5 Ways Working in PR is Like Being on ‘Top Chef’

Katie Cosgrove

Few of us love Wednesday. “Hump day” sits unromantically at the center of the workweek, plagued by the exhaustion from Monday and Tuesday, but not close enough to the weekend to offer any sliver of hope. And yet, Wednesdays are my favorite. Here’s why—“Top Chef.”

I was working late last Wednesday, so I turned on “Top Chef” for company (and to drool over something tastier than my frozen pizza dinner). I was half listening as the Quick Fire challenge was proposed: Make a one-bite appetizer, featuring iceberg lettuce.

I’m no master chef, but featuring iceberg lettuce as the star ingredient on a respected culinary show got my attention. It certainly is not known for being at the top of chefs’ grocery lists.

And that’s when it hit me: My job was a Quick Fire challenge.

The contest reminded me of so many projects that I’ve worked on throughout my PR career, and here’s why:

  1. Recreating the wheel: Iceberg lettuce, while refreshing, isn’t today’s kale or microgreen. To create a culinary masterpiece out of something that is often used as filler can sometimes feel like finding a new way to talk about a product that everyone already thinks it knows. It is often our job to take something tried and true and make it feel new and exciting again, to generate buzz and keep our clients top of mind.

  2. Working with what you got: “Chef-testants,” as they’re called on “Top Chef,” work with whatever they can find in the kitchen, much like we often draft media materials and pitches with limited information. While it’s always important to do your research and get the facts, there are times when I find myself running from one person to another to gather bits of information to finally create a comprehensive story.

  3. Speed: Quick Fires need to be done fast, just like PR crises. Ask anyone in the profession, and they invariably tell you that crises happen at 5:00 on a Friday evening, and need to have been taken care of yesterday.

  4. Fighting for your spot: While we don’t necessarily get asked to “pack our knives and go,” we do fight daily to get our clients placed in various media outlets while competing with hundreds of other potential stories. It’s our job to be creative enough to stand out from the rest. And it can be tough competition.

  5. High risk, high reward—or failure: All press is not good press, just like all food is not tasty food. Top chefs often take risks with their ingredient combinations and cooking methods. Sometimes they win for it. Sometimes they get sent home. It’s the same with PR—unique ideas can turn disastrous if they’re not planned well. But when they are, people will talk about it for months.

In both “Top Chef” and the PR world it’s all in the thrill of the challenge—the opportunity to be crowned “the best.”

So while we never win cars or $10,000 checks for drafting a press release, seeing a media placement finally come to fruition can be a pretty thrilling reward, at least for us PR nerds.


Katie Cosgrove handles several of Henson Consulting’s food-related accounts, including Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Crystal Light brands and Land O’Frost lunchmeat. She can be reached at katie@HensonConsulting.com.