Three commissioning editors share their process & pitch guidelines.
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Edition #3 of Talking Travel Writing is coming to you from Weymouth, Dorset, where Steph and I are finally meeting up for the first time in well over a year. 

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This week’s newsletter explores the impact our writing has, so let’s get straight to it…

Does what we do actually matter?

We’ve all been wondering this during lockdown, right? But, before I get too philosophical about things, let’s start with a tweet. 

This week’s topic is inspired by this (in my opinion) bizarre take on a fam trip. The tweeter, a business travel agent, was angry that it was just journalists who got to go on TUI’s first fam trip since the beginning of lockdown. 

It got me thinking: are we really just parasites as he describes? Does what we write even make a difference – to the readers and to the companies that sponsor these press trips?

As a freelancer, I rarely see feedback from readers (I never read the comments), and I don’t often learn how much interest in a place or experience my published articles really generate. Not knowing the impact my writing has means I probably undersell myself and our role as journalists in the media landscape a little bit.

So I thought it would be pertinent to find out just what happens after we’ve been on press trips, like TUI’s post-lockdown fam, and see whether we actually make any difference at all to the organisations that invest in us.

So, what’s the return on investment for a press trip?

As it turns out, it can be quite a lot for some. “We hosted a group press trip to Uzbekistan,” says Sophie Ibbotson of Maximum Exposure. “The same article was published in the Financial Times and The Week, and the fact box detailed a unique product, priced specifically for this coverage. The tour operator received more than a hundred enquiries directly from the coverage.”

Freelance travel writer, James Stewart, also shared his successes with us: “This piece I wrote for The Telegraph on Svalbard generated 10 bookings after it ran, then another four once it was syndicated in Australia.” Assuming that was 14 bookings by 14 couples, based on the price of the three-day cruise, that’s a return of around £28,000 in revenue for the operator.

Not everyone is so focused on cold hard cash, though. Debbie Walker at Drifters Waterway Holidays said they tend to just look at the quality of reporting and imagery used. And at Visit Windsor, it’s all about getting the word out: “It’s about raising awareness that this is a great overnight visit location. The staying is important and press visits help us counter perception that this is a half day or ‘one-trick pony’ destination.”

My guess is that’s what TUI was going for – an attempt to tell the world through the media that travel was back on. But who knows, they might’ve got some bookings off the back of it too.

So, to our disgruntled tweeter above, I say this: we might not actually sell the holidays ourselves, but our words and pictures can inspire people to invest thousands in their next trip. 

And, in our current climate, there’s no doubt that the articles published after that TUI press trip will have bolstered consumer confidence – which is a good thing for the entire industry. Now it's just a shame the FCO and DfT can't get their sh*t together...

How can you make yourself a shoo-in for a hosted trip?

We asked some PRs what it is that makes journalists attractive to work with. While the results weren't exactly unexpected, now's definitely a good time to polish up your PR etiquette. 

  • Ask which publications are on their target list: Unsurprisingly, one of the most important factors is the quality of the commission that you can confirm in advance. PRs want publications that match the target audience, while evidence of regular work with other outlets - which could be pitched for further coverage - is an added bonus. Having written for a specific publication that the brand is targeting can also put you in a strong position, while evidence of landing coverage from a previous hosted trip in multiple titles is also highly appealing. 
  • Match your niche with the brand’s values: Many PRs said it was essential that a journalist had clips demonstrating how their niche and writing style fit with that of the brand. 
  • Show that you engage with social media: This one's a bit controversial in journo circles. Social media reach was highlighted as important for some PRs - but entirely inconsequential for others. If you are offering social media coverage, some PRs will look to see if it’s an active or passive following, while others want journalists who will live report their trip and promote their articles on social media.
  • Make yourself someone you'd like to work with: It sounds simple, but clearly not everyone is doing it. A number of PRs pointed out that being easy to work with is a clear winner in their book. 

Fiona Kerr, Features Director for Condé Nast Traveller, has shared their pitching guidelines with us this week. We asked her what's going on with their coverage now, in light of the pandemic, so here's what she said:

In print we're not talking to the pandemic too directly, we're increasing our UK content a bit and being sensitive to it across the board but leaving most of the news-reacting guidance to cntraveller.com.

In terms of what I'm looking for personally right now: I'm always looking for strong Word of Mouth stories, currently for November issue onwards. There isn't too much focus there on whether you can visit the destination right now as usually these stories are focusing on people and trends, rather than 'go here now' guide type pieces. We are particularly looking for fresh stories on more conscious and sustainable travel, as well as amplifying different perspectives.

I'm also looking for original ideas for our Staycation spot, whether destination guides or UK-wide trend pieces (especially away from the well-trodden SE corner) – pitches should include some suggestions of the places you'd include and not just the pitch of the destination itself, please flesh it out a little.

And I'm looking for picture-strong suggestions for our Editor's List: Winter Sun in the December issue – so newish (opened in the last 18 months or so) under the radar hotels, inns and B&Bs for short 250 word reviews (writers should have either travelled to already or can get there in the next couple of months) – example of previous year's feature here.

Ruth Hamilton, Channel Editor at T3.com is looking for pitches about the outdoors (and is particularly keen on hearing from BAME witers). Email her at ruth.hamilton@futurenet.com. This was spotted by the wonderful Sian Meades-Williams in her indispensable Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter

BGTW

The British Guild of Travel Writers – a society of travel writers which operates along similar lines as the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) and ASTW (Australian Society of Travel Writers). Want to know more? Go here. And look out for an interview with chairman Simon Willmore in a future edition of this newsletter.

Land of contrasts

Like literally anywhere in the world.

The Telegraph's lockdown podcast series has been an excellent distraction, and we've just listened to this episode with the utterly compelling Ade Adepitan. We love his stories of adventure, and messages about never giving up – something we've probably all needed over the last three months of watching our industry suffer.

Until next time,

Lottie and Steph

Talking Travel Writing

0X10 0QN, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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