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How to Pitch NPR’s Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer

He’s on National Public Radio, but for Tom Wilmer, host of his own travel podcast, he thinks that’s all smoke and mirrors. Sounds crazy, right? When PR people contact him for destination marketing campaigns, he’s dubious. “I’m not sure if they just assume I am bigger than life because of being an NPR broadcaster,” he said.

After beginning a journalism career almost by accident at the Wall Street Journal back in college, Wilmer now has more than thirty years of experience under his belt, most of which saw him as a presenter on NPR.

His podcast, “Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer,” recently featured Birmingham, Alabama, one of DCI’s clients.

Lauren Cooper, Vice President of Communications at the Birmingham Business Alliance, said welcoming Wilmer to the city was a tremendous opportunity. “His no-frills style and fascination from learning helped him gain the trust of each interviewee – attributes that I think make him a great micro influencer – pulling out the best in each person and location we visited,” she said.

A lover of travel and with an endless curiosity, Wilmer is always looking for the next topic for his podcast. This professional writer has spent years giving honest reports on his travel experiences, working with PR, but not always in a very straightforward way.

He highlights this proudly, sharing an anecdote.

When he accepted a trip sponsored by a hotel brand, he wrote a piece that accurately described the hotel’s condition, which was far from a glowing review. “A reader can smell a puff piece from a mile away,” he said. But the result, instead of being a PR nightmare, was that the hotel management convinced the corporate headquarters to remodel the outdated hotel.

He tells this story proudly. “I will not do a story about something that I don’t totally believe in and believe is honest journalism,” he said.

“After thirty years of doing my style, if you told me to change, I’d say I’ll do something else. My show is not about me, it’s about me finding a really cool winemaker, or whoever, and to listen to their story,” he said.

And in those thirty years, he has worked as a writer and editor, traveled from China to South Africa, and launched one of the earliest podcasts on NPR. He gleans inspiration from invitations and press trips still – good news destination marketing campaigns – but he also looks around him, tapping into local resources from his home in California.

A real journalist, Wilmer is an example of a type of travel writer that we find less and less, but that marketing campaigns can still aspire to work with professionally. He is looking for agents who understand what he is about, but who also appreciate the kind of coverage he can give.

With that in mind, we wanted to take a break to speak with Wilmer about his experiences in the travel media industry and why he decided to take the Birmingham trip offered by the DCI team.

destination marketing campaign

Tom Wilmer discusses collaborating on destination marketing campaigns.

Q&A with Tom Wilmer

DCI: How did DCI’s team pitch Birmingham to you?

TW: They just pitched with the different nuggets of attractions and allure to Birmingham and it resonated with me because of the name Birmingham. I remember what went down. Sixteenth street Baptist Church, it remained a part of our collective consciousness as Americans.

I dug in and discovered it when I was there. I learned what happened in Birmingham since then, how they’ve evolved, what are they doing, and I was overwhelmed with its evolution in a positive way. The economic vitality, the stimulus, the living history at the civil rights institute – it was very impressive.

DCI: What was effective in the pitch?

TW: It was a perfect storm. Birmingham, just that name, has been a part of my life experience. Never having been there, I had a huge curiosity, and it was enough for me to go. The pitch hit-list all resonated positively with me about the Birmingham story.

DCI: Did anything in the pitch give you pause?

TW: No, I had no hesitation. I respect the publicist very much, which helps on the PR end, having a known executive who you respect. Assuming you have established a positive working relationship, you give more credence to what they say to do.

DCI: Was there any part of the pitching and travel experience to improve upon?

TW: Always make sure people I interview receive a link and URL to the show. I go away, I do the interview, and then I wonder, did the source get the link to the show I did? Everybody gets caught up in the moment. We all have that list on our desk. I think some of it just gets lost in the shuffle.

DCI: Do you feel competition from new media when it comes to destination marketing campaigns?

TW: I think that the Birmingham PR woman said it best. We were taking about influencers and she said they used to chase mega-influencers, but they realized they got more bang for their buck from me, the micro-influencer. I don’t have the huge numbers, but my followers are all legitimate people. They are true travelers.

DCI: Are there any pitches you don’t want?

TW: I don’t like doing the same story everybody else is doing. I’m travel editor of Civilian Magazine in NYC. Last issue we wanted to do Nashville. I didn’t want to do the same old Nashville, so it was titled “The Other Nashville” and it was all about the surrounding neighborhoods outside the heart of Nashville.

Wilmer’s podcasts detailing his experiences in Birmingham can be found here on NPR’s site. His further work appears on his personal website, including glimpses into his longstanding career as a travel writer and journalist.

DCI has more than 60 years of experience connecting the media and audiences through successful destination marketing campaigns. Read about our PR case studies to learn how DCI connects with journalists and influencers in Birmingham as well as other destinations from Tahiti to Brussels. For more information, feel free to reach out to [email protected].

Written By

Bryan Pirolli

As DCI's in-house Senior Writer, Bryan brings more than a decade of travel journalism experience to play when uncovering the next big story idea for our clients.

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