A Call to Pens – A referendum on working for free
[This article is directed toward both the travel writer/blogger and to DMO’s, Hotels, Attractions and Brands in the travel sector. The goal is to educate and spur dialogue. Please leave comments below so that we may learn from each other.]
I have been a professional travel blogger going on seven years now, and when I say “professional,” it means that I do it full time and I get paid for my labor. Do I get paid what I think I am worth? Not even close, but that’s not entirely the point of this opinion piece.
My background is actually in marketing; I have over fifteen years of experience working the client, agency and media sides of the business. I’ve headed up marketing departments for three different companies. Over the past twenty years I’ve seen how marketing has dramatically changed, more so over the past five years than anything else. What hasn’t changed that much, to a large degree, is public relations—a communications component of marketing. What I mean by this is, some PR professionals seem to have a naïve notion that traditional journalism still exists. Okay, maybe it does, but it’s holding on by a thread.
I believe the reason PR professional is hanging onto the way things were, is because they cannot figure out what their value proposition is in this new era where fragmentation is rampant and anyone can be a publisher.
In the old days, PR professionals developed relationships with media outlets and individual journalists…they would pitch story ideas in an effort to get coverage for their clients. Their value proposition was writing pitches that would be of interest to media outlets, and, their Rolodex of contacts.
Back in the day, journalists were paid a salary by media outlets (who could afford it at the time) and offered readers a sense of unbiased coverage. By the way, coverage is, and has never been unbiased. Someone is always beholden to someone else.
Today, things are drastically different. Very few media outlets employ full time journalists, and none can afford to pay writers to travel and develop stories. Today, travel writing is mainly done by bloggers and freelancers, also know as influencers. Freelancers and bloggers get paid very little to write a story, from as low as $.02 a word, to perhaps a flat fee of $25 an article. Some get paid more for sure, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Travel writers and influencers simply cannot afford to give away their labor for free any longer; it is hurting the industry and the reader/consumer of travel content.
The shift I see happening… media outlets can offer writers/content producers an outlet for readers (eyeballs) to consume their content. The media outlet gets free content, and the one benefiting most for that coverage…needs to pay for its creation and coverage.
This means that destinations (CVB/DMO), lodging, attractions and brands need to figure out how to compensate influencers for their content creation and dissemination (audience).
DMO’s, HOTELS, ATTRACTIONS and BRANDS
Destinations, hotels and attractions used to pay $50,000 for a single full page ad that would run but a single day in USA Today. Today, that is simply a waste of money! The point is, these entities have the budgets to pay for content and promotion, but their understanding for the new rules of marketing and P/R may not have caught up with the times. Whenever someone says, “sorry, we don’t have a budget,” what they are really saying is that they either don’t value what you have to offer, or they don’t understand it. In most cases, I think it may be the latter. Many marketers at both agencies and DMOs, simply did not understand the dramatic shift that has taken place and how to effectively harness the vast opportunities that are available.
- DMO’s, hotels, attractions and brands need to provide P/R departments/firms with a budget for content creation and promotion.
- Advertising is for brands, not DMOs. Content marketing (with a big emphasis on video) is where a bulk of your budget should go.
- DMO’s, consider curbing your spending on printed collateral! The vast majority of people get their travel information from the web.
- If you want exceptional content that attracts interest, incentive is an extraordinary motivator.
- Build relationships and stay top-of-mind with bloggers/influencers, we often re-purpose our content.
On the other hand, bloggers and influencers need to be much more thoughtful in their approach to the entities listed above. These marketers are absolutely overwhelmed by inquiries. I know first hand. I’ve been in their shoes. In my days as a marketer, I cannot tell you how much time each day I had to carve out just to sift through all the inquiries. It’s overwhelming! I didn’t have the time to look through media kits and other information, much less return phone calls and emails to everyone who reached out.
- When reaching out to a prospect, be sure it’s a good fit.
- Have a solid pitch prepared and highlight the benefits in working with you.
- Be clear and concise in your approach. Spoon feed details as interest level increases.
- I suggest every travel influencer have three packages to offer destinations and other travel entities. Click here for an example.
- Don’t sell for today, build relationship for tomorrow.
- Lastly, be persistent, it really does pay.
Travel industry professionals must stop living in the past and start embracing today. One issue I see is that most tourism departments are run by bureaucrats who are not being held accountable. For many states, Tourism is one of the biggest parts of their economy, yet some have antiquated websites that don’t allow for the embedding of YouTube videos. I know one state that has worked with their ad agency for over three years to build a new website. Uh, news flash! It doesn’t take that long to build a website of any size. The agency is fleecing the state agency of money that could go toward other marketing initiatives.
Travel writers, bloggers and influencers need to stop giving away their labor for free. A free trip is not free when you have to work for it. Sure, it can be part of your compensation, but that’s just the beginning of the negotiation. Quality content and level of promotion needs to be factored and rewarded.
Whether you’re the head of a DMO, brand, hotel or attraction, or a travel writer/blogger, I would love for you to leave a comment below and share your insight, frustrations, and/or tips on how to navigate these ever-changing waters.