News & Views

How to Pitch: Jacqueline Swartz, Travel Writer and Photographer

Travel writer and photographer

Jacqueline Swartz is an accomplished travel writer and photographer who has lived around the world — from roaming through Parisian cafes and taking in the incredible sights of Greece’s ruins to enjoying time in seldom-visited areas of Northern India. She grew up in San Francisco, lived in Europe and now resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her travel writing always includes a “wow” factor as she is interested in passionate story-telling — from the culinary world to politics, and from health to archaeology. Jacqueline’s work has been featured in many international publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, Cosmopolitan, Maclean’s and the Toronto Star. Her portfolio encompasses almost all continents, and she is always ready to share a story on her trips through Africa or the United States.

We spoke with Jacqueline to share her perspective on the tourism industry, her thoughts on working with travel public relations and destination marketing professionals and the perks of a job in travel, as a travel writer and photographer.

When a publicist pitches you a travel-related story idea, what three things should she or he consider before contacting you?

  1. My interest, or lack thereof, in travel subjects. For example, I do not write about golf, extreme sports or family travel. If it is a more generalized subject like water activities (and not as specific as diving), it could be something I haven’t thought about.
  2. Just because I am interested in the subject matter and want to visit the destination doesn’t mean I can sell it to an editor before I go. I’ve had more success with coverage after press trips because I get a better flavour or sense of a place by going there. Then there are things I have no control over, like an editor leaving. I also like to have a range of pieces about a destination to put together after the trip and prefer to focus on more than one subject.
  3. This brings me to my third point: the publicist cannot possibly convey everything about the place, no matter how great their pitch. I can only write about a destination if I’ve been there.

What information should publicists include in a press trip invite to help you consider the opportunity? 

What, where, when? Is there a narrow focus, or is it broad? These are simple details that should be thoroughly explained within the invitation. Do you need an assignment letter? This is especially important as it will help me to quickly determine my availability for the trip. You would be surprised by the amount of press trip invites I’ve received that neglect to include such crucial information.

Here are a few more tips: free time to absorb, do work and explore is an important part of an itinerary. We (journalists and storytellers) are human beings and can only absorb so much. Also, options: that post-dinner late night bar crawl might be fun for some, but for others it just leads to the dreaded sleep deprivation. And why is it necessary to spend hours at each meal? Indeed, fast lunches — even if they are “buy-on-your-own” — have worked for me. Free time is not necessarily time away from gathering information. It might be the chance to meet an interesting local character.

Group trips or individual press trips? Why? And why are they important to you?

Both can really be of value. If I haven’t been to the destination before, I prefer group trips. I enjoy getting other people’s feedback — people have a perspective or information that can be very useful, and often you will find niche experts within the group.

If I know the place, like Greece, I would like to visit on an individual trip because I like to follow my own path. It allows me to find other niche points of the destination that wouldn’t be possible within a group setting.

What is your pet peeve when being pitched or working with PR professionals?

First, I’d like to emphasize that media really need PR people. They plan itineraries, which most journalists don’t want to do because we are focusing on our stories. Publicists are indispensable! However, the publicist must be aware that the travel writer and photographer should have some input, that the trip shouldn’t only be what a PR thinks is important, that (to a reasonable degree) we really need to work together on the planned activities.

Occasionally, a publicist can be an obstacle to a successful destination story. They might give the runaround to a journalist who enquires about support or ask the writer if they are available to go on a trip and then cancel. Also, there should be a good relationship between the publicist and their tourist board client, along with destination partners, to make a visit successful. For example, a publicist told me she could not get hotels comped in a small city where I had a firm assignment. Later, when I asked the tourist board director, he told me that he would have offered it gladly had he known of my request.

What makes a destination pitch successful for you to use for a story?

First, the destination: do I want to go there? Maybe it’s a place I hadn’t thought of before but the details lure me. Why is this place special? If it has not been covered much, do let me know. Also, be aware of current clichés. Someone told me that food and beverage trails should be renamed — the phrase is overused. Also, could we please refrain from overusing certain tired words like “iconic”? While festivals can be great, they are difficult to use because you can’t write about them afterwards — you must wait for the following year. I like media conferences because they help to connect with editors.

The pitch itself can be general or focused. I will try to fit your pitch to my interests. Once that’s established, I look at how I can develop a story angle. However, it’s hard to tell what pitch can be successful. Sometimes it’s the destination, or the focus.  Other times it could be the enthusiasm of the pitch itself, because it makes me think, “Wow, this is an adventure I really want to go on.”

What has been your favourite place to travel for a work or personal trip, and where are you most looking forward to visiting next?

Greece. France second. I love Greece because I used to spend months at a time there, writing about politics and culture for publications like The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s. I love France because I speak the language, am always fascinated by the place and love the niche story ideas that come from it — like philosophy cafes! I’ve just finished a trip to beautiful Barbados, and we shall see where the tourism industry takes me next!

Interested in learning how to pitch other travel writers? See our How To Pitch series, here.

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