How to Pitch Series: Lucas Aykroyd, North American Travel WriterMarch 23, 2016
Canadian freelancer Lucas Aykroyd began his writing career covering his biggest passion, hockey. One of his first big assignments was covering the IIHF Hockey Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2000. That same year, he embarked on his first travel related press trip – sea kayaking with orcas off the North coast of Vancouver Island. Lucas quickly got the travel bug and began contributing to the New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. In addition to writing, Lucas speaks frequently at conferences on how to be a successful travel writer.
Here’s what Lucas had to say about what motivates him as a writer, the difference in the Canadian and American media landscapes, and the shift to digital media:
When a publicist pitches you a travel related story idea, what three things should s/he consider before contacting you?
Consider the same three questions I ask myself when pitching a story to an editor: 1) “What’s the special angle?” 2) “What makes it timely?” 3) “Why am I the ideal person to write this story?”
If you can foresee satisfying answers to those questions (preferably all three, but at least one of them), pitch away. I like anything that’s adventurous, humorous, and/or quirky.
What is an example of the best pitch you have received?
In 2014, one day before I left Vancouver for South Africa, I met with Colorado tourism reps at the Sheraton Wall Centre. Apparently, I talked about hockey a lot.
A few weeks later, I heard from the Toronto-based PR who set up that meeting: “Hey Lucas, I’m also representing a cruise line that runs trips to Cuba. We have a hockey-themed press trip coming up with former NHLers like Bernie Nicholls and Gary Leeman.” As a long-time Cold War buff and NHL writer, that was a double-whammy, no-brainer for me. And I got great stories out of it for the Vancouver Courier and WestJet Magazine.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the Canadian and American media landscapes?
Right now? Definitely the exchange rate. While we’re seeing a lot of contraction in the newspaper and magazine industries in both countries, I encourage writers to think beyond borders when marketing their work.
The U.S. is a huge market, and given that we share a common language and so many cultural touchstones, there’s no reason for Canadian journalists to market strictly to outlets in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. New York and L.A. publications can use our stories too — along with ones in London, Sydney, and Beijing.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with tourism boards on how to work best with travel writers?
Listen to what the journalist wants. Be accommodating and flexible in the service of a great story. Be upfront about what you can or can’t provide in terms of assistance.
Also, have an easy-to-access bank of high-quality images for media — I just won a gold medal from the North American Travel Journalists Association for my photo of a mother polar bear and her cubs swimming in the Canadian Arctic, but if I’d dropped my camera in the water and the bears ate it, it would have been good to have a back-up plan.
In your opinion, how is the shift in focus from print to digital affecting the Canadian media landscape and journalists in particular?
In immediate terms, it’s both increased the number of opportunities for young journalists to break in and lowered the average rates of pay. In the big picture, I believe this is a transition period. People demand more content than ever before, and ultimately, they’re going to have to pay to keep it flowing. We just haven’t found that magical monetization button yet.
If I’m asked for advice, I tell writers: “Focus on the quality of your work more than the number of platforms that you’re promoting it on. If you’re good at what you do, work will come to you in the long term, regardless of where technology takes us. Include both print and digital outlets among your clients.”
What has been your most memorable story assignment?
One assignment that stood out for me recently was a feature I wrote about the Russian city of Ufa, which I visited during the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship. It was an exotic place. I drank fermented horse milk and viewed a brand-new plastic statue of Lenin. The story won Best Cultural/Travel Feature at the Travel Media Association of Canada Awards.
Where are you off to next?
I’m profiling my native Victoria, BC, for Delta Sky, the in-flight magazine. I’ll be emceeing the Travel Media Association of Canada’s annual professional development day and giving the keynote address at the BC Association of Travel Writers conference.
After covering the World Women’s Hockey Championship in Kamloops in March and the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in North Dakota in April, I’ll head to St. Petersburg and Moscow in May for my 17th consecutive World Hockey Championship. The wonderful thing about international hockey is that it always provides opportunities to spin off travel stories as well.