Exposing ourselves through speed dating

I include this tourism column about Canada’s Media Marketplace as further insight into the blog interview with my travel writing friend, Steve Lorton.

First published in The Northern View, April 9, 2008

Well, I’m off to Los Angles with a certain amount of dread. I hate business travel—and, probably for that reason, every trip I take somehow turns into my own hellish version of Mr. Bean. I’m convinced that I’m responsible for hundreds of stories told across North America. They all start something like, “So, there’s this guy standing at the gate for Pittsburgh and asking if this is the gate for Seattle, and he’s got shampoo dripping out of his luggage…”

The L.A. event is Canada’s Media Marketplace, hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission. It alternates annually between New York and L.A., and at gala receptions the provinces and territories pull out all stops in showcasing their cuisine and entertainment. Only the very best travel writers working in the United States are invited.

Canadian partners from St. John’s to Prince Rupert are linked up with everybody from the Dallas Morning News to National Geographic. The partners present themselves at battalions of tables lined up in a grand ballroom, and every fifteen minutes a bell rings and the writers rush to their next appointment. That means that you have about twelve minutes, really, to suggest why a writer should visit you and write your story. We call it “speed dating.”

Ideally, of course, during your 12 minutes you can intrigue writers enough to convince them to get together with you after the marketplace closes for the day, so that you have more time to really sell them at the receptions. Even so, it might take meetings over a period of years before you’ve really found the writer’s “hook,” and worked a visit into their always-busy schedules.

I’ll give an example. Steve Lorton was Northwest Bureau Chief of Sunset magazine for over 30 years. Shaun Stevenson and I met with Steve at Marketplace in 2004. Seven years earlier, when Shaun was with the North by Northwest Tourism Association and Julia Ferguson was running Tourism Prince Rupert, they met Steve for the first time. Gradually, 12-minute appointments at a time, Steve grew interested in Prince Rupert. He arrived in the summer of 2004, a Sunset photographer arrived later that summer, and a four-page spread appeared in the July 2005 issue. He came back in the summer of 2006, now a good friend, and his second piece about Prince Rupert was published last year in Coastal Living.

Community relationships with travel writers are what really matter in the end. Steve told me last week that he was now pitching two more pieces about Prince Rupert. Every year, more and more writers like Steve fall in love with Prince Rupert.

The value of this exposure is amazing. You and I know that any ad is a paid message, but we read travel stories believing that these are the words of an impartial witness. In addition to that credibility, we could never buy the space that was devoted to stories about Prince Rupert in international publications. In 2006 alone, the advertising value of that space was five times our total annual budget, and when we had Tartan PR in Victoria assess our return on investment for that year it demonstrated that every dollar we spent attracting and hosting travel writers delivered $145 worth of exposure.

At Media Marketplace competition is stiff, but through years of being there and selling Prince Rupert our stock is high. It is our biggest trip of the year, and represents a substantial investment. Yet it is one of the most valuable things that we do.

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  1. By Bruce Wishart ~ “Make me want to go” on April 6, 2010 at 8:07 PM

    [...] Solid Gold Box « Exposing ourselves through speed dating [...]

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