How to Pitch Series: Matt Meltzer, ThrillistMay 3, 2016
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and former pageant judge in the Miss Florida America System, Matt Meltzer now heads the travel section at Thrillist.com from his home base in Miami, FL.
With a love for adventure and a knack for telling it like it is, Matt recently shared with us his likes and dislikes dealing with publicists, his thoughts on the future of travel editorial and the best way to secure coverage for destinations on Thrillist.com.
Read on to find out what he had to say…
Thrillist.com engages millions of readers each day, what do you think is it about the website’s content that draws such a large audience?
Aside from the incredibly good-looking people who write the stories? It’s because we’re relatable!
We write about things that are accessible to huge numbers of people. It’s not luxury travel or yachts or fine dining or other experiences that you can only have when your parents are paying. We write about Netflix, iPhones and things you can do for under $10, which more young people would rather read about than a 48-star resort in Bali.
What type of story ideas pique the interest of your readers?
Different ways to save money or cheap things to do/eat/travel etc. is huge for our readers. Also, underrated or unexpectedly awesome places people don’t really talk about, which is why when I get pitches about places like Sioux Falls, SD or Greenville, SC my ears perk up.
Insofar as our other verticals, topics like “hacks” always play well and anything that gives people a sense of regional or city pride. A great example is as our “50 States” series, where we go through each state and tell people incredibly important stuff like where to get the best Belgian waffles.
How many pitches do you receive in a single day – and how many do you read?
I once measured this and counted one about every three minutes – so, approximately 20 an hour and 160 a day.
In all fairness, I also do our Miami content, so there’s a ton of local stuff in there. I got on the press list for Ultra Music Festival in Miami a few years ago and now receive roughly 35 “bangin'” new EDM tracks every day too. I feel bad asking people to unsubscribe.
When a publicist pitches you a travel related story idea, what three things should they consider before contacting you?
1. Do we even cover this?
People pitch me individual properties all the time, and as much as I’m sure our readers would be enthralled by a $40 million hotel renovation, we have never in our history done a story like that.
2. Are there other things similar to your client we could work into a roundup?
We’re called Thrill-LIST, so typically I can’t just do a story on your client or your property. I need, like, at least five others that are similar that would make for a cool roundup. The very best PR people I know always pitch me like that, often with 8-10 of their own clients. They don’t all make it, but it really makes it easy for me to get that story approved.
3. Do I live in New York?
I don’t and I never will. I get invited to meetings, desk-sides, cocktails, media events and dinners in NYC at least four times a day. This just shows a publicist hasn’t done their homework.
What elements influence whether or not you read a pitch?
If it’s something we’d cover – plain and simple. I have to go through what seems like 28 levels of approval for any story, so unless I know there’s a decent chance it’ll get approved, I don’t read it. Also, a snappy headline will ALWAYS get me to read a pitch, even if we don’t cover it. I’ll open it for just for pure entertainment, and occasionally I’ll read it and say “You know what? We can do something with this.”
It’s no secret that digital news outlets can turn a story around much faster than traditional media. Once an editorial idea gets the green light, how long would you say it takes for a story to be published?
It, quite literally, can be anywhere from two days to six months. Quick news stories that don’t require much research generally go out in a couple days. Roundups, probably 1-2 weeks. Deep-dives or features could be up to six months. Once it’s up, I’ll send you the link.
What types of travel story ideas personally excite you and motivate you to pursue them further?
I love, love, love the underdog. So, I always try to give some press to small businesses or locations that don’t get much hype. Also, I like weird experiential stuff. I did a story last year where I brought this girl I met on a “traveling companions” site to Mexico. It was one of the better stories we put out last year and it produced some great coverage for the resort we stayed at.
Should PR professionals be incorporating social media ready content in their pitches for you?
Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the words “clickable, shareable content” going through my head like it’s the ghost of Christmas future. So, yeah, we definitely love stories that fit that mold, because it’s ingrained into us like the Borg. But I do very little in terms of Thrillist’s social media, so any handles or hashtags are really only helpful for press trips or media dinners.
What role does social media play in sourcing story ideas for you?
Not much. Occasionally we’ll do an “Instagrams to Follow” piece and I may pull a few ideas from my newsfeed, but past that I don’t use it much.
What is the biggest ‘pet peeve’ you have when working with travel publicists?
ABSOLUTE #1 – BUILD IN TIME TO WORK ON PRESS TRIPS!
If we’re staff, we don’t get time off for trips. So, when you schedule 16 hours of activities a day, it means we’re staying up until 3:00 am to get all of our work done. I get it; there are a trillion cool things in your destination you want to show us. But when we get fired for missing deadlines the whole week we were there, well, your story is fired too.
So please, PLEASE, give us 4-5 hours a day with nothing scheduled and good WiFi access. Also, make sure it is not just time after dinner, because you know as well as I do after three glasses of wine nobody’s doing work.
In your opinion, what is the future of travel editorial?
It’ll mirror society. Essentially we will have two segments – luxury and budget. Publications like Destinations and Modern Luxury will thrive because they have subscribers who will actually PAY for content (what a concept), and will write about all those aforementioned 48-star resorts that I wish I could accept invitations to visit. The rest will be about budget travel, tips for saving money, cheap destinations, etc. – mass market topics for people who don’t pay for content and rely on huge numbers for the outlet to make money.
Any other comments you would like to share?
Hopefully I didn’t come off too rant-y here. I know publicists have jobs – high pressure jobs – and can’t always look to see what kinds of story every outlet in the world writes, and where people live. So, it’s never anything that angers me. But the more you know someone, the better that relationship gets, and the easier it is for you to pitch me stuff we’ll use.