically going to help change the system for the better or genuinely reduce costs in the long run, because that’s what our readers want to know.
About you, the FPJ, freelance journalists and bloggers
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?
Yes we do, but we are independent publishers so we don’t have loads of cash to splash!
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
By all means, we welcome pitches but they must be well researched and actually be relevant to the magazine. Someone recently tried to pitch me an idea for an article on the best day to hold a wedding! I cannot think for the life of me what that had to do with fresh produce, but that’s an example of some of the daft pitches I get sent.
In the first instance it would be best to get in touch via email and we will be sure to get back in touch if we are interested.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
Someone who makes the effort to write entertaining and informative copy, even if they think the subject is dull. I think people assume that writing for a trade magazine means just trotting off dry copy full of statistics but that’s not the case. Also, someone who has researched the magazine and the article they are pitching, not just put that they have heard something about a new recipe website and would we like 1,000 words on that. And of course the ability to meet deadlines and follow a brief is vital.
You previously discussed the changing social media strategy of the FPJ, how do food bloggers fit into this? What’s the best way for them to get in touch?
As I mentioned previously, we have a back page called Bushel Box where we write about the wider world of food. As part of that we have three sections, Talking Heads, Food Crush and Food Bloggers We Love. I find a lot of inspiration and content for those sections through food and lifestyle bloggers. Also, I write a blog myself (www.tablemannersmagazine.co.uk) and I find that the blogs I like to follow are the ones that are really trying to find interesting angles and uncover hidden gems in the food world. From a magazine point of view, we’re trying to offer our readers, who may not have the time to sit and read through loads of blogs, the best of what’s on the web. It’s all about giving them information that they can use in their presentations, marketing campaigns or spark ideas for new ways to engage with consumers. For food bloggers, I would say post to our Facebook page and let the magazine and our readers know what you’re writing about.
Do you work closely with PRs or do you keep them at arm’s length?
We’re very fortunate to have good contacts within the industry so for some areas we go straight to the source, but I’m never one for dismissing PRs; they can be incredibly helpful.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
It’s a simple thing, but the amount of times I receive press releases and no accompanying images, so I have to email asking for them. Not sure if this is some deliberate PR tactic but it’s rather annoying that you have to ask when it would just be a matter of sticking one more attachment to the email. On the subject of photography, I’m not sure if it’s the people who are booked or the brief they are given but when you do get images through they are so similar – as though instructions were given from one big manual. There’s very little imagination involved and I would encourage PRs to really get the most out of the money they have spent on photography by making sure there’s interesting and relevant shots. For example, I recently had images sent to me taken in a school – we didn’t have space for the group shot but when I asked if there were any close-up images of the person and maybe just one or two children I was told the photographer didn’t take any!
Finally, when I’m dealing with PRs they are, obviously, most concerned with consumer press. However, trade magazines are also important in that they can increase business for a client by getting their name in front of the people who have purchasing power.
How should a PR approach you about their client?
We’re a small and time-poor team so initially always by email and then if the client is relevant I will always follow-up with a phone call.
What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
Obviously, we would like exclusive news. However, if anyone has interesting survey data, or can put forward a client to write an opinion piece or be interviewed for the Talking Heads section, that would help too. Generally, if you have something interesting and relevant to the food business, let us know.
When is the best time for PRs to contact you, and what is your deadline for contributions?
We go to press on a Wednesday afternoon, so if it is time-sensitive it is always best to get your information over on a Monday. For a forward features list contact email@example.com.
You were recently appointed as deputy editor at the FPJ. What attracted you to the role? What are your main responsibilities?
Although I enjoyed the freedom that comes with freelancing, I also missed working as part of a team. As a freelancer you hand over copy and your job is done, where I really enjoy the whole production process. Therefore, when I was looking at full-time roles I wanted to make sure it was within a supportive and balanced team, which is definitely the case at Fresh Produce Journal. My editor Michael Barker is encouraging of all the staff to achieve the best results they can in a very democratic and calm way. Not only do I assist with the weekly production of the magazine, I am also responsible for building our online presence and generating feature ideas, as well as helping to manage the team.
What interests you most about your job?
That finally I have found an area I want to specialise in. I’m getting an education in the food industry and it’s fascinating. I now know what it takes to grow the produce that we just simply pick up off the shelf and not give a second thought to other than how it will taste. Also, this is not a desk job – I can be out on a farm or off on a tour of an orchard. What can be more interesting and satisfying than spending your working day looking out on some of the most stunning countryside or rural views?
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
My last full-time role was with The Times as the online commercial projects editor. There I felt like a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. I not only organised the online commercial editorial but I updated my writing portfolio with travel and food articles, hotel reviews and even covered London Fashion Week. I took voluntary redundancy and travelled for eight months through America, Australasia and South East Asia. I volunteered a lot, especially on organic farms and that’s really where I started to form a real interest in food production. When I returned to London, I freelanced for The Grocer and then was fortunate to meet the former deputy editor of Fresh Convenience Magazine (FPJ’s sister title), Liz O’Keefe (now at Eat In magazine) and she commissioned me. When this role came up for grabs, I put my hat in the ring and here I am.
Do you tweet? Why, why not?
Yes I tweet for myself and also on behalf of Fresh Produce Journal. My personal account is linked-up with my blog Table Manners Magazine, but I also use it as a place for general opinions and thoughts. I’m a very visual person so I Instagram a lot too. My FPJ account though is strictly for keeping up with the food industry.
If you could time travel what time would you go to?
Definitely the late 1970s/early 1980s and live it up as an adult rather than the primary school girl I was back then. My sister is ten years older than me and I would watch her get dressed up like Siouxsie Sioux of The Banshees for a night out and be so annoyed that I had to sit in and watch the Generation Game with my parents! I love that punk/Kings Road/Blitz Club era of London, which feels like one of the last true youth movements before all the brands jumped on the marketing bandwagon.