Keys To the Kingdom: NATJA Travel Editors’ Advice for PR Pros

June 21, 2023

This year’s gathering of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) brought a bevy of travel media and destination publicists to the heart of Alaska – Fairbanks to be exact. While the marketplace is always a draw for destination PR pros, the annual editors panel drew similar attention this year, where we lapped up the travel editors’ advice that flowed freely.

During the panel, three editors dropped hints on how best to work with them in the year to come. So, what are they covering right now and how can we, as travel publicists, help an idea fall on the right ears? Read on!

1. Rona Marech, Editor in Chief, National Parks Conservation Association
Despite the fact that travel to National Parks across the U.S. ballooned during the pandemic, the outlet itself has basically remained unchanged. As a “writer’s editor,” Rona really prides herself in allowing the writer’s voice to shine through.

She sees her story assignments as real writer collaborations: partnerships that allow the best possible story to emerge. While the magazine is still running some long-form, 5000-word pieces, these are reserved for their stable of proven freelance writers. So, your way into a feature is either through a meaty pitch (“pitch a story, not a topic” were her words to live by) to Rona or one of the lucky freelance contributors.

Note however that you’re not likely to host these writers in your destination. Not for free, at least. If you do, it’s game-on when it comes to transparency and they will cover travel expenses.

2. Jamie Hergenrader, Commerce Director, Travel Group, Dotdash Meredith
While Jamie’s gig actually consists of profiling physical consumer goods, she was forthcoming about sharing a lay of the land at Dotdash. Content has moved from inspiration to international experiential travel. That said, they’re still seeing engagement on their “own backyard” content, even as engagement with international travel content rises.

For her top travel editor advice, the best pitch really is all about style. Write a mini story – five sentences max – to give her a sense of the angle. But please, please, please don’t pitch her on Instagram. She says those DMs are not effective.

And if you plan to host a journalist from DotDash, know that the story will disclose this fact.

3. Silas Valentino, Travel Editor of SFGate
Silas’ first love was music journalism – so he always has an eye for arts and culture content. This said, his readers are hungry for road trips and weekend getaways. He noted that travelers are now more thoughtful about their choices, even when it comes to experiences closer to home.

Hiking stories are of great interest, as long as they are within reasonable range from San Francisco. Being a headline maverick is important, according to this travel editor’s advice. After all, there’s only so much time in the day and a good headline will capture his interest. But if you don’t hear from him the first time, try again with an alternate headline. After that, it’s better to move on to another angle. It’s more than likely that he saw it and isn’t interested.

Silas doesn’t prefer to lean into freelancers who have been hosted, so keep that in mind when trying to land an editorial placement.

As I come up on 25 years in the public relations field, I can summarize my key take-aways from these sessions in a few short words. Be persistent in pitching your ideas, following up with editors, and refining your craft. Patience, perseverance, and a willingness to learn and adapt will help you thrive in this field.

Wondering how to apply these lessons to your destination marketing? DCI has more than 60 years of working with destinations to connect with the media, channeling journalists’ and travel editors’ advice along the way. Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more.

Written by

Karyl Leigh Barnes

President, Tourism Practice