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Jun 14, 2002

How to Pitch The Chicago Tribune's Jim Kirk

SUMMARY: Hold the Captain Kirk jokes, because he is heard them all.†The Chicago Tribune's daily marketing columnist Jim Kirk is one of the most influential journalists in America's heartland (where so many Fortune 500s have top staff).†In our exclusive interview learn how to pitch stories to influence his 689,000 readers.
Profile #23 in Our Continuing Series on Marketing Journalists

Jim Kirk
Marketing Columnist
Chicago Tribune
435 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
PH: 312.222.5944

-> Circulation as of 5/02:

Print run per weekday is 689,026. The Sunday print edition is 1,116,103 (though Kirkís articles primarily run in the weekday print edition).

-> Kirkís background:

An Illinois State University graduate with a BA in Journalism, Kirk began his career as an editorial intern at Grocery Marketing magazine. Not long after that, he heard Adweek wanted someone to cover the food industry and grabbed the opportunity.

After five years with Adweek, Kirk moved to the Chicago Sun Times where he covered marketing in the packaged goods industry.

He did such a good job that two years later the Chicago Tribune poached him. Because the paper already had an established marketing columnist, George Lazarus, Kirk wrote about marketing "on a broader scale." He also wrote about local radio and television for the business section. Kirk took over as the Tribuneís marketing columnist after Lazarus died in September 2000.

Kirk's passionate about marketing. "Itís a lot of things: the relationship to pop culture and a trend leader from a business standpoint. It also tends to be a business indicator," Kirk says. "Marketing is the first to get hit and first to come back. From that standpoint you really can lead the news. Industries and companies tend to look at who is being aggressive [in marketing] to decide whether to come back or pull back."

-> Current editorial coverage:

Kirkís coverage is "a real mix" of topics. He likes trend pieces, particularly if a company "is doing something completely unexpected." Kirk recently wrote about what is happening in technology and how two years ago, agencies were being set up to handle technology, but that has changed dramatically.

He covers the consolidation of media on both the buying and selling sides. Kirk also does his best to follow client/agency account shifts, but he finds more interest in new marketing techniques. He believes companies need to be smarter about how they use media.

Kirk will write about marketing services and technologies but "you need to prove that you are viable." If you approach him with a new technology story, he usually takes the time to "do a lot of homework" before he writes a word about it. He also likes to see if a client is using a technology already, but he feels that lately the client-side "just wants to wait and see if is efficient and successful" before investing in a test campaign.

Kirk also will cover agency activity, particularly if there is new or interesting creative. He says he will "always look at what is going on in Internet side," believing "now is a good time now to look at [Internet marketing activity] again."

What else is Kirk looking to write about? "These days, Iím looking for things to come back. Any signs of life would be good," he says. "Now, no one seems to really know when it will come back, itís hard to predict. You see pockets of strength but thatís about it now." He tends to look at new product activity, new campaigns or changes in the media buying landscape for these "signs of life."

-> What Kirk looks for in a story pitch:

Before you pick up that phone or type that email, heed this advice: Read Kirkís previous articles. Make sure your story is one no one has written about. If it is a new campaign, it has to be different and relevant.

Once you know these facts, contact him via email; his voice mail "tends to clog up pretty fast." If you send a fax, call him and let him know you sent it. Do not pitch him by mail.

-> Deadlines:

Kirk is on deadline every day of the workweek, but he will do his best to respond in a timely manner. Articles go to print at around 6:30 P.M. CST, but Kirk says his day is set by 4 P.M. Unless it really is breaking news, try to reach him early in the day.

-> Submitting pre-written contributions:

Do not bother. Kirk is expected to write all relevant marketing stories.

-> Becoming a regular columnist:

Kirk says it is not likely right now.

-> Where you can meet Kirk:

Kirk tries to make it out to "any local ad and media conferences," particularly the 4As conference and anything on that level. Once in a while, he will also make it to "big media conferences in New York." If you have a story and you are in the Chicago area, he is receptive to meeting you for a drink or a meal.

-> What Kirk prefers to see in a press kit:

Top executive bios, and a good overview of the company and its sales and billings. All executive or financial information you can provide. Kirk usually does not look at company history.

--> What Kirk looks for in an online pressroom:

"Pretty much the same thing," Kirk says. "Less history, more about the executives as well as financial information." You should have a simple site with good contact information. "Some of the problems with online press rooms is that they only give email, and I want a phone number. No forms, please."

-> Kirkís favorite business publications:

Kirk reads a lot of trade publications, but he regularly goes online to read AdAge, Adweek and Mediaweek. He also enjoys the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Business Week.
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