News & Views

Expat Writers: Forgotten Talent

When pitching stories to writers, destination marketing experts need not always look further than the very places they are marketing. While media hubs like New York and London seem like obvious choices for travel writers to live, expat writers – from Americans and Canadians to Brits and Aussies – are writing for their home publications from abroad.

Go to Berlin and you’ll find a thriving community of English-speaking writers with someone writing for Thrillist. Head to Hanoi and chances are there’s some American poking around with contacts at the New York Times. The internet has made this all possible.

Travel writers don’t necessarily need to travel anymore – not in the traditional sense, anyway. Consider expatriation as a sort of prolonged travel experience. Many of these writers are living abroad and making a living by writing. Their output is as good as what someone attending a press trip might be providing. They can blog in real time, respond to breaking tourism news, and send in copy as fast as any writer if there is an internet connection available.

Still with only 53% of the world projected to be connected to the internet by the end of 2019, expat writers aren’t replacing U.S.-based journalists who are participating on traditional fam trips. They’re just another option to add to your media relations portfolio.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, but they just write for other expats, right?” Wrong. When Eataly opened recently in Paris, an American expat got the story for The New York Times. Eataly is a major visitor draw in any city, so it’s not just interesting to locals. It’s easy, fast coverage for the brand that required little investment. What a useful tool to have in the kit, right?

Let’s consider a few of their selling points.

1. Expats are Cost-effective

If you’re pitching about a destination to someone who lives there, the flight will be one less expense to cover. Expat writers can attend a meal or get a staycation for a few nights in a hotel, because you’ll still need to entice them, but ultimately local talent is less of a financial investment.

If they are joining a fam trip with journalists from other countries, they may need subsidized train travel or a car rental even, but nothing will equal the expense of a trans-oceanic flight. Consider them a bargain. What’s the downside? It might take a few more emails to organize with locals on the ground, but it hardly seems like a reason to ignore expat writers.

2. More Local Insight

Expats know their cities better than most. Years of living as an outsider force many to go to extremes to become insiders, and you should take advantage of this knowledge. Your fam trip may include one experience, but maybe they know something you don’t, but should. If you’re looking to maximize coverage with writers, give them something special. Tap into the expat to get fresh perspectives that the tourism bureau may not even realize exist.

They’ll also likely – well, sometimes –speak the local language, allowing easier access to sources that could make your life a lot easier. You want them to speak with a certain distributor or a certain concierge? They’ll be able to do it in the local language and write it in English without batting an eye, if you made sure they speak the local language!

3. They Are Tight Knit

Except for a few recluses, a writer abroad always knows other writers. Secretly they all are trying to recreate the whole Hemingway-Fitzgerald thing, or so it seems. By tapping into an expat’s network, you are opening yourself up to a world of possibilities. You’ll find other people interested in covering the destination or pitching your story. You’ll have fresh eyes to pitch to in the future.

These expats also know the local English-speaking media. Did you ever think of pitching to Time Out Paris or Time Out Beijing, who have robust English publications? Sure, these publications are designed for locals, but visitors use them, too – especially savvy ones – so consider them as earned media worth hunting.

4. Easy to Catch

Much of the time, expat writers cover a certain destination and so will be filtering their emails much more carefully. This means that if you are targeting the right person about the right destination, it’ll be easier to get noticed. They’re not looking for just any interesting story. They are looking for a story specifically about their city or country, so they will at least click open your pitch if it fits their geographic terrain.

If it also happens to be an interesting story, then you’re on your way to reporting good news back to the client.

Also, many expat writers are juggling several contracts and freelance gigs, so every bit of work tends to be appreciated more than you’d expect. If you make it easier for them to pitch a story to their editors with an amazing proposition, they’ll be enthusiastic to discuss it.

5. Built-In Audience

Expats tend to write about certain destinations and their followers online tend to be interested in those destinations. Having a local expat write and share a story about the destination might not reach the masses, but – quality vs. quantity – you’re getting the eyeballs you want.

Don’t write it off immediately. Maybe their socials are all humble in scale, but a humble following of eager, destination-devoted individuals might be better than a wider audience of potentially disinterested followers for a generic travel publication. Tahiti, for example, is aiming for 300,000 visitors per year – a relatively modest number compared to other islands – so every little bit of buzz will help.

6. Easy to Find

So how do you find them? Expat writers tend to blog or write for English-speaking publications popular among like-minded expats. See who is writing for The Beijinger in China. Check bylines on BonjourParis.com in France. Scan Thrillist and Culture Trip to see who is contributing. Read up on local expat blogs or Instagram accounts to help identify potential collaborators.

Some tourism bureaus highlight expat writers’ blogs on the destination’s website. Some have welcomed expat writers to do social media takeovers. Or simply check the masthead for the most recent updates of any travel guide from Fodor’s to Lonely Planet. You might not be aiming for the guide, but chances are (remember, Easy to Catch) they’re probably writing for other publications that you want, too.

In the end, it’s not a surefire way to land a viral story, but the investment in expat writers could end up giving back in surprising ways. With their unique perspectives and audiences, and low cost for fam trip participations, you might be able to convince your destination that they should think twice. As sources of information and further contacts, they will also make any PR professional’s life much easier.

DCI has been working with destinations from Chattanooga to Peru to make it easier for these places to connect with writers in top travel publications and websites. For more information on what we do and how you might work with us, contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected]

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