Misadventures in PR Freelancing – or, How to Harass a Guy for 42 Days



Freelancing – that glamorous, carefree term that means, “I have no benefits or job security.”  Sure, it has its perks – being your own boss, gaining a broad variety of experience, etc. etc.  But it’s not all 11am-yoga breaks and the privilege of fighting with other flannel-clad 20-somethings for coffee shop outlets.

In November, I joined Vinitaly, the people who put on the world’s largest annual wine fair in the Italian city of Verona, to work with the international touring branch on their New York event. Specifically, my job was to drum up coverage in the US press by getting the word out about Vinitaly International and the event – sending pitches that went something like this:

This coming Monday, February 3, Vinitaly International will drop down at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York, for its annual US trade show, an event featuring a walk-around tasting with dozens of Italian wines, and a series of focused masterclasses highlighting the diversity of Italian varietals.  This B2B event is reserved to press and key players of the wine and food sector. (I saw you just close your ears, writer-for-a-magazine-read-by-average-Joes).

And if I have to write a paragraph like that one more time, it’s gonna start to get a lot racier, just to see if anyone’s paying attention. Turns out, to do PR, you have to actually…be…a PR person, and not just a really eager freelancer with an exceptionally high level of patience for being ignored over email. Repeatedly. In the immortal words of Drake, “e’ry day e’ry day e’ry day.”

Admittedly, this was a bit of an overly ambitious mission. There’s a reason that PR people have jobs. I now have a great amount of respect for this profession. Thank you for your service, PR people. And for the innumerable times you sent eager and finely-crafted emails into the void, with the hope that they might reach intelligent life in the universe, maybe even a kindred spirit with the decency to respond.  I salute you.

And even knowing that journalists and editors must get an obscene amount of email every day, I found my heart was warmed every time one of them took seven seconds to answer my email and say, “Thanks! Not a chance in hell! Have a nice day! Consider the environment before you print this message!”

If I have learned one thing this month it is this – if you find yourself on the receiving end of unwanted requests, reject people. Immediately. Despite the apparent anonymity of email, on the other side is a person, and you will gain an enormous amount of respect if you have the decency to send your regrets.

Which dovetails nicely with my second mission, which was to invite the city’s Newest Proudest Grandson of Italian Immigrants himself, Mayor Bill de Blasio, to the event. Or, guessing that his schedule was probably pretty packed, to present him with a snazzy plaque of friendship I whipped with the help of the good people at Crown Trophy on 38th street. Or, gathering that apparently the schedules of all of his staff members were too packed to respond, just to get someone to send me an email. Any email. An out-of-office autoreply, a ‘no,’ a plea to stop emailing – I can take it, I played one semester of rugby in college.

Yesterday, after 42 days and twenty-two emails, I did not meet the Mayor of New York on behalf of Vinitaly International. But Managing Director Stevie Kim and I did meet this lovely and very accommodating woman Leslie, who may or may not work for the city, and who may or may not have dumped the plaque into the East River.

Again, do I think the Mayor has better things to do? Please, look at pizzagate, man’s got his hands full (though, you know, maybe not full enough).

It was amazing to me, however that not one, but fully 5 members of de Blasio’s staff would allow me to continue to send them emails – one for nearly every work day since I started my mission in mid-December – and not just send me a “no” weeks ago. When they finally did respond, I received a call on my cell phone, at 6pm on a Friday evening, from a staff member apologizing for the delay but expressing the Mayor’s regrets that he could not attend the event. “Anytime you want to invite the Mayor to something, you can just email,” she encouraged me.

Are…you…making fun of me? It took all my pazienza to keep it together. “Um, yes ma’am. I’ve done that. Twenty times, in fact.” She then promised to see if there was a time in his schedule to get him this damn plaque. Which, it seems, was just an excuse to get email from me for another five days.

So you know what, maybe I’m naive in thinking that despite the overwhelming communication traffic we have inflicted upon ourselves, we should still hold each other to standards of basic human decency, and you know, respond. But what do I know.

I’m just an over-eager freelancer trying to bring a little humor and humanity to the web. Would I publish my own releases? Maybe not. But here’s what I would publish:

This coming Monday, February 3, Vinitaly International will drop its pants in Chelsea, for its annual US trade show, a crawl-around event featuring dozens of drinking games like “Spin the Barolo,” and a series of focused masterclasses on Italian varietals. New this year is a session highlighting white people in suits spitting politely into buckets for “Mean People Spit, Nice People Swallow (Prosecco).”


*If you’re a member of the trade or press.

**No, really, come, this is my job. Just register first.

***And if you’d like to read the totally awesome press releases I’ve written for this event, you can! –> Ooooh. Ahhhhh.

By Megan McGowan

*To see more from Megan, check out her blog, Phat City Bologna. 

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