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.

A call to Pens, a referendum on travel bloggers working for free: Image by: MikesRoadTrip.com

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.

TIPS

  • 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.

BLOGGERS/INFLUENCERS

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.

TIPS

  • 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.

BOTTOM LINE

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.

Mike Shubic

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Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.

20 Comments

  1. Great text Mike! I agree totally and we are from the same school. I used to create social media campaigns to an advertising company in São Paulo until I have became a professional travel blogger.
    In Brazil we have the same discussion, but I see things getting better. From the past 2 years more companies are asking me about values and not only work for free. There is hope!

    I like your package’s tip and will post your article on my brazilian discussion group.

    1. Hi Roberta! Thanks so much for chiming in. I agree, things have gotten much better, but a lot still needs to improve. Like you, I am very optimistic about the future as more and more destinations around the world continue to get more progressive with their marketing efforts. Thanks again for taking the time to leave a comment. Cheers!

  2. Hey Mike, I am a freelance writer for a number of publications, but have been wanting to get into blogging as fewer publications can pay enough to keep me afloat. I think you are spot on with your assessment and appreciate you taking the time to share this with industry folks.

    Thanks again,
    Jane

  3. Hey Mike, you’ve pretty much nailed the state of the media in a nutshell. To sum it up, the various players in the traditional media chain (not just PRs but advertising agencies, publishers, editors, writers and photographers) have been scrambling for some years now to figure out what their roles will be in the new world. Having to do the “figuring out” while the world is being turned upside down is not easy. It requires nimbleness, creativity and a lot of hard work. Given the law of averages, I’m sure some organisations and individuals in the traditional value chain will not survive while others will thrive. I think it would also be safe to predict that the roll call (and position/importance within the industry) of players in the travel/media ecosystem will be vastly different within the next few years. Of course, you need to keep in mind that some markets are further along the chain of disruption than others. I think pay rates and prices will be governed by the economics of supply and demand.

  4. Good tips for how bloggers can deal with DMOs, PR Agencies, etc! Creating three packages to offer destinations is such a great idea because it clarifies the expectations on both ends and can also give them ideas on other things you offer that they may not have known could be purchased. One thing that has also helped me is to have a “press page” set up on my blog that I can refer companies to when I am sending a pitch. All my articles, contributions, awards, etc are on it and I feel that it gives me a little extra credibility.

    I too like to work for money, and I am seeing such progress in this area with companies and bloggers. I believe we are on a good track! With that said, I will admit that there are cases where I will not charge for coverage because a press trip, product promotion or content is helping my brand move forward in some other way — its beneficial to the big picture of my brand.

    1. Hey Annette, thanks so much for taking the time to share your insight. Yes, having a press kit is essential, I too have one but forgot to mention it in this post. I think I may amend the article to include this point. Completely agree with your last point too. We individually need to assess our own value and what we need out of life. I have taken many press trips where no money was involved for several reasons. One, the overall value of the trip was very high, or two, it was a place I really wanted to go. Or three, to your point, it might help me move my brand/business forward. Thanks again Annette, appreciate you taking the time.

  5. Hey Mike,

    Good read! You have nailed it. The points are so relevant. And I can totally relate to it since I am also into marketing and now transitioning into travel blogging. The tips are apt for Client as well as bloggers. The 3 Press Trip packages is a good idea. Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers!
    Arcahana

  6. Great post Mike. I think a very important piece of the puzzle, that should be part of the conversation is the sheer volume of new travel bloggers and influencers that are on the scene today, as compared to 5 years ago. This increase in volume leads some Brands/DMOs to think “hey these new bloggers are pretty huge, and still willing to work for free, so i will go with them”, then they do a barter with those new/flashy bloggers/instagramers, who have often acquired followers in non-organic ways, or for whatever reason do not have good engagement with their followers…then the campaign falls flat, the the Brand/DMO/Agency says “well now we see…bloggers/influencers don’t work”. But the problem is that they tried to cut corners and go with the shiny looking sports car that is built on a Pinto body.

    Biggest moral of the story, and one you should include in the discussion is that the Brands/DMOs/PR companies/etc…THEY must do their due diligence when working with new partners, look at the influencers history and past clients, jump on the phone and talk with the bloggers/influencers and make sure they understand how marketing works, what ROI is, how the influencer is going to represent their brand to the public. Basically things they would do with any new business partner. Because in the end 100k followers (insert whatever number perks your ears) on Twitter or Instagram does not make a good partner…a good partner delivers value, engagement, and a message that resonates with their audience and increases your brand equity.

    1. True. In defense of the DMO/CVB, I think many of them believe that when they cover all of the expenses of a trip, that that is payment enough. As I mentioned in the article, I think that can be considered part of the compensation, but it should not end there. I can also appreciate the challenge a destination has trying to weed out the massive influx of bloggers to the industry, I don’t envy that difficult task. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts Meagan, I appreciate it.

  7. A great article Mike. It seems to me that DMOs & Brands are still holding on to the idea that traditional journalism still exists and they are willing to pay for that but not necessarily for ‘bloggers. Like you say, traditional travel journalism is dying out and being replaced by influencers. Although i do agree that influencers should demand money for the work they’re doing, there does seem to be a very wide spectrum in the quality of travel bloggers out there, and some who are willing to keep doing it for free may just be happy getting free trips off their amount of instagram followers, It is also up to the brands to decide what is quality professional coverage and storytelling rather than just going with high numbers then maybe they will begin seeing influencers as equivalent to journalists rather than just ‘hobby bloggers’.

  8. Great article Mike. As someone who covers both travel and fashion, it’s been interesting for me to see that travel brands seem a bit later to the game. Most cvbs, hotels, etc think that a free trip is just compensation but this sentence of yours really summed it up well:

    “If you want exceptional content that attracts interest, incentive is an extraordinary motivator.”

    A press trip is typically a week. There’s at least a couple of days of research to look up the sights, itinerary etc so that I can get an idea of my story angle, shots I know I want to get etc. Then a week post trip to edit photos, do more research on facts, write the article + optimize for SEO, promote the post on every social media channel…that free trip is more like three weeks of labor and effort. Without compensation a blogger/influencers motivation level to do all that with 200% effort wanes a bit.

    It’s a funny world we’re in now! I think brands are starting to realize that yes, they can get “free work” from anyone.. but if they want quality work from people with reach and extraordinary content creation abilities, they need to allocate a budget.

  9. Brilliant Mike! Investing large marketing budgets into old school advertising isn’t nearly as effective than gaining (PAID) exposure from influencers who already have an audience that trusts their opinion. It’s the information era now where brands can actually target niche audiences thanks to the internet. Unfortunately, many brands don’t quite understand what we do or what it will cost. Hopefully as the influencer marketing industry matures (literally, when it comes to many young youtubers and instagrammers who accept unpaid offers) things will become better defined and more appropriate offers will be made to professional travel industry writers and filmmakers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the industry!

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