How to Pitch Series: Canadian Journalist & World Traveler – Heather Greenwood DavisApril 20, 2016
An expert in the world of travel journalism, award-winning writer Heather Greenwood Davis has been travelling the globe in search of unique stories for years. In 2011, Davis, along with her husband Ish and sons Ethan and Cameron, spent 12 months visiting 29 countries in six continents – an adventure that had National Geographic Magazine recognize them as 2012 Travelers of the Year. In addition to her successful blog, GlobeTrotting Mama, Heather regularly appears as a travel expert on Canadian broadcast and contributes to the Toronto Star, National Geographic, Lexpert Magazine and more.
Heather spoke with us about her life as a travel writer, sharing insights on press trips, pitching and her most memorable assignments – here’s what she had to say:
What elements influence whether or not you read a pitch?
A great subject line gets me every time. If I know the person sending it, or have had positive dealings with the company involved, that helps too. Mostly, I’m looking for timely pitches that give me clear information on why I should write about the topic/item being pitched and what makes it unique/special/important. I have to defend those same things to my editors. Pitches that make my job easier are my favourites.
What types of story ideas excite you personally – and motivate you to pursue them further?
I love stories that are about people. I’m drawn to stories that share one-of-a-kind personalities or allow people to share a unique perspective. Stories that offer a twist on what people are already talking about always appeal as well. I do a lot of first person narrative so pitches that have a mindfulness twist to travel or allow an opportunity to experience something readers will find inspiring also resonate.
When a publicist pitches you a travel related story idea, what three things should s/he consider before contacting you?
1. Am I really the right person for this pitch? I am not on staff at any publication I write for so I’m not the right person for generic emails or things you are hoping will land in the sports pages.
2. Have you left me enough time to tell the story? I need time to pitch it, get the assignment, find time to get to the destination and write it. Sending me a pitch for a summer story in the summer is usually a bad idea, (unless you’re expecting I can write it for the next year.)
3. What do you want from me? Are you hoping I’ll include in a round up? Do you want me to write it for an online pub? Are you only happy with print? Did you think it would make a good pitch for TV? Tell me what you want. I don’t even mind if you rank your priorities. The clearer our conversation at the outset, the better.
What role, if any, does social media play in your editorial decision making?
I do a lot on social and I love it for promoting the destinations I’m visiting and promoting the stories once they’ve run, but it doesn’t make or break my decision to tell a story.
What is your biggest challenge when balancing editorial deadlines, press trips and family life?
Time. I wish I could take every trip and write every story but then when would I make dinner? There’s also that little issue of a shrinking publishing landscape. Stories tend to be a lot more formulaic than I’d like. I miss long-form narratives.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with tourism boards on how to work best with travel journalists?
I understand the need (and comparative ease) of organizing a press trip where all 20 of your attendees are shepherded to the same 20 spots but it likely isn’t going to result in the type of story (or coverage) you really want. I tend to organize private trips for that reason and boards often find they get more coverage out of them than what they’d get from including me in a group. If I do a group tour, my favourites are the ones that respect my time and interests (and those of my colleagues): allowing independent transportation, providing a roaming Wi-Fi hotspot, being available to me for guidance and not trying to get me into every client who has asked will all score major points. Also, I think in this time of blogging and social media, PR often feels an urge to prove to their clients the immediacy of their ROI. Coverage you can see shortly after a trip is great but I find really well executed trips allow me to deliver for months (and sometimes years!) to come. A group press trip is unlikely to deliver the same kinds of opportunities.
In your perspective – how will the shift in focus from print to digital affect the Canadian media landscape?
There’s no doubt of its affect. Stories are shorter. Listicles are the norm. I’m not a fan of those two outcomes. The positives: There are sites that are doing it really well – preserving the art of storytelling and encouraging open discussion. The pieces I write for National Geographic Traveler are among my favourites. I also love the immediacy of publication that the digital publishers provide. This is where those short deadline, newsworthy tips do particularly well.
What has been your most memorable assignment to date?
I could never pick just one. There have been so many incredible experiences over the years. The time I flew in Emirate Airlines’ first class cocoon to Dubai ranks high (Toronto Star) – as does [the] RV trip with the kids (Toronto Star). I honestly have no regrets on this front. Every assignment has only furthered my love for this planet.