Kelsey Ogletree: Nutrition & Culinary Travel Writer as seen in The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine and Shape Magazine

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome travel and wellness journalist, Kelsey Ogletree, Kelsey has written for more than 30 National publications, including AARP, Real Simple, Midwest Living, Southern Living, The Wall Street Journal, and many others. She not only writes but also coaches publicists on working with writers. Welcome, Kelsey, thank you for joining me.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  00:50

Hey, Angela, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.

 

Angela Tuell  00:53

I’ve got to tell you, I’m so impressed that you have not only survived but thrived professionally during the pandemic. You continue to write for top-tier national publications and are also coaching publicists on how to pitch freelance writers. What drove you to expand beyond writing and editing?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  01:11

That’s a great question. I think, really, it stemmed from the overwhelming need for me to create a community. I think I’ve always seen writers and publicists as, you know, strong partners in this whole crazy media world. So many of us work independently. And especially during the pandemic, when so many of us were working from home, we just really needed a way to connect and share ideas so that we could all do our jobs more effectively. So one way that I did that is a few days after the lockdown began I remember getting a lot of emails from the publicist and other freelance writer friends, sort of in a panic, we were all just wondering, should we keep pitching, is this business as usual, should be called everything. No one, right? There was so much uncertainty back at that time, you know. So on a whim, I have a newsletter that I’ve been sending out for about six months at that time. And one day before sending it out. I think it was just a few days after the country officially locked down. And I just put one sentence at the top of the newsletter and I said, if anybody would be interested in hopping on a Zoom call with me next, or the next day to, you know, just to kind of talk about what is happening in the world and how media can go forward, just send me an email. And it was absolutely crazy, Angela. I got probably 100 emails from people in the next 20 minutes saying, “Yeah, sign me up for the call.” So that kind of led me to start this business that I never imagined that I would start before the pandemic, which started out as a weekly call where any publicist or freelance writer could join. And we would basically just talk about what’s happening in the media world, best practices, what I was hearing from editors. And I did that for a few weeks before deciding that I would try to turn that into a business. And so I began offering paid series and bringing on other freelance writers and editors to share their expertise on how to pitch their publications, and really help publicists and freelance writers jumpstart their relationship with them. And it’s been totally wild. But I’ve done monthly series almost every month since then, and every single one of them has sold out. So it’s been really…

 

Angela Tuell  03:22

I know I’ve heard great things.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  03:24

Oh, thank you.

 

Angela Tuell  03:25

Well, what have you learned through this?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  03:28

I think one of the main things I’ve learned is that publicists and writers are, in many ways, the same. And I am, I’ll be the first to say that I know a lot of writers or editors have sort of a rocky relationship with PR and, or maybe don’t see it that way. But to me, I’ve always found the most success and kind of leveling the playing field and saying that, I need PR as much as they need me to write the stories about their clients. So yes, I think we’re similar in so many ways, and that we constantly have to be perfecting our pitches, right? And we always have to be staying on top of trends, or maybe even defining what the trends are, and really collaborate to bring together these brilliant stories for editors that are original ideas. So I think there’s just that overwhelming sense of wanting to connect and build those relationships. And what I’ve learned through my Office Hours series, especially is that the participants really value learning from the writers and editors about how to pitch them and what’s going on in their publications. But equally, they value that time to connect with other people in the exact same boat as them. So I have started a private Slack community and people you know, continue the conversations, as we meet in these weekly workshops for a month or so. And then everybody becomes actually really good friends afterward and we constantly are on texts and Slack and chatting about different things. And it’s just been amazing to be part of building that community because I think I’ve learned so much that people just want that connection and people to brainstorm and run ideas by.

 

Angela Tuell  04:58

Yes, especially when you’re in the freelance world or when you’re in, when you’re a publicist in a smaller company or even by yourself. You know, it’s certainly a changing industry. We see the majority of writers are really freelance now at this point.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  05:12

Yeah, it’s it’s been wild to see how many editors of mine from pre-pandemic are now emailing me asking me about my tips for being a freelance writer, so, it’s funny how that the table’s turned sometimes, which to me, you know, just kind of brings home the point that you should never ever burn a bridge in this industry. Because you don’t know when an intern might want to be an editor-in-chief or you know, anything like that. You never know who’s gonna end up in what roles you

 

Angela Tuell  05:41

So true. That’s great advice. And in your words, which I completely agree with, you have said freelance writers are sometimes tricky to pitch and hard to track down. What is some of your best advice in working with writers like you?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  05:54

I want to say first, that, to me, if a freelance writer makes it hard to get in touch with them, like not having contact info posted anywhere online, not having a website, to me, that’s a red flag. I’m really careful about what I was, you know, I had to get a website up my name dot com, I regularly update that with my portfolio, and I try to communicate through my website and my newsletter, exactly what I’m working on, I put out my contact information on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Instagram. So to me, if a writer is not making it somewhat easy to get in touch with them, it’s sort of signals to me that they’re closed off to pitches. I think that, well, I have a few blogs about this topic on my website as well. But to me, the best way to get to know a freelance writer and start to build that relationship is to try to start following them on social media. If they’re active on Instagram, or Twitter, LinkedIn is a great place to connect, and just kind of get to see, who they are, and what are they writing about. What kind of things are they looking for? What are they sharing, and a lot of times, you know, a personal connection by something you might see following them on Instagram can turn into like a great way to do that first email intro or like, make that first connection with them. I think it’s always a great idea to just if you’re cold pitching it, a freelance writer, just reach out and introduce yourself quickly who you are, where you’re based, and just your list of your clients and a link to all of their websites. And, you know, just offer up the opportunity that you’re there to help. You know, if they’re working on any story where a client could be a fit, offer where you might have any expertise. I think that just offering yourself up as a resource rather than asking for something. Every time you email a freelance writer is a really smart approach because it kind of just makes me feel like oh, we’re you know, we’re in this together, like you want to collaborate with me, and we want to help each other. So right. I think that just kind of that doing that cold email, introducing yourself is a really nice way to go about it.

 

Angela Tuell  07:53

Yeah, that’s great advice. You say you started your freelance writing career accidentally. How so?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  07:59

Yeah. So I never really even knew that I could make a good living as a freelance writer and I worked as an editor for a couple of different publications for about eight years. And then most recently, I was an editor-in-chief role, and I unexpectedly got laid off from that company in October 2017. So I started freelancing in November, or December, I thought I would just hold off until after the holidays to try to get a new job. And I ended up getting a byline in Real Simple through a friend who worked there. And I found that once I got that first national byline, I was able to use that as leverage to get other ones. And I just started pitching and it kind of became this game to me, you know, you know, who can I pitch and how can I try to sell my ideas to these big national outlets that I admired for so long? And it just kind of clicked for me and it became like, almost addicting, you know, to like, “Where else can I get into?” and I was just like, all in and trying to get as many bylines as I could write about as many things as possible and, and it worked for me and you know, that’s how I truly realized that I could make this a career and I think since then, I’ve really honed in on my approach and I’m not writing for everything about everything anymore. I need to be getting to get a lot of experience but it kind of also now has helped me shape into some more niche topics that I really prefer to write about. But I can honestly say now that I’m a freelance writer, I mean, this is me, like I’m never gonna go back to a nine-to-five job working for another company at this point.

 

Angela Tuell  09:36

What are those niche topics?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  09:39

Um, so I really love to write about food. And I really pivoted to writing about food while I was writing about travel primarily before that, and obviously, that had to change so much when I couldn’t go anywhere last year. So I really honed in on food and specifically angles around nutrition for a lot of publications like Shape or Eating Well and focused on new ingredients like food trends, I really love the CPG space and you know what kind of healthy snacks and drinks and meals and things like that are out there. And then also I’ve really shifted in my approach to travel and now that I’m doing that again is, you know, culinary travel and writing about the food and drink experiences that I have when I go places. So, for example, I, my husband and I went on a trip postvaccination to the Riviera and Nayarit area of Mexico. And I discovered this thing called Sal de Gusano when I was there, and it’s basically salt made from ground-up worms that they drink with Mezcal, and put in tacos and all kinds of things. And so…

 

Angela Tuell  10:45

Yes, you wrote something about that, right?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  10:47

Yeah. So that ended up being a really fun story I did for Food and Wine about that is kind of a food trend incorporating my travel. So. So I would say, I mean, my sweet spot is really writing about food from that lens now.

 

Angela Tuell  11:00

So with your success, you know, how successful you’ve been. Do editors come to you now? Or do you still have to constantly be pitching them?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  11:08

Well, it’s interesting. I mean, I have some editors that I’ve been working with for a couple of years now. And I’ve been kept very busy this year with them coming to me, with assignments, which kind of began during the pandemic, you know, there was a lot of sort of frazzled editors in sort of, like, franticness last year, and not really knowing what to cover, and what people were asking. And so they really turned to writers more for guidance on you know, like, what, what are you hearing that people want to know, and all that kind of stuff. And now I’m noticing like, things have calmed down a little bit. And it’s sort of back to more, like, these are the topics we’re gonna cover. And, you know, we want to assign you these things based on what you’ve done for us before. And so I’ve already communicated to my editors like for at sheet, for example, I was writing a lot of different kinds of wellness content for them previously. And this year, I just kind of said, I, I’m really focusing on nutrition stories. So if you want to send assignments my way, they need to be nutrition-focused, and then I will continue to pitch you nutrition-related pieces. And it’s been really a big change for me because I feel like I’m more in control of what I’m doing in my career by telling them what I want. And I would never recommend that a freelance writer go say that to an editor when they first meet them. But it was one of the ones I’ve been working with for three years. And so I thought, okay, about, you know, I kind of proven myself to them. And the funniest part is that it has worked. And so now, you know, that’s kind of become my niche for them. And they do assign me stuff. So I would say about 60 or so percent of my work has been assigned, which, you know, the first couple years I did it, it was less than 10%. So that definitely makes it easier for me as a freelance writer, because it’s, you know, our time we spent pitching is unpaid work. And so when you don’t have to pitch but you’re still getting that assignment that really drives up your hourly rate, which is always a positive thing.

 

Angela Tuell  13:01

Yes. And I love your newsletter, which you describe as a recap of what you’re reading, eating, and working on. And I think it’s a great tool for some fabulous recipes, and for keeping up with what you’re working on. You know, so we can offer interviews or information. Has the newsletter evolved since you started?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  13:19

Oh, gosh, yes. Um, the newsletter started off as kind of like my timid little approach to you, I guess, just, you know, telling people who I was, when I first went freelance, I was really worried that people weren’t just going to, you know, they weren’t going to find me, when you’re an editor, you know, you’re listed on the masthead, and people want to pitch you for your publication, but sort of just getting my footing, I thought that I would sort of fade into the background, and people might not know what I was doing. So that’s really why I started it. And I think October 2019, and I started with, like, 100 subscribers that I had personally added, was like, basically friends and family. And it’s grown by like, 1000s of percent since then. It’s wild, I think that it grows, it like I probably get, I don’t know, even like 50 new subscribers a week without me really even doing anything to promote it, I guess, just word of mouth. But, you know, my goal with that is just to be as transparent as possible so that I can get what I need and also provide an opportunity for anyone who follows me to get their clients into my stories. And it’s been a really effective tool. It sort of has just kind of evolved into me offering many more opportunities through there than I was doing in the beginning. But I find that people really like it because I get so many emails of people asking me, what am I working on? And I just don’t have the time to answer those individually. And so that’s kind of a great way to be one-to-many and communicate that answer.

 

Angela Tuell  14:49

And this was not your first time having a newsletter. It started in elementary school, right?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  14:54

Oh my gosh, yeah. When I was about six or seven, I started this paper newsletter called the Monthly Media for my family and I would cut out pictures and letters from magazines. And I would write these big stories. And my mom would photocopy the front and back and mail it out to our family members. And it’s funny because you know, back then I always thought I wanted to be a doctor, and I majored in chemistry in college. And I never thought that I would end up here, but now it’s funny with a different bag. You know, it’s like, well, maybe I’ve had this writer gene, in me all along. So it’s kind of funny.

 

Angela Tuell  15:32

Yeah. It sounds like it. What have been some of your favorite stories of all time? I didn’t say one because I know it’s hard, it’s hard to pick one. But what have been some of them?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  15:41

Yeah, well, I want some of my favorite stories have been writing for The Wall Street Journal travel section. They just are always open to really kind of quirky trend pieces and things like that. And the voice is really fun. So one of my favorite stories I’ve done for them was I noticed that hotels were offering amenities for cats. And you know, we hear that a lot of hotels are dog friendly, but it was funny to me because I’m a huge cat person. And I have my own cat, Monty. And so I pitched a piece and ended up writing it about these different ways, like a room service menu for cats. And it was really funny because I love doing stories that make a greater impact than just a fun read. And I had several people email me from the PR team saying that they were recommending to their general managers that they add programs for cats because of that piece. So that was just, that was really fun. And then there’s been a couple of times, I’ve covered businesses like, for Midwest Living, I wrote a story about this woman who has a company called Beyond Words, and she sends care boxes to loved ones who are grieving. And I was able to, because I wrote that article about her, she was able to leave her full-time job and do her Beyond Words, box full time because she got such business from it. So those kinds of things, when I can make an impact with the stories that just that is so satisfying to me, and makes it so worthwhile when it actually has an impact beyond just, you know, reading a piece online.

 

Angela Tuell  17:11

Yeah. How do you like to find those stories? I know, you’ve mentioned Google Trends is a great tool, but how do you typically find your stories?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  17:18

Yeah, I love a good data set, that’s for sure. I love seeing, I subscribe to a lot of things that send out reports, you know, or research, a lot of like health-based science and things like that. There’s an email that goes out called Chartr, it’s charter without the E. And it has these really interesting charts every day on different trends and things. And so I really think the data can be super helpful in proving that something’s a trend to an editor, rather than just, you know, showing some anecdotal evidence. A lot of it too, is piecing together things that I hear about from PR, and social media to you. A lot of times, I’ll post something I’m doing and I’ll get a bunch of DMS from PR, or, you know, just friends saying, “Oh, I saw this here,” that becomes you know, three makes a trend right. So it’s kind of being it’s, I think, as a freelance writer you’re really always on, you’re always on the hunt for story ideas. Sometimes it’s really hard to turn that off, but it can be really fun to, you know, like the way the world around you inspires you so much, too. So just a little bit of everything.

 

Angela Tuell  18:25

I know you recently moved to Alabama from Chicago, right during the pandemic. How did that come about?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  18:32

Well, my husband is originally from this area called the Shoals in northern Alabama. And we originally came down here early on in the pandemic, just to get out of the city when things were so scary up there. And we were able to find a home in this beautiful historic neighborhood. And we really loved, you know, having a slower pace of life. But I will say that my time in Chicago was so invaluable in growing my career because it just enabled me to really see how some of the bigger agencies really work, you know, make a lot of friends and contacts in the hotel industry. You know, just constantly being able to meet with new people coming through town who were in the media space. That was a huge help, I think really helped me grow my career the way that I have.

 

Angela Tuell  19:17

Yeah, like it might not have been it was a good time now, but before it might not have been a good time to move to Alabama.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  19:23

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Angela Tuell  19:25

But you’re not a stranger to the countryside though. Right? You grew up on a farm in Montana.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  19:29

I did. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  19:30

You have a lot of great stories from your childhood?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  19:32

I’m a country girl through and through my parents are third-generation wheat farmers and I in the country in Montana and it’s funny now because bringing my husband there and, you know, kind of doing a little bit of writing about that area in my freelance career has made me realize how special it really is. You know, I’m not everyone has a chance to ride in the combine with their dad or see baby antelopes being born or go boat on the lake with nothing but cows and no houses around and wow, all those things were so, you know, like unique experiences that you don’t really appreciate until you move away, I think, so. So yeah, a lot of great stories for sure.

 

Angela Tuell  19:35

So what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in a few years?

 

Kelsey Ogletree  20:22

Well, that’s a great question. I, based on the success of my Office Hours, I’m working on launching a really big project that is going to be community-based for all the people who have been part of my Office Hours in the past and, really building an official community program around that. I’ve also put together a big Office Hours session on all about e-commerce and affiliates, which is kind of this huge, huge question for so many of us both freelancers and publicists. I think as big brands, like Narrative and other publishing houses, move more and more toward focusing on E-comm or just kind of all trying to figure out how do we navigate that and pitch around it. So I’m putting together a big series on that. And then I’m also working with a local publication sort of axio style in our new hometown of the Shoals in Alabama. So lots of lots of fun stuff is on the horizon. And I’m also really hoping to continue writing for, you know, some of my favorite outlets like Wall Street Journal, and Travel and Leisure, really trying to shift into doing more print stories as much as I can. Before, you know, hopefully, we’ll never lose those. But I know some opportunities can get fewer and far between. So really trying to focus on where those bigger feature stories and I said the short digital stuff in the short term.

 

Angela Tuell  21:41

Well, that sounds great. That’s super exciting. I can’t wait to see what comes from you next. Well, thank you so much. Yeah, thank you for sharing your experiences today. We really appreciate your time.

 

Kelsey Ogletree  21:52

Of course, thank you.

 

Angela Tuell  21:55

You can find Kelsey on Twitter @KelseyOgletree, Instagram @KBOgletree, or sign up for her newsletter at KelseyOgletree.com. That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined available anywhere you get your podcasts. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

In today’s episode, Angela talks with Kelsey Ogletree about the importance of building long-term relationships in the media industry.  Based out of Alabama, Kelsey is a writer and editor, featured in The Wall Street Journal, Midwest Living, and others, a pitching coach, and corporate content creator. 

Read Kelsey’s articles on how to bridge the gap between freelance writers and PR, or to sign up for her newsletter to learn about the next Office Hours workshop.

Read Kelsey’s article on Mezcal.

This is Kelsey’s Wall Street Journal article on hotel cat amenities. 

Learn more about Beyond Words care packages.

Review data storytelling in business, technology, and entertainment.

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