Working with PR

This is an era when more and more people live a nomadic lifestyle and call themselves “digital nomads.” Digital nomads don’t have a fixed base, and carry their work with them. They may work remotely for a company or independently for their own business.

One may or may not like identifying him/herself as a digital nomad – it’s all a matter of perspective. Personally, I find it quite ironic that younger generations now strive to define themselves with an adjective that (used to) have terribly negative connotations; and follow the way of life of people that, throughout history, have been subjected to the fiercest forms of discrimination precisely because of that.

Never mind me though – we can’t predict whether this new, current trend may actually cause a positive change for the real nomads of all countries, religions and ethnicities.

Digital Nomads and Travel Bloggers

While different but in a way connected to digital nomads, there’s the travel bloggers. The two categories often overlap. I may not wish to call myself a digital nomad, but I sure am a professional travel blogger.

Travel bloggers are thought to have the ability to influence market decisions and trends in tourism. But more than that, they actually travel – I mean, they are often on the move, hopping from one country to another, going from continent to continent. It would seem like something fairly easy to understand, right?  

But apparently it isn’t. Public Relations (PR) agencies are usually confused by travel bloggers. One would imagine that such companies would keep abreast of the latest trends, but it looks like they are not.

Public Relations companies, travel bloggers and the need for a base.

In the course of my career as a travel blogger, I have had the chance to meet and talk to various PR representatives during networking conferences and events. I would imagine that, since these events have a specific objective, those who attend do so because they are seeking new partnership opportunities. But I often leave with a feeling that really, they are not.  

During these events, I typically sit down with a PR rep. We have nice chats, we laugh, they show me brochures about the destinations they are promoting. We talk about marketing campaigns. I tell them what I can do for them and the destination. Then we get to the point where they ask me where I am based (whatever that means). They look at me seriously and tell me they can’t/won’t work with me, because they only work with people from a specific country (resident or national), or with a specific geographic audience.

Let me make this clearer: some PR companies based in (say) the United Kingdom will only work with British bloggers. And I am not British.

For some PRs my nationality isn’t an issue. But you bet they will find something else wrong with me. It typically is my audience: UK PRs keep telling me that they want bloggers whose audience is mostly in the UK (it is my second largest audience, but never mind). My audience is not their “target market.” So they suggest I talk to their US office.

It seems legitimate: after all the majority of my audience is indeed from there. Save for the fact that the US office bumps me right back where I got from saying they want to work with bloggers who are “based” in the US.  

Oh, and needless to say, Italy based PR companies won’t work with me, because I write in English and I hardly have an Italian audience.

Is it just me?

It’s weird. It’s really weird. Not to say frustrating. I mean, I grew up in Italy, which is part of the European Union, just as the United Kingdom (well, ok, not anymore soon). I was fed with the idea that I have the right to live, study and work abroad, and so I did, for a good 10 years of my life which I have spent jumping across the ocean to live in the US and then get back to the old continent to work in Switzerland first, and specialize in England afterwards.

I may be Italian, but English has been my working language for longer than I can remember, so much so that when I decided to open a travel blog I didn’t even consider writing in any other language. I know Italy and its culture, but I also know the American and British ones – even more so, as they are profoundly multicultural and so easy to fit in. Besides culture is a fluid, ever changing thing. And I can’t stand being identified in just one way.  

I also thought that the beauty of being a travel blogger is the fact that I know no boundaries, in the possibility of living everywhere and nowhere. I guess I was wrong.

Were it not for the fact that other travel bloggers I know, from countries other than Italy and who, like me, write in English, have been treated the same way by PRs, I’d say I have been a victim of discrimination. I am not. We are just victims of a system that doesn’t feel the urge to catch up with the changes in the way marketing works.

When the target is not on target

The thing is, the whole “target market” approach of promoting a tourist destination, and which PRs insist on, is outdated, tied as it is to an old media approach. I understand it makes sense when it comes to printed newspapers and magazines. I mean, The Telegraph is only published in the UK, the Wall Street Journal in the US, and so on.

But with blogs, it’s not nearly as simple. The audience profile of blogs written in English is split between several countries that don’t necessarily match the nationality of the authors. And the voice of travel bloggers goes well beyond a single target market. I can hardly be identified with the Italian market, for example.

In any case, say I really were to be identified with a specific geographic market. It would be a terrible mistake to consider this market as homogeneous. It would be a bit like saying that Italians only eat pizza or that Brits drink tea all the time. And we all know this is not the case.

Besides, more often than not people that read a blog care for its contents, for the tips that they can find there, and don’t necessarily take notice of the nationality of the author of the post. It certainly isn’t the first thing I ask myself when reading a post.

This is all to say that many bloggers like me feel that PRs only working with people from a specific country, or that have audience in a specific place, are lowering their potential of expanding their reach to markets that are growing and may actually have an interest in that destination.

Perhaps giving a practical example will help understanding better. Imagine a blogger approaching a PR company based in the UK to work with them on the promotion of tourism in Portugal. Let’s say he has a good blog (more about this later). A big chunk of his audience is based in the UK, but that’s not his main audience. His largest one is in the US, and he also has some readers in Canada, Australia and Singapore – just to mention a few places.

If we were to follow the typical PR approach, this blogger would not be able to work with a UK based PR. But what would be the harm of working with him? I just don’t see it… as long as he does a good job and inspires and encourages people to visit Portugal, and as long as these people are willing to go and spend their money there, I really see no harm.

What should PRs really look for, then?

PRs that are really interested in working with bloggers should consider, first of all, the overall quality of the blog. When looking for bloggers to work with, they should keep in mind both the quantitative and qualitative factors – they should consider the reach of the blog, but not just in terms of numbers.

Things to look for are:
Overall audience of the blog and social media: what is the monthly traffic?

Beware of fake numbers! Some bloggers and influencers have been caught buying followers, and it is only too easy to do that!

The voice of the blog: if a blogger writes about adventure travel to off the beaten path places, perhaps he’s not the best fit for a campaign on luxury resorts.

The quality of the site: does the blog look good and professional? Are the posts good, informative, inspiring? Is the writing beautiful?

The actual engagement: do readers (ie real people, not spammy bots) comment on the post? Does it look like they trust the author?  

The variety of the posts: is there a good mix of editorial content and posts that link to other businesses? Are there destination reviews, how-to posts, opinion posts?

Last but not least, does the blogger have a good reputation? Is he engaged in the blogging community, or is he a lone wolf (look for things such as sharing contents of other bloggers, participating in bloggers groups, giving a hand to others, and being a good person overall).

Things that really should not matter are:
The nationality of the blogger, especially in case the blogger writes in English.
Where the blogger is bases (or whether he doesn’t really have a base): planes really go anywhere nowadays.
The geographic distribution of his audience.

In conclusion, what PRs should know is that, when bloggers write posts about a specific destination, they don’t really have an audience in mind – not in geographical terms at least. They just write about destinations they love, giving as much information as possible about them, doing their best (and hopefully succeeding) to inspire whoever reads this posts to go check out the destination in person.

Besides (and this go back to my initial statement about digital nomads, but not only), there’s a bunch of people that live and work in countries that are not their own.


Claudia Tavani is a former human rights lawyer who abandoned her career to pursue her true calling. She now travels the world in search of incredible hikes, beautiful hidden corners, and interesting stories. She blogs at My Adventures Across The World []

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