How to Pitch: Jody Robbins, Canadian Lifestyle Writer
April 27, 2017
Jody Robbins is an award-winning freelance lifestyle writer based in Calgary, Alberta. She writes regularly for top-notch media including Calgary Herald, WestJet Magazine, Today’s Parent, Best Health, Chic Magazine, SavvyMom.ca and her own blog, Travels with Baggage. Her first book, 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit, is due to be released in May 2017. Jody is proud to have been an ardent traveler before turning to a career in writing.
We spoke with Jody about freelance travel writing – and what helps her (or doesn’t help!) when she works with PR professionals at destination marketing organizations:
What elements influence whether or not you read a PR pitch?
A catchy subject line is key. Also the opportunity needs to be far enough out that we can pitch it. Magazines can work up to six months ahead.
When a publicist pitches you a travel-related story idea, what three things should she or he consider before contacting you?
1. This question is crucial: Is it a fit for the outlets and does it reflect what I typically write about? I’ve never written about beer or golf, so I’m not the best person to receive those story ideas.
2. Timing: Has the publicist allowed for enough time for the writer to pitch it?
3. Firsthand experience: Unless you’re doing a rush roundup, few people write about what they don’t personally experience (at least I don’t). If there are travel products I’m being pitched, I need to try out those products to give an objective review. Likewise, I’m never going to write anything lengthy on a destination I haven’t visited.
What types of press trips excite you and motivate you to pursue them further?
I like adventure and quirky, fun things. It’s so much easier to sell a story if there’s a wacky “You’ve gotta try this!” element. Health and wellness trips to a fantastic destination with the usual suspects (massage, make a meal with the chef, etc.) aren’t as big a draw to me as going to a lesser-known place that offers a crazy new facial.
What information should be included in a press trip invite to help you consider the opportunity?
The experiences should be clearly spelled out, and these should be firmed up months – not days – in advance. Not receiving an itinerary until a few days before the trip is bad. We can’t be expected to cover experiences that we didn’t initially agree to.
Timing is a big one for me. More than 50 percent of the time, the dates on the initial invite have to be altered because where I’m being flown out of was not factored in. I have a daughter in elementary school, a husband who travels more than I do, and no extended family support system. I need to be crystal clear on my dates to make press trips happen.
This doesn’t factor into my decision, but it’s always helpful to receive all the social media handles and hashtags of where you’re visiting days in advance.
What is your pet peeve when being pitched and/or working with PR professionals?
Twice this past year, I’ve been offered a trip on confirmation of assignment. In both situations, I got the assignment, but was kicked off the trips. In one case, the destination strung me along for weeks before booting me (writing for PostMedia) in favor of another newspaper two weeks before departure. In the other, the public relations professional asked me to get a confirmed assignment from the Calgary Herald, which I did. Days later, I was told they found another PostMedia writer and I could only attend if I got an assignment from WestJet. Having to go back to my editor and tell them I couldn’t do the story not only made me look bad, but it made the destination look unprofessional.
It’s also annoying when I’m prodded to cover a destination, yet have never been invited on a press trip to experience what it has to offer.
As a freelance journalist, how do you determine which outlet is best suited for each opportunity? Do you work with individual outlets to structure each story?
As a freelancer who does this for a living not a hobby, it’s my goal to publish at least five pieces per destination. I’m always looking for multiple angles on every press trip. Magazines, national newspapers and U.S. sites tend to want to be more hands on in terms of structuring the story.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with tourism boards on how to work best with travel writers?
Whether it’s a tourism board or PR firm, I think all writers appreciate having an itinerary that recognizes their areas of focus and allows for flexibility. Group press trips seem to be “one size fits none.”
Many of my assignments have short lead times. I really appreciate all the tourism boards and publicists who are quickly able to get back to me with suggestions and images. It must be frustratingly difficult on your end to deal with so many rapid-fire requests. Hats off to you!
In your opinion, how is the shift in focus from print to digital affecting the Canadian media landscape and journalists in particular?
It’s so interesting to me how the media landscape has changed in the seven years that I’ve been involved. I’ve always had a mix of print and online, and I’ve recently added broadcast. I think having a diverse portfolio has helped me stay in the game. The past few years have been great for me as a freelancer. My income has steadily risen and is bizarrely split almost exactly 50/50 between my blog (including social media influencer campaigns) and writing. It’s challenging keeping up with all the media, but a shift to digital has to be made at some point. When I was a tech marketer, we knew that whoever was first to market secured the dominant position 90 percent of the time. I think this remains true whether we’re talking Instagrammers, bloggers or craft beer. Fair or not, it is what it is.
Where do you like to travel? And where are you off to next?
I’m pretty flexible. I lived in Asia for four years, London for two, and spent five years working all over Europe. Backpacking through Iran was pretty rad, but I still get a kick out of going back to familiar places (Edmonton, Montana, California, London) to see how they’ve changed.
I’ll be hitting a few Canadian cities on my book tour later this spring, but my next big trip is Costa Rica in July.
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