Speaking to Media | Jen Kirsch, Relationship Expert and Columnist
Meet Canada’s leading dating and relationship expert, Jen Kirsch. She is that friend – the one who gives relatable, brutally honest and witty advice. Only difference is, she advises us on paper and through our screens, using her voice to lay out her opinions in featured articles as a freelance writer. Having published in a variety of publications including ELLE, Women’s Health, Teen VOGUE, Canadian Living, Toronto Star and so on, we spoke to the relationship queen herself on how and why she (unexpectedly) chose this niche. She also lets us in on the multiplex career of a freelancer, useful tips on securing that pitch, and her take on the role of social media in today’s media landscape. Let’s get to it shall we?
How did you find your voice? What prompted you to write about relationships and dating advice?
In 2009 I had finally moved on from a very toxic, on-again-off-again relationship. I was 24 and it was refreshing to not only start dating and going out again, but to realize how much better I could have had it when not being held back or brought down by an unhealthy other. To cope and deal with leaving my relationship, I enrolled in an 8-week Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program covered by OHIP (this was way before mindful became the it word du jour) and each week we were meant to look at different areas in our life. One week the area of focus was how we can use our resources to get what we want. I had graduated from Ryerson Journalism school and always wanted to be a writer, and yet at the time I was working as the Director of Public Relations for a fashion designer. I decided to start a blog, Blonde, Bronzed, Twentysomething, about living the lifestyle of a twenty something out and about in Toronto. This became a place where I could use my voice and share – in a personal narrative – what I was going through and what I had learned, and gave me an outlet to use the voice that was silenced in that previous relationship. That voice that I was told no one would care about. For this blog, I wrote in a very generalized way (once described as Jerry Seinfeld meets Carrie Bradshaw) so people could place themselves in the stories I was sharing. I wanted to use my newfound voice to explore the various relationships and moments we experience in dating and connecting with others, and to be there for those who, like me once upon a time, didn’t feel they had anyone to talk to about how they were really feeling. Within the first six months of blogging on the daily, it received such widespread attention – international and otherwise – that I was asked to contribute relationship columns to ELLE Magazine in New York. From there, everything trickled in from offers to do TV and radio segments as a relationship expert, to being interviewed by journalists to provide dating insight for their articles, to being offered a handful of dating and relationship columns in some of the most coveted publications in Canada and the U.S. All this was done before Instagram and YouTube and started with me sharing my thoughts, unedited. I realized I wasn’t alone and what I love about this niche is that relationships of all kind – be it romantic, platonic or familial relations – will affect us throughout our lives.
Based on your personal experience, what makes an amazing pitch? Any tips?
An amazing pitch begins with a catchy and concise subject line, and then starts off with spelling my name correctly. I love if the person pitching can show me that they are familiar with my work or my beat, and that they are sending me an opportunity or angle that has been thought out specifically for me. If you’ve developed a relationship with me, I’m more likely to notice your name in my inbox and am more likely to read what you have to say. Get to the point, tell me who you are (if I don’t know you), who your client is, and who is available for me to interview. Also let me know if I’m being offered access that someone else isn’t (is this an exclusive?) and send a downloadable link to hi-res images (if applicable) and link to your clients’ site and social accounts. Check in with other people on your team to ensure they haven’t pitched me already and know when to quit if I have already passed on a piece. I’ve been in your shoes before so if I have the time, I usually respond with a few sentences about why I’ve passed on a pitch so people can know in the future what it is I’m looking for. I’m always surprised at how often I get pitched on including something in a round up, despite not writing a round up type piece in over a year.
What’s the freelance market like for writers right now?
There are many remarkable publications in Canada and beyond that are willing to work with freelancers and have a good budget to do just that. Don’t be afraid to cold pitch an editor at a specific publication if you think you’re the right person to tell a story and don’t wait on an idea. There’s a lot of competition out there, so you have to believe in yourself, hustle and know your worth. I think the insight I gave above on how to pitch me is applicable when pitching an editor for the first time or otherwise.
What advice would you give to those wanting to work with a freelance writer? How’s the approach different from working with a traditional writer at one publication?
The biggest advice I can give a PR professional or subject is to never ask a freelance writer to change a story or to “add one more thing,” after a piece has already gone live/gone to print. I am always shocked to receive these types of emails or to get questioned if they can read the piece before I submit it. The answer will always be no. Never will I add anything in after, unless there’s a factual error. Yes, it’s great to be comfortable and develop a working relationship and even possibly a friendship with a freelance writer, but be clear on both your roles. They are journalists at the end of the day and aren’t a walking advertisement for your client. Also, if you want them to attend your events or launches for potential coverage, be mindful that they work for themselves. This means they aren’t getting cab chits or invoicing for transportation to and from media events and it more so often than not comes out of pocket. If you want a freelance writer in attendance at an event for potential coverage, offering an Uber code for the full payment of the trip or a cab chit goes a long way. I’ve been uncertain about a story or certain topic only to attend an event and be totally blown away. Relationships are so important and I always take time to meet regularly with those PR professionals I connect with to grab a drink and develop relationships. If the vibe via email is right, ask to take them out or meet up and see how you guys can potentially work together. A perk of a freelancer is that they have their hands in multiple cookie jars so to say, so there’s wiggle room to find just the right publication to place a good story.
What role does social media play in modern journalism?
It’s a great outlet to not only share work but to get feedback from readers to see what works and what doesn’t. Being a freelance journalist can be extremely isolating. You’re working for hours at a time on your own, inside your own head. Getting the opportunity to connect with others via social is a great way to feel a sense of community, and to feel a little less lonely.
Any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Expect to see more of me on your air waves. 😉
Want more of our Speaking to Media series? Check out what Carola Vyhnak had to say.