ROOSTERGNN is a non-profit news agency that promotes freedom of expression and journalism education. #RGNNadvisor is an interactive section of resources for journalists and communications professionals, helping them to become better communicators and moreover, to pursue a successful career in the media industry.

Leigh Shirvan is an experienced marketing and social media advisor for brand-name restaurants. She focuses on event planning, marketing, digital strategy, content creation and social media plan execution and post-analysis. Current and past clients include Pret a Manger, Fresh & Co., Cafe Metro and Ark Restaurants. 

She started her career as the Director of Marketing for Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, a restaurant group that has locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and Florida. She then went on to become the Director of Marketing for Financier Patisserie, a French coffee and pastry concept with 10 locations in New York City. Following this, she was Director of Social Media and Marketing for Uncle Sam’s Burgers, a Chinese-based, fast-casual restaurant concept that specialized in American foods with an Asian twist.

Leigh is also the Founder and Creative Director of @hungryobsession, a popular food Instagram account eclipsing 65,000 followers. 

In an exclusive interview, Leigh tell us all about her career – and how to follow in her “foodsteps”.

Quite a number of young journalism students are thinking of starting a food blog or food Instagram account. What key advice can you give for those just starting out? 

Starting a blog or Instagram account is so much fun and has become a great source of creativity for me. My biggest advice for others would be to be innovative and make sure that you’re blog or Instagram account is unique in some way. There are so many new accounts popping up in the space that the best way to ensure getting recognized or standing out is to have a distinct perspective. I have been trying to do this more with my own account, @hungryobsession, by incorporating my passion for fitness and showing the balance I attempt to achieve in my life. It has taken some time but I have now begun to look for ways to synergize these two passions of mine and make sure that this content is also sprinkled throughout my account.

What has it been like running your own Instagram account so far? Have there been any ups and downs? If so, can you share some of them?

I have worked in the food and beverage industry for over 10 years, so starting my account felt like a natural extension of my job and my clear passion. In fact, one of the main reasons I started my account was to use it as a tool to learn about how companies are interacting with influencers and as a way to build better, more established relationships with my fellow foodies!

Like any business venture, there have absolutely been ups and downs. The biggest one can probably be attributed to Instagram’s algorithm changes that are now happening every 90 days or so. This can make it difficult to create a solid plan to move forward with because changes are occurring so often that it does not give you enough time to determine what works for you and what provides the best results for your account. Unfortunately for us, I do not think this is changing, so we are now left to figure out a new game plan – which is a difficult task in and of itself!

One of my greatest achievements since starting @hungryobsesion has been to build a large audience of followers who are engaged with my content. Yes, engagement has fluctuated A LOT recently, but I have learned to be satisfied with my progress as long as I am continually proud of the content I create and the partnerships I build with the brands I work with.

Additionally, I think it is really important to note that Instagram and the rise of food influencers has transformed the restaurant industry. It has proven to be a platform where restaurants can easily showcase specials, creative food inventions and overall #foodporn in the form of photos – all helping to generate buzz. As a result, restaurants and food establishments are incentivized to think outside the box and become more creative with their product offerings. Restaurants are using influencers and innovative food creations to drive awareness and to further distinguish themselves from their competitors. I am so proud to be part of this dynamic shift in the industry.

Your posts are always packed with color. Can you provide some essential tips for aspiring food photographers? What piece of photography equipment could you not go without?

In regard to the photographs specifically, I think aspiring food photographers will begin to develop their signature look over time. I use a Sony A6000 camera and believe that upgrading to this elevated equipment helped to really define the overall look of my photographs. Editing your photos is also an important part of the process. I use either Photoshop or more often, the Snapseed app, which makes the process much quicker because you can do it directly on your mobile phone.

In addition to my camera, a super important piece of equipment to have when photographing food is an external light that you can hold in your hand and use when dining for dinner or at super low-lit restaurants. Learning to use this light properly will help make your photos look like you are photographing in broad daylight when that may not be the case in real life. These lights have become super easy to find and you can find them at any photography store or order them directly online.

What advice you would give to aspiring food blog to start a collaboration with food brands and/or restaurants?

As you begin to build your audience and your account, I would not be afraid to reach out to brands and/or restaurants that you are a fan of or would like to work with. Take the initiative because sometimes you need to be the one to make the first move and start a conversation.

In addition to being unique, I think it’s also really important to stay true to who you are as account and the aesthetic you’ve created. This is super important to remember when you begin working with food brands or restaurants. You want to ensure that you are working with partners that are closely aligned with your message and your look so that the content integrates seamlessly into your account and doesn’t stand out as being an obvious #ad or #sponsored post.

What has been one of the most valuable lessons you have learnt through the experience of creating your own food Instagram account?

This is a tough question because I think I have learned so many valuable lessons since creating my account. If I had to choose a major one, it would be to be proud of the work you are creating and confident in the brand you are building. Don’t compare yourself to other people and other accounts that are also focusing on food. Make sure that you are producing content that is unique and allow your content to speak for itself!

Follow her on @hungryobsession on Instagram.