The Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) Annual Conference took place this year on June 18-22, 2019 in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. It was my first year in attendance and an interesting one – full of new faces (and some familiar ones too), local experiences, and learnings that can be applied to just about anything we do in the tourism industry, whether you’re working with Canadian media or something else.
TMAC celebrated its “silver anniversary” or 25th year in 2019. It was founded by journalists for journalists, connecting Canadian media with destinations across the world. Every year the annual conference is held in a different Canadian city. The event includes a two-part media marketplace, professional development sessions, networking opportunities, and a media member award ceremony on the final evening.
Over the four-day conference, just a few of the key learnings I came away with include:
1. Dig a Little Deeper
One of the sessions I attended was about what editors want freelance writers to know. But the tips shared apply directly to destination PR or tourism marketing as well. When you pitch, you’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the real story. It’s not your latest bakery opening or hotel. It’s the authentic story behind that. The story that is uniquely yours to tell.
Both editors sitting at the table (and many writers in the room as well) shared that they can tell in moment the different between a “cry for attention” pitch (ie. “please, please, cover my destination!”) and a real, genuine story. It takes extra time to dig deeper and find that real angle, but don’t fret. By crafting the right pitch the first time around, you’ll save yourself hours of empty emails and rejection, and instead get to the heart of the real story.
2. “Eco” Doesn’t Always Mean Environmentally-Friendly (and other Buzzwords)
One the writers attending the conference is all-in on “eco” – sustainable, nature-driven, outdoorsy writing that talks about preserving and experiencing the Earth. But as he traveled along his eco-journey, he noticed a common trend, with the phrase “eco-friendly” being used more as a buzzword than an actual practice.
Like a restaurant that runs on solar power but wraps everything in plastic – just because you’ve started down the path of environmental conservation doesn’t mean you can call it eco. Words like “green,” “sustainable,” “renewable” and “all-natural” fall into this category too. While they are trendy and can catch writers’ and visitors’ attention, make sure you have the data to back up the claim. Otherwise you might find yourself in hot water with those who can see right through the spin.
3. Don’t Mess With the “Golden Hour”
As the traditional media and influencer worlds begin to collide, there seemed to be one key takeaway that everyone was in agreement on. Visual content is key – and don’t mess with their Golden Hour.
The Golden Hour is the time in the evening (whenever that may be) that the sun is just beginning to set, the lighting turns soft, and everything is cast in a golden light. This is widely considered the perfect time for pictures – yet destination marketers in charge of FAM trips often schedule dinner within this hour – causing media to lose out on an otherwise perfect shot.
Consider flipping the script for your next media FAM – planning for snacks throughout the day, or a late dinner after the sun has gone down. Instead, focus on showcasing your most “Instagrammable” locations during this peak time. And plan for flexibility – you never quite know when the sun is going to hit that perfect angle.
4. Don’t Take it Personally
Public Relations is a thick-skinned industry, or so I was once told. So why are we taking rejection so personally? A common theme through the conference was around rejection – and how one “no” can often make both media members and marketers hesitant to try again.
Did an editor say no to your pitch? Rethink the angle and try again. Did a writer say no to your destination? Dig into why and consider alternatives. And even after a FAM is in the works – did someone say no to the restaurant you recommended or attraction you wanted to share? A “no” can often mean “not right now” or “not for me” in the media industry. Don’t take it personally and use this as an opportunity to explore a new perspective or angle.
5. Award-Winning Content Does More
After so many great sessions and appointments, the final night of the conference gave our media colleagues the chance to show off and be recognized for the amazing content creators that they are. The TMAC Annual Award Ceremony showcased work in 12 categories, and really allowed writers and destinations alike to shine.
The winners were truly something special – all diving into the destinations they covered in a compelling and interesting way. Round-ups didn’t even near the top. Instead we saw real stories, real people, and authentic experiences (there’s that word again). The titles caught your attention and made you want to learn more. The pictures shared 1,000 stories of their own.
When you consider how you want your destination to be featured – don’t constantly settle for mentions and links. While they have their place in the online world, remember that the best content does more, taking the reader inside your destination and giving back so much more.
Bonus! Also, part of my TMAC experience – and a major takeaway – was the tasting of my first ever Butter Tart. If you haven’t tried one, I consider you cross the border and get yourself that tasty treat tout de suite (but don’t tell a Canadian, because they will announce it in awe to every person you meet thereafter.)