The digital tsunami that has so roiled the media industry since the turn of the 21st century shows no signs of abating. It can play out like a soap opera: Recent news included 20th Century Fox’s acquisition of National Geographic Society’s media assets and accompanying layoffs late last year, resulting in an online frenzy of criticism at this unholy alliance and doomsday predictions for the future of journalism. And just last month, in February, Yahoo! abandoned most of its high-profile, celeb-edited channels, including its Travel portal, which had ironically just won the North American Travel Journalists Association's award for best online travel magazine.
The last several years have seen a revolving door of changes to the mastheads, including the top spot, at the iconic travel magazines: Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure, and National Geographic Traveler. As for every other travel magazine, website, newsletter, and blog out there, it’s almost impossible to keep up with who’s on staff, not to mention restructurings, redesigns, and publication frequency changes.
Such wholesale changes in travel media have enormous repercussions to those trying to get attention for their destinations. Not only do they have to keep track of editors and their comings and goings, but there are many new content power brokers with befuddling new titles: chief content officer, social media producer, editor of visual presentation, digital director, etc.
What does all this mean to those who deal with media? The destination marketers and the public relations pros? “There’s a lot of experimentation among media, and a host of new formats, many fueled by social media,” said Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann. “That provides more opportunity to get granular, and allows marketers and communications staff to target specific types of travelers.”
But for all the changes, the essentials of communicating with the media are fairly constant. “It’s as important as ever to really understand the editorial viewpoint and audience of each media outlet, whether it’s a print platform, television, a blogger, or someone who has mastered Instagram,” says Weissmann. “There’s real opportunity to hone effective messages; the shotgun approach to press releases just isn’t going to be as effective.”
Here are more tips, straight from the smartphones of my friends, travel journos on the front lines of the Great Disruption.
Know the difference between a topic and a story: Gone are the days of editors picking up the phone, two-hour lunches, and chatty desksides. Journalists don’t have time to tease out a story from a topic. “Don’t ask me if I cover something generic like summer; that’s not a story and I don’t have the bandwidth to figure out what the story is,” says Grace Cutler, a senior lifestyle editor at FoxNews.com.
Highlight what's new right away, perhaps in bullet points: “I get the same PR releases each year and it's always hard to figure out what's new and why we should cover it, so highlighting news would be great,” says Mary Turner, deputy editor of Outside magazine. “Surface the important stuff, i.e., ‘We added king-size star beds,’ or ‘We brought in a chef who forages,’ or ‘We have 10 new chair lifts,’ etc.”
Google before you pitch: Like many editors, Peter Fish, until last December deputy editor of Sunset magazine, says his pet peeve is “PR people who have clearly never read us. We are a travel/garden/home/food magazine that focuses on the American West. Places I am not interested in hearing about include: the Caribbean, Branson, Missouri, and Germany. What I like getting are PR pitches from people who clearly have read the magazine carefully, who can say, ‘I read your Ask a Local feature on Santa Fe last month, and I have the perfect person for you to profile in Seattle.’ Or, ‘I really liked your feature on Big Sur but here are 10 new things going on up on California's far northern coast.’ Intelligent, well-informed communication, that's what I want.“
Know one writer from another: According to Stephanie Pearson, contributing editor at Outside magazine, “A PR person was trying to sell me on a story idea involving difficult travel in a potentially unsafe country that would touch on humanitarian themes. She said ‘I think you’re the perfect Outside writer to do it because you have a big heart.’ I was not only flattered, but it also made me think a lot more about the idea she was pitching and I realized that the story would align with my values, which would make the project a lot more worth my time if I decided to pursue it.”
Swag? Make it edible: Mailing unnecessary packages isn’t good for the planet, and it’s expensive, so avoid it if possible. If you can’t, at least make it useful, thoughtful, or edible. "Beer cozies, stuffed animals, hats, bumper stickers, coffee mugs (unless they're clever) and other mass-produced merchandise misses the mark. Instead, send locally produced products. Charleston, South Carolina, recently sent us Benne Wafers and sweet pecans,” says George Stone, editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler. “The message to the staff was: There's delicious food in Charleston and it's made by real people with stories to tell.”
Be ready to assist on stories other than the one you are pitching: "For many of us on the media side it's being able to tell the right story to our readers, not just announce something marketers think is special. These may not be stories that brands understand right away, but they are ones that we know our readers are interested in," says Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at Skift.
Know your stuff: Sara Clemence, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and now news director at Travel and Leisure, says: “The luggage company that took three weeks and about a dozen emails to provide the price for a new design will be on my bad list forever.“ She also adds these tips: “Do offer an exclusive, when possible. Do have photos available (and make them good). Don't oversell your offering—just tell me what it does. And last but not least, don't sign your email ‘XOXO’ unless you are actually my friend.”
Norie Quintos is a content strategist, helping destinations surface their unique cultural stories. She is also an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler and was its longtime executive editor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @noriecicerone.