The world of travel writers, journalists and travel bloggers is ever-changing. So how do public relations & media relations experts in the travel industry deal with them?
Speaking at the 15th Conference on LGBT Tourism & Hospitality at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, I addressed this issue. The video here -- and the text below -- is the first installment of my presentation, specifically about the evolution of travel writers, journalists and travel blogs.
When I started as a travel writer, editor and custom content back in 1994, things were pretty simple. The goal for every hotel, every destination, every tour operator was to get into print, as often as possible and in the magazines and newspapers with the biggest circulations and the best-known names.
And we travel writers were pretty easy to figure out too. We liked free food and free press trips. Free booze was pretty high up there too.
But times have changed. Sure, we travel writers still like the free stuff. But media and strategies have changed -- a lot. Your travel business or destination may get a bigger bump from a blog you've never heard of, or a well-connected social media person, than from the best-known magazine on the newsstand.
Writers and editorial content are more splintered and specialized than ever before. And -- as magazines and newspapers have shrunk and the Internet has grown -- there are more freelance writers, bloggers, videographers and content producers than ever before.
So how do you deal with all these people?
What's the Difference Between Travel Writers?
Let's start with a basic question: What, exactly, is the difference between a journalist who covers travel and a travel writer? The answer, nowadays, is that are is increasingly little difference between these job descriptions and what each type of writer looks for. Why? Because lines have been blurred.
Consider this: Every magazine has a Website. Some have exclusive, web-only content, and perhaps their own blogs, in addition to their print copy. Many freelance journalists -- like me -- contribute regularly to print media but also write Web-only copy, even as we maintain a busy social media presence and operate our own blogs. (In my case, my site is called LatinFlyer.com, and it focuses on travel to Latin America.)
The good news is that this diversification actually can provide added value and opportunities for your organization. Writers know how to do a lot more things today -- and many of us work seven days a week to get our messages out to various audiences.
How to Find the Best Travel Writers and Bloggers
So how do you find the right people to help you get your message out to the public?
Often, journalists and writers will find you. But sometimes, you'll want to find them as well, to make sure you're reaching the right audiences.
To check out print and traditional journalists, you can pay to use services like Cision.com, a site that provides influencer identification with a media database that uncovers your audience's biggest influencers.
Take note of that word I just used. "Influencer," in fact is a term you hear lots nowadays. These are the people -- writers, bloggers, social media types -- who are good at building high-quality followings and influencing their followers' decisions. In our case, these are the people who publish and post a lot about travel, and help other people to make up their minds about what they want to do when they travel.
If bloggers and social media are a major part of your strategy, you might want to try joining and attending TBEX, the Travel Bloggers Exchange. Their annual conventions -- which take place in Asia, North America and Europe -- attract some of the most active travel bloggers, with workshops, presentations and the chance to network.
What's the Big Deal About Blogs?
Aren't some of those sites run by crazy people sitting alone in their bedrooms?
As someone who often runs my blog while sitting alone in my bedroom, I can say YES.
But that doesn't mean that the blogosphere shouldn't be on your radar.
Cision recently published an article based on the 2013 Digital Influence Report that says that blogs rank high with consumers for trust, popularity and influence.
The downside, according to the Cision article, is that the rapid growth of the blogosphere has made it more difficult for people to measure the value of blog posts.
So how do you determine if a travel blog is what you should be targeting with your message?
What to Look For in Travel Blogs and Travel Bloggers
The world is filled with lots of travel blogs, and lots of travel bloggers. So what should you look for to make sure they fit your goals?
Two important factors that you'll want to compare and weigh are quality and quantity. In other words, a blog with two million followers sounds impressive -- but it doesn't mean much if the quality of the content is bad, or if none of those readers ever buy travel and aren't interested in what you're selling.
That's why it's good to focus tightly on blogs that speak to your audience and potential customers. My site, for example, focuses specifically on travel to and around Latin America -- so you know that people who visit the site are motivated travelers interested in that region. And there are lots of other tightly focused travel blogs and travel Websites out there.
Let's say that you get contacted out of the blue by a random blogger who wants to give you some coverage. How do you decide if it's worth it?
One of my good friends on the public relations side of things is Karla Visconti. She's the director of corporate communications for the Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton Worldwide. And here's what she does to gauge the value of a blog:
"The first thing I do is visit the site. Look at the content, read some of the posts. Get a feel for the blog and audience. Then, I look at any social media channels they may have, to get an idea of the following and engagement levels. While I understand that the style and needs of a blogger may be different than that of traditional media, what I look for is similar: a vehicle that can reach my target audience with relevant and professional content. Also, we know blogs with images tend to attract more visitors, so we look for bloggers who are visually representing their work through photos to tell a story."
Another good friend of mine, Veronica Villegas, is senior account executive and International Director at Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications in Coral Gables, Florida. She works with the Costa Rica Tourism Board, and in the past has handled media relations for InterContinental Hotels Group.
Here's what she does when she's contacted by a blogger she doesn't know:
"I go to their blog and scope it out and see if it's a good fit for the client. I also look them up on Facebook, compete.com, LinkedIn, Vocus and finally I Google to see recent works."
There are a lot of factors to consider, Veronica says, including the following:
• Who is the journalists/blogger's audience?
• Does the journalist/blogger have good content and images?
• When was the last day of activity?
• Also, no one wants to be listed or written about on a site that looks dated. Is there an active following? Is there engagement?
I also got some good insight from a friend named Rose Capasso, who's an account manager at Carolyn Izzo Integrated Communications in Nyack, NY. Her company has major clients including the Los Cabos Tourism Board and several top-notch hotels.
Here's what she does when she gets contacted by a unknown travel blogger:
"The first thing I do is check out their blog and recent posts. I try to understand what their voice or tone is, and how they like to cover destinations or hotels, since those are the majority of my clients. One of the things I look for in a blogger, personally, is someone whose coverage is positive but reliable and truthful. I don't expect someone's review to always be 'sunshine and rainbows,' but I am wary of bloggers who post negative reviews or have a snarky tone."
In addition, Rose does the following:
"Typically, we do some research to find out how many monthly visitors a blog tends to get, using analytical tools available via the web. But we also do our research to find out what are the top blogs in each vertical market (i.e. golf, weddings, luxury travel), so we have a good idea of what blogs and bloggers are most relevant and credible. We also work off of recommendations - if we have worked with a really great blogger, we like to ask for his/her recommendation of other bloggers whom they've worked with, traveled with, who they read, etc."
Social media is also important to consider, Rose adds. Here's what she has to say:
"In terms of social media, the numbers game is always valuable -- number of followers, Klout score, etc. -- but we also look at the content and the amount of times someone shares or retweets. The quality of their followers is also important; quality over quantity is an important rule that clients don't always understand, but has proven time and time again to be the right choice in terms of coverage."
In a recent post on the TBEX website, William Bakker of Think! Social Media wrote about how destination management organizations measure the value of working with a blogger:
"It's not just the size of a blogger's audience that's important, but the likelihood of delivering a relevant, credible, and authentic message to their network. Passion speaks volumes. We need to believe that their message will influence a reader's travel decisions."
And that's a good thing to keep in mind.
In future posts, I'll address to to build relationships with travel writers, how to create a journalist-friendly website and how to plan the perfect press trip.