Want to pitch bloggers? Read this first.
I’m speaking this week at the North Carolina Governor’s Conference on Tourism, on a panel called “Straight From the Horse’s Mouth.” Moderated by Karyl Leigh Barnes of DCI International, the panel also included Kathryn O’Shea Evans, special projects editor of Travel + Leisure (representing print) and David Helwig, a producer on the Amazing Race and other TV shows (representing broadcast).
I really liked the questions that Karyl Leigh asked, so I decided to post them. along with my answers, here. Lots of PR people ask me about how to pitch bloggers, and some of the material might help others.
Changing Media Landscape
What two changes in the media space have directly impacted your organization – and what have you done differently as a result?
I used to be on a staff at a newspaper, with responsibility for a print-oriented job that went away. While I do write for print outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle, more of my outlets are online. I’m also active in the social media space, which requires a different way of thinking about communications
What are the three most important elements of your job?
Balancing the competing needs of the publications I write for. All of them have different audiences and requirements so I’m trying to pitch stories that resonate in each space. Obviously I have to write those stories too.
Being able to maintain communication with readers and others in the travel space on social channels.
Working to build my business, with includes educating people that digital journalists are different than a regular freelance writer. I run my own publication, so I’m also responsible for the business side, seeking out sponsorships and other innovative partnerships.
In your perspective – where is travel editorial heading?
Shorter pieces, mostly online. Every outlet wants Top 10 lists these days because they perform well on search. People like to skim those during their lunch hour. I also think that publications are diving deep into apps, ebooks, other ways that they can get their content out there, often by re-purposing it.
Media outlets change on what seems like a daily basis – what are your top two tips publicists should follow for staying on top of the changes in your organization?
Ask me! I still make most of my money through freelance writing, and I’m always on the lookout to pitch new publications.
Also, my media kit is a good resource as far as numbers and outlets. It will be updated quarterly.
Pitching, Step by Step
Explain the process your outlet goes through to put together a story for your “issue, program or platform.”
My blog is experiential, which means I have to visit a destination or experience an event to write about it. So developing a story begins with a conversation with a destination or destination representative.
If a destination or a PR rep express interest, I send my media kit so we’re on the same page. I cover Value Luxury so if a place is geared toward families, it’s not a good fit. Then we see if I can visit, and continue to develop the itinerary.
Then I do the trip. Unlike a regular press trip, it can’t be so rushed. I’d rather have time to develop 2 or 3 quality stories than an overview. I need time to shoot pictures, do social media, get everything on site.
Then when I get back, I sort through everything and figure out what I’m going to pitch and what I’m going to put on the blog. Again, they are different creatures.
What makes a story interesting for your outlet?
My focus is Value Luxury, and I’m looking for unique, chic and boutique properties or experiences. My readers are sophisticated and well traveled. I’m looking first to surprise and inspire them, then help them find ways to replicate the trip on their own.
A certain percentage of my readers are armchair travelers and like to see me doing things that they might not do themselves. They want to see me riding on a Mardi Gras float, or kayaking through Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska or renting a campervan in New Zealand. I’m not the most in shape person out there, so I think there’s a certain element of “oh, if Chris can do it, I could do it too.” I won’t go crazy with new activities – I don’t want to go ice climbing, for example – but soft adventure is definitely of interest.
I’m also on the lookout for Value Luxury tips – go at this time of day, or don’t waste your time here. Writing for a blog requires a certain amount of self-awareness. My readers don’t want me to snow them, and they are looking for honest evaluations.
How many pitches do you receive in a single day – and how many do you read?
I get lots of press releases that are generic. I skim them to see if they are newsy enough for Gadling, then hit delete. Most aren’t.
I do read emails from people in PR who represent destinations I want to visit. I send them my media kit and let them know about my site and readership. I also tend to read pitches from people who I’ve made a connection with through Twitter or a conference. But again, they need to be honest about whether or not their property or destination fits my readership.
The most interesting pitches I get come from destinations that are already in the social space, but want to take it to the next level. I can then tell them about what I offer, and we can work out a campaign. Sometimes this does involve a consulting fee. I don’t charge if it’s the type of thing a regular freelance writer would do but if you want me to get more in-depth with SEO-targeted keywords, best practices or content that you can use on your site, I do discuss payment as that gets into the consulting realm.
What elements influence whether or not you read a pitch?
The headline is important. Again, if it’s generic and sent out to a million people, I won’t read it. Something personal that shows that they understand what I do and how it’s a little different from a regular freelance writer.
What is an example of the best pitch you have received in the past six months?
Here’s a good example. Mindy Bianca has just moved to Gilles & Zaiser. We’ve had a relationship for years, even though I didn’t cover her last client, Hershey Park. She’s now working with luxury properties, so she sent me a note about a spa trip to Scotland, telling me what the trip was about and why my outlet should be interested. I love that. We’ve developed a respectful relationship and I feel like she’s not going to waste my time with properties that don’t fit.
One of the few generic releases that I used: I got an email about a “historic” Hooters reopening. I’m not sure if the publicist realized that her choice of language was funny, but it was. So I jumped on it. That’s something that I’d never cover on my blog, but it’s good for Gadling.
So often we hear from editors that a pitch must feature a “new” experience for the story to be considered, even if the outlet has never covered the topic at hand. Can you elaborate on the importance of “new” and “news” for your outlet?
My site isn’t necessarily news focused. I’ll visit old favorites, because that’s how my readers recognize a destination. If they’re going to Asheville, they want to visit Biltmore, they want to hear if classic restaurants in town are still up to par. At the same time, if there’s something new and cool, they want to know if it’s worth it. I almost always seek out restaurants with James Beard-award winning chefs, for example.
My readers are busy and only have so much time and money for their vacations. And I don’t want to waste it.
Beyond direct story pitches – what are the two best ways your outlet identifies a story angle?
For my blog, it’s my judgment. I don’t necessarily do hotel reviews of one property, so I look for trends. Some stories that have come from that: Luxury bed & breakfasts that don’t look like grandma’s house, free hotel mini bars included in the price, sexy hotel art. I won’t say that I’m jaded because I still get ridiculously excited about travel trends, but the reality is that I’m on the road quite a bit. It has to spark my interest somehow.
You all have relationships with publicists in the business. How did those develop?
I’ve been a member of SATW since my print days so that has been a great avenue for developing relationships. I also go to a lot of conferences and meet people there. I walk an interesting line – for some organizations, I’m a reporter and then for others, I’m a publisher. The best publicists understand that.
One of the best outcomes I’ve ever had was with Indianapolis, which is hosting the SATW conference this year. At the 2010 conference in Germany, Chris Gahl requested an appointment with me during marketplace. “What would it take to get you to Indianapolis?” he asked. What he didn’t know is that I grew up going to the Indy 500 with my dad as a kid. Once I told him that, he arranged for me to come in with my dad on a father-daughter trip, and do the Indy Racing experience. That was on my dad’s bucket list, and it seriously made his year. He loves Chris. He wanted to send him a Christmas card. That’s a real connection. And it was good for me too. Some people told me that the story I wrote made them cry.
I’ve also cultivated some relationships through Twitter and other social arenas. It’s always flattering if someone RTs your links. At the very least, it will get you on my radar.
What is an acceptable turn-around time when you request information from a publicist?
It depends on the story. If I’m doing a news story for Cruise Critic or Gadling, it needs to be almost immediate because they want to publish first. On a breaking story or one with an immediate deadline, I’ll use HARO and put the response deadline in the query.
How to Use Social Media
What role does Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest play?
Social media platforms are absolutely essential to my brand. Before I leave on a trip, I do a Pinterest board as a way to let my readers know where I’ll be going. What I’ve found is that some destination websites aren’t set up well for these – they don’t have images that I can use because the site is burdened with flash. That makes it hard to find photos to share and I have to get them from another website, which is a missed opportunity for the property.
It should go without saying that if you’re hosting a digital journalist, you’ve got to include wifi. I use it constantly. If we’re in an area where I can’t use it, you are missing an opportunity for on-the-ground coverage.
And then when I come back and write up the pieces, I use social media for dissemination. It helps if the destination is on the lookout and RTs the link or puts it on their FB page. I’m amazed by how many people don’t do that. It’s content for your page! Use it.
What types of story ideas excite you personally – and motivate you to pursue them further?
Anything that I feel will give value to my readers. I was really excited about Asheville. It’s a perfect destination for my site – my readers have heard of it, even if they haven’t gone, and will definitely want the inside scoop.
I’ve done a few partnerships where I work closely with the destination to develop a personalized visit. Those are great. The #VisitLanai New Media Artist in Residence program is a good example of this. The person organizing it “gets” social media and asked for the right numbers. She was able to put together a presentation at the end that showed real ROI for her clients. It’s being repeated again this year. This is bleeding edge stuff in the world of travel PR, and I love being on the front end of some of these experiments.
Your outlet has various platforms – print, online, Facebook, Twitter. What is the primary role of each platform? Are the opportunities for stories on each? Are those stories that carry through or is it original content?
I’m a firm believer that each platform has its own nuances. I don’t post the same things on my Facebook page that I do on my Twitter stream, for example. I hate it when people connect the two feeds. To me, it shows that they don’t understand how to maximize each one. It’s a little tone deaf, in my opinion.
What destinations should understand about digital journalists/bloggers is that there’s amazing opportunities to work together. We’re not slackers in pajamas. I mean, I worked for 14 months at Microsoft besides my edit experience at newspapers. I’m super intense, and I take my business seriously.
It’s a bloggers’ job to explore and exploit the web. We’ve cultivated skills that go far beyond what a freelance writer used to have, including SEO and keyword strategy, some measure of Analytic measuring, social reach, etc. I’ve written and edited apps, I go on the radio to promote my posts, I’ve entered into syndication agreements. I think publicists haven’t even begun to recognize and take advantage of that.