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TODD SMITH — Not milk? Largest brand buys the farm


Not Milk! With a nod to one of the greatest branding campaigns in the world – who can forget Got Milk! – our society has increasingly tossed the jug and opted for tea and soft drinks instead.

This alarming trend recently led to the nation’s biggest milk producer filing for bankruptcy. Dean Foods blamed a decadelong drop in milk consumption that has seen people turn to alternatives like soda, juice and almond milk.

The Dallas company said it may sell itself to the Dairy Farmers of America, a marketing cooperative owned by thousands of farmers.

“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” CEO Eric Berigause said in a statement.

Since 1975, the amount of liquid milk consumed per capita in the U.S. has tumbled more than 40%. Americans drank around 24 gallons a year in 1996, according to government data. That dropped to 17 gallons in 2018.

An increasing variety of beverages, including teas and soft drinks, has hurt milk consumption. So have protein bars, yogurts and other on-the-go breakfasts, which take the place of a morning bowl of cereal.

More recently, health and animal-welfare concerns have also contributed, as more shoppers seek out non-dairy alternatives.

Oat milk, for example, saw U.S. sales rise 636% to more than $52 million over the past year, according to Nielsen data. Sales of cow’s milk dropped 2.4% in that same time frame.

Not all dairy products have been affected. U.S. butter and cheese consumption is up since 1996, for example.

The downturn has had an outsize effect on Dean Foods, which derived 67% of its sales from fluid milk last year, according to its annual report. The company has lost money in eight of its last 10 quarters and posted declining sales in seven of the last eight. Dean employs 16,000 people and operates 60 processing facilities across the country. On any given day, it is running 8,000 refrigerated delivery trucks on U.S. roads.

It supplies milk for its own brands, like Dairy Pure, Meadow Gold and TruMoo, as well as store brands. One big blow came last year, when Walmart opened its own milk processing plant in Indiana.

Dean said it will continue operating normally while it puts its finances in order under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It has lined up about $850 million in financing from lenders.

Journalists Biggest Pitching Pet Peeves

Quite often I refer to what I do as pitchin’ and grinnin’. The job of a PR counsel is to place newsworthy – and otherwise – stories in the daily 24/7 news cycle.

Thinking like a journalist, discussing strategy with business executives and honing the pitch to carry news value is an art form, and an exercise in lifelong learning as trends fade in an out, audiences change and the media evolves.

In no way is it an easy tasked – that’s why they call placed media through PR earned media, and place media through advertising unearned media (or non-paid and paid).

It’s not uncommon for journalists get up to 500 pitches per week, so as PR practitioners, it is our job to make it relevant, impactful and newsworthy.

Recently, a team at Fractl surveyed more than 500 journalists, staff writers, contributors, and editors and asked them to rank their pitching pet peeves.

Here are six simple mistakes to avoid when you reach out to media or bloggers, according to Fracti and the SPIN Sucks publication:

1. Pitching Content Not Relevant to a Writer’s Beat

This is journalists’ number one pitching pet peeve.

Or actually the industry’s most offensive pitching practice.

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many journalists say they receive beauty and health pitches for their political column.

Pro tip: use tools like Muck Rack, Twitter, and the writer’s archives to research their beat and interests before pitching.

You catch more flies with honey (and five minutes of extra research).

It may feel strange to dig deep into a writer’s archives and find the perfect article from 2013 to reference in your pitch, but from experience, they’ll appreciate you took the time to check.  

2. Your Pitch Misses the Publication’s Vertical

Journalists complain all the time about “blind pitching.”

Beyond doing in-depth research about a writer’s beat, we must ensure we’re contacting the appropriate editors, reporters, assignments desks, producers, publications and broadcast outlets.

Check into the site’s history to ensure your target hosts external content.

Are you pushing lifestyle content on a tech publication? Are you pitching overly promotional content to a publication that reports strictly on studies?

These are a few of the small, simple, (and obvious) things to avoid that will set you apart from the other 499 emails in a journalist’s inbox.

3. You’re Sending Too Many Follow-Ups

Knock, knock, are you still there?

No one wants to be ghosted, but it’s a harsh reality in the pitching world.

As much as PR pros don’t appreciate the silence, media folks take offense to excessive follow-ups. According to Fracti research, most writers say one to two follow-ups are appropriate.

Anymore and you risk of annoying a contact, jeopardizing a relationship

Sure, some pitches get lost in the shuffle, and journalists often appreciate the reminder. But don’t push it.

Sometimes we just need to take the hint: silence is a loud “no.”


4. You’re Too “Self-Promotional”

Let’s get real.

Our ultimate function as purveyors of news should be to provide helpful and relevant resources. Make the media’s life easier. While content is, at its core, a marketing tool, it should be understood that writers aren’t interested in promoting your brand.

Instead, they’re looking for material that will inspire a story that will resonate with readers.

Excessive internal links, product placement, or logos will take away from your content, and ultimately, deter journalists from publishing it.

Do the legwork ahead of time and make sure your content serves both the audience and your brand.

5. You Still Like to “Pick up the Phone”

From robocalls to incessant sales messages, people aren’t keen on answering their phone anymore.

Cold calling ranked as the fifth-highest pitching pet peeve.

Avoiding it is simple.

Don’t press “dial”. 

Step away from the phone …

We live in the digital world, and as it turns out, most writers prefer to keep it that way.

If your email is constructed the way it should be – Including all relevant information and materials – there rarely should be a need for a phone call. 

6. Your Mass Email Blasts Spam Like a Pro

It may seem like sending bulk email blasts to hundreds of journalists is a sure-fire way to gain coverage.


That tactic can make more enemies than friends.

It’s better to send out 15 highly personalized and researched emails than to send an email blast to 100 writers and run the risk of getting blacklisted.

Pro tip: if you have a piece of material that’s better suited for a news release style format, change up your approach! News releases – with actual news – and deliver visibility for your content and credibility to your brand! 

» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.


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