How to Pitch: Lois Alter Mark, Award-Winning Travel WriterJanuary 7, 2019
Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning travel writer who writes regularly for USA Today 10Best, Forbes, and a variety of AAA magazines including Midwest Traveler and Southern Traveler. A member of SATW, NATJA and IFWTWA, she also has her own blog, Midlife at the Oasis, which led to Oprah taking her to Australia in 2010. (She’ll tell you the story if you ask nicely.)
We had a chat with Lois to help better understand what makes a good pitch, some of her pet peeves, and what’s next on her travel radar.
What elements influence whether or not you read a PR pitch?
As long as it’s travel-related in some way, I’ll take a quick look at pretty much any pitch. I write 2-4 articles a month for USA Today 10Best – both round-ups and features – and I write 7 (yes, 7) articles a month for Forbes so I’m always looking for interesting ideas. I also write pretty regularly for a few different AAA magazines and my blog, Midlife at the Oasis, all of which have different audiences and require lots of content.
When a publicist pitches you a travel-related story idea, what three things should she or he consider before contacting you?
- What’s unique about your destination/product/restaurant/spa/attraction? Why should I cover it now?
- Do you have great photos? For better or worse, that can be a deal breaker.
- I don’t cover alcohol – not for any specific reason; I’m not a drinker and am just not interested in writing about breweries/wineries/cocktails – so those pitches are wasted on me, sorry. Dessert, though? Bring it.
What is your pet peeve as a travel writer when being pitched and/or working with PR professionals?
As a former PR professional myself, I have certain expectations. If an email comes to me saying something like Dear [insert first name here], I will simply delete it. Same for spelling mistakes – especially if it’s my name that’s spelled wrong.
A huge pet peeve of mine involves photos. 10Best and Forbes have very specific photo requirements and I sound like a broken record when I repeat endlessly that I need horizontal photos that are at least 990 x 660. Yet I continue to get vertical or tiny images with notes saying, “I hope you can make this work.” I can’t! Both systems reject anything other than what I asked for, and I’ve had to cut destinations or productions from round-ups because I couldn’t get the photos I need. A publicist with a great selection of photos is at a real advantage.
Oh, and one other pet peeve. If my round-up has already been published, please do not email me asking me if I can just add your product to it. This happens more times than you’d care to believe, and it’s just rude.
What type of story ideas pique the interest of your readers?
Anything out of the box. They already know about the classic sights; they’re looking for off-the-beaten-track experiences.
I like to cover the unexpected, like things to see in Nashville that have nothing to do with music or the fairy doors in Ann Arbor. I can only do that, though, if I get to experience a destination firsthand.
Should PR professionals be incorporating social media-ready content in their pitches for you as a travel writer? What role does social media play in sourcing story ideas for you?
As a travel writer, I don’t need social media-ready content because I’ll create my own. I sometimes find story ideas there but I look at social media more as a place to promote my work. As a former publicist, I know the importance of promoting a piece and it’s crazy not to take advantage of social media. I always share my articles on Facebook, Twitter and, if there were great photos, Instagram. I tag everyone I wrote about and expect them to share on social – or at least retweet my tweets – as well. I’m always shocked at how many don’t. Not only are they missing an opportunity to interact with their followers but they’re also making it less likely that my outlets will promote the piece. I know my editors are looking for which articles are getting the most traction, and I’m more likely to do additional stories about brands/destinations that have engaged with the work in which I’ve featured them.
What has been your favorite place to travel for a work or personal trip, and where are you most looking forward to visiting next?
Honestly, I find something to love about every place I visit but one of my favorite trips ever was one that my husband and I took to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana a few years ago. I was so moved by all the animals in their gorgeous natural habitat. I also spent a really special week in Churchill, Manitoba last winter, where I got to cross off so many bucket list experiences like seeing the Northern Lights and going dogsledding. I also love cruises – I could happily live on a luxury cruise ship – and spa retreats.
My next trip is a birthday trip to Thailand with my whole family. We’re staying at some amazing places, and will be volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park for four days in between. I’m so excited about this!
I’m also starting to plan some new press trips for next year. At this point, I try to do individual rather than group trips because I get so much more out of them. On my wish list: Antarctica, Newfoundland, the Galapagos and back to Africa and Ireland.
Interested in learning how to pitch other travel writers? See our How To Pitch series here.