Updated: January 2020
If you’re interested in travel writing or a career as a travel writer, I heartily recommend attending TravMedia’s international media marketplace (or IMM as it’s commonly called). It’s been likened to speed dating for people in the travel industry and I think that’s a pretty accurate description. It’s fast, furious and fun. And at the end of the day many writers walk away with great PR connections and offers of famils or press trips. So how can freelance writers get the most out of the day? Here’s a beginner’s guide to TravMedia’s IMM.
A beginner’s guide to TravMedia’s international media marketplace (IMM)
Before 2018, I had never heard of IMM.
But, in late 2017 as I looked to expand my travel writing opportunities, a friend who is an incredible travel writer told me that I should apply to attend IMM Australia, held in Sydney each February.
What is IMM?
IMM is a single-day networking event where people in the media (travel writers, editors and bloggers) meet travel and tourism brands in 22 x 15 minute one-on-one appointments.
IMM events are held throughout the world – Australia, the United States, Asia, Brazil, France, Germany and the UK.
You apply to attend with your TravMedia account, and if you don’t have a TravMedia account, you can sign up and apply to get one.
Why go to IMM?
A travel journalist explained to me that going to IMM boosted her career – from attending, she received multiple offers to go on famils or press trips, as well as making connections with other writers and editors looking to commission freelance travel writers.
For 2018 and 2019 I was hosted for two nights in local (5-star) hotels.
This year (2020), I’ve been lucky enough to have my flights and accommodation provided.
From what I understand, only a few writers are able to be hosted each year.
Usually writers who are active on the TravMedia platform (uploading recent stories, using the journalist alert function and so on) will be the first to be offered hosting.
But even without hosting, I’d still make it a priority to attend.
In my experience, a fortnight or so before IMM, you’ll get access to the exhibitor list (there were 152 travel brands exhibiting in Sydney in 2018 and 170 media professionals).
You have 22 appointment slots on the day and you can enter up to 75 preferences. You’ll have 25 first, second and third preferences.
The range of exhibitors is usually enormous.
It includes tourism boards like Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and VisitBritain, individual venues like Warner Bros. Studio Tours Hollywood, to resorts and hotels.
It’s mind-boggling and it’s worth spending a few hours reading each of the exhibitors’ information.
For my first time in 2018, I wasn’t too concerned about who I wanted to meet with.
I asked for a range of domestic and international destinations, experiences and hotels.
But in later years, I’ve been much more strategic about who I’ve requested to meet with.
A week or so before IMM I received my schedule, where I was “matched” with exhibitors who also requested to meet with me.
“Be strategic,” says travel writer Monica McInnes, who blogs at Jiggety Jog. “Before putting in preferences, consider where it is you want to travel or PRs in your niche and add those. Try to group them together. Rather than stretching yourself thin, think about adding in several exhibitors in the same area. It could help you build a nice little travel itinerary.”
Monica’s advice is so wise.
I didn’t even think about doing this in my first year.
I was much more like, “Oh wow! Turkey! Thailand! Canada! Arizona! Tasmania!” and left with my head spinning.
Last year I was much savvier about my requests and was careful to try and request meetings with PRs representing destinations where I might actually travel.
It’s also important to know that you may not get all (or many) of your preferences.
Depending on which destinations, experiences, PR agencies, airlines or hotels are popular, you may find that not every exhibitor you select has the time (or inclination) to meet with you.
A week or so before IMM, you will receive your schedule, where you’ll be “matched” with exhibitors who also requested to meet with you.
What if I miss out on meeting a PR that I really wanted to see?
When I missed out on some of the exhibitors I wanted to see, I got in touch with them before the day, introduced myself and said that I’d love to catch up with them during morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea. This worked really well.
If I didn’t manage to catch them on the day, I followed up with an email after IMM and organised for us to have a phone call together.
Should I fill up all my appointments?
I received contrasting advice from other freelance travel writers about whether to leave some appointments free (block them out) or whether to book myself fully.
In both years I’ve attended I’ve booked up each of the 22 appointments, and I have to say, it makes for a busy day.
After my first IMM I thought I’d probably leave one or two appointment free, but I had lots of meeting requests so I filled them all up.
It’s worth noting that there’s very little time to wander and have a look at the other exhibits, so if you wanted to make incidental connections and strike up conversations with others who also have free time, you might want to leave one or two appointments free.
I can’t see any way I can make appointments with editors?
That’s right, IMM gives PRs the opportunity to meet with writers and editors, but there are no formalised opportunities for freelance travel writers to have 1-1 meetings with editors.
If you are keen to meet up with an editor you’ve written for, you can always email them before IMM to see if they are attending.
If they are, you can (try to) organise to catch up in one of the breaks.
Why would I meet up with PRs I already know?
Even though IMM is an amazing opportunity to meet new connections, it’s actually a great chance to reconnect with previous ones.
Last year I purposefully requested appointments with PRs who I’d had contact with or who had supported me previously.
Travel writing (and freelance writing in general) is all about relationships, so using some of your 15 minute appointments to catch up with ‘old’ connections is a great use of your time.
Making the most of IMM
Take: Business cards
“Take plenty of business cards to hand out,” says travel writer Jennifer Johnston from the blog Travel Bug Within.
Every appointment you have, you will receive a business card, and even though the representatives from the tourism boards and destinations will have your details, it’s still good to have a business card to give them.
It’s also worth having spare business cards – I often meet contacts at lunch and am always grateful that I have plenty of business cards.
Take: An empty bag
Almost everyone I spoke to also said this: Take an empty bag. A big, empty bag.
You’ll get given of brochures and sometimes gifts.
Over the past two years I have received wine, chocolates, biscuits, candles, portable mobile phone chargers, teabags, notepads, pens, kombucha and cuddly toys.
Do your research
Even though you’ll get your schedule and a booklet with a summary of each of the exhibitors, it’s good to do your own research.
I print out one A4 sheet for each of my appointments and write down a few key notes before IMM.
Monica says, “Research the organisations you have meetings with. I found it great to be able to mention something I had learnt in my research to help guide discussions.”
A PR said, “From a PR’s perspective it’s great if a travel writer has done homework about us. It shows that they are interested in our destination or product. It also means we can make sure the 15 minutes we have available is used productively.”
Spend time on your TravMedia bio
This really matters.
Your bio should be short and sharp.
Let people know your areas of interest or speciality, For example, tell them if you write about food and wine, cycling tours or cruising as well as where you have been published.
This will give PRs a good indication of whether they want to meet with you or not.
If you’ve got awards for your writing, plug those, and if you’re a member of a travel writing society, mention that too. This is your opportunity to really sell yourself.
You’ll hear a little bell letting you know that the appointment time has started and off you’ll go to find the exhibitor’s table.
The PR might ask you to tell them a little bit about yourself and your background.
Or they may launch into information about their destination, venue or product.
All exhibitors had my photograph and bio printed out, but I found that most still asked me my areas of specialty. They also asked which publications I wrote for. So have a sentence or two ready.
My spiel went something like this: “I write about food, travel and lifestyle for publications such as X, magazines such as X as well as digital outlets such as X.”
If you don’t have a succinct sentence, simply say what areas you write about or are interested in.
You may write regularly about adventure, luxury, food, health and wellness, family travel, natural experiences and so on.
“Determine your travel writing niche and own it,” says Monica. “I found that knowing what it was I was writing about and what I specialised in helped what we talked about. Get business cards made and include your specialisation. I also found that my cards got a bit of attention as they have photos on them. So maybe something that makes your cards stand out would help.”
Monica also recommends thinking about when you would be looking to travel. “Most people I met commented that not many writers knew when they would be travelling,” she says.
I’ve also had PRs ask me: “What can we help you with right now?” so also be prepared to answer that question!
You’ll also have an opportunity to ask lots of questions of the exhibitors.
Helpful questions to ask PRs at IMM:
What’s unique / new about your destination?
What are some of the experiences, destinations or stories that people don’t know about?
Do you have particular experiences or destinations you are looking to highlight in the next year? or What are the pillars that you are focusing on this year?
Who are your key travellers? (Here you want to gauge whether they are families, people in their 50s etc. You also want to know what countries they come from so you can match story ideas with publications)
Do you have ideal publications you want coverage in?
How do you usually work with writers? Do you offer group trips or do you work with writers on an individual basis? (This is an important question to ask to gauge hosting capabilities. Some exhibitors don’t have funds for airfares but can host writers once you’re in the country).
Make sure you take lots of notes.
In my first year I thought I would remember points from my conversations but I didn’t.
Thinking back, I was confused – did that operator say their new food offering was in Turkey or Jordan? Did they say they needed two confirmed commissions before they would host me, or three?
After IMM, it’s likely that your head will be spinning, but in a good way.
In the week after the event it’s good to set aside some time to email each of the exhibitors you met with to say thanks and to confirm what you talked about.
With some, there won’t be any developments, but with others, it may just be the start of a great relationship.
Are you a travel writer? Have you been to IMM? What advice would you give?