Shelley Winkel is one of my favourite people in the travel industry. She’s the PR and publicity leader for Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ), which means she’s forgotten more about Australia’s second biggest state than most of us have ever known. In this Q&A Shelley shares her incredible knowledge and experience about how freelance writers can work with tourism bodies, what travel writers need to know about how tourism bodies operate, and what you need to do to be considered for a famil or press trip.
Want to go on a press trip to Queensland? You need to meet Shelley Winkel
I’ve known Shelley for a couple of years and she really is the font of all knowledge when it comes to Queensland.
Shelley is passionate, committed and such fun, which you’ll no doubt glean from her answers and the accompanying photos. Oh and if you ever email her and get her out of office reply, it’s not such a bad thing – her automatic emails are legendary.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a gypsy born in the era of the aeroplane.
From a young age, I was a ferociously curious about the “others”. There were the pygmies from the Amazon who popped into our geography lesson and Lederhosen-wearing Germans featured in our Sprechen Sie Deutsche language lab. History didn’t cut it for me. Who wants to see a relic, when you could talk to a living culture? It was always about travel.
At the age of 15 I told my parents I would become an exchange student. It took two years before I landed in Tokushima Japan armed with the one critical sentence that would steer me the right way for the next 365 days: “Where is the toilet?”
Over another four years I learned the language and fell in love… With the people, a nation and a very handsome Japanese man. My time there also sparked a career in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the USA and Switzerland. Somewhere in between I got a degree in Mass Communications, majoring in PR and a Masters in Asian and International Studies here in Brisbane.
I’ve travelled the world. But I’m still not finished.
Even now I spy a map and my heart leaps to the white spots, the places I haven’t been and the people I don’t know. You can be sure that when I’m not on holiday, I’m planning the next one. So, it seems fitting that for the last 25 years I have based my career around travel.
Could you describe your role at TEQ?
I’ve done the whole gamut of PR, previously working with a FTSE-listed multi-national hotel chain and covering internal comms, corporate comms, consumer comms and financial comms, but the work I do now is consumer comms.
I no longer wake up to bombings and nasty headlines. I wake up to creating content that sparks someone’s dream holiday – in Queensland, of course!
I have a new title this week to reflect a new structure. It’s PR & Publicity Leader. In a nutshell I seed stories and messages that will inspire travellers from around the world to visit the best address on earth: Queensland. (It’s true … Queensland is up there.).
Sometimes we work with journalists – creating story angles and plotting famils, other times we go direct to the consumer.
Five years ago, I fought hard to launch blog.queensland.com with a very talented co-worker so we could tell our own personal stories and our experiences direct to travellers.
The blog is still one of my proudest achievements, with some 10,000 people visiting it each day.
That’s bigger than a lot of magazine titles.
It seems like a dream job – is it?
I once had a marketing job selling stabilisers and emulsifiers to Asian ice-cream manufacturers. It paid handsomely. I had a gleaming Mitusbishi Magna (magenta!) and a good bank account, but I was in an altered state. My mind just didn’t engage with topics like mouth feel and icecream!
Working in travel and representing a product like Queensland is like a legal way to be happy … most of the day.
For lots of freelance writers, travel writing is the ultimate job – I’m keen to find out the ways you think writers can best work with PRs and tourism bodies.
First up, we know how incredibly hard it is to make a dollar in this current media upheaval.
If you are in-house, we know you may be working with an anvil hanging over your head.
If you are a freelancer, we realise the competition is fierce for good paying gigs.
In return, we ask that you understand some of our challenges.
Foremost, we get dozens of requests for help each week ranging from prime-time TV programs with mass audiences and mass crews down to a single niche garden blogger who wants to cover the all-important Toowomba Carnival of Flowers and the travel writer who is stuck needing inspiration to complete a listicle on “15 reasons why Caloundra tops the family holiday charts”.
We love that media are coming to us and we value all requests. But the reality is with finite resources (humans and dollars) and our own reportable targets, we need to work strategically and collaboratively.
So, how do you float to the top of the consideration pile for famils?
Get serious and research. Then put your pitch together succinctly – just like you would to your editor.
What are your angles and how will they fit with TEQ’s objectives and hero experiences?
What dates do you want to go (is there flexibility and lead times) and when will the content run (so that it fits with the holiday triggers)?
What are your channel/s and how do they line up against our target segments?
How many content pieces will you create? Can you do more than one piece?
Can you provide quality images that fill our content gaps? (And yes, we will pay.)
Do you have a subscriber base that we could reach out to?
Finally, get to know us. We love that. We try to have twice yearly calls/face to face meeting with our priority media to update them on our upcoming content plans.
First, a bit about TEQ and their focus. Which countries (and sectors of the Australian population) are your key markets?
Like most national tourism or state tourism boards, we have a raft of information and research on our corporate site. It may take time to navigate the site, but it’s worth it if you are considering working with us and you want a few thousand dollars’ worth of support.
You can review our overall marketing strategies, understand our hero experiences and unearth our top international source markets plus learn about our “hunt” for the high value traveller in Australia. Go on. Give it a crack!
Are there particular experiences or sights you are looking to highlight in the next 12 – 18 months?
We are refining a huge consumer research piece done in 2016 which told us that Queensland is still a much-loved brand, but it’s a little too comfy. We need to drill deeper, out the hero experiences and tell the destination in a fresh way, especially now that Brisbane is competing with Beijing and Cairns with Croatia for the precious traveller dollar.
Fundamentally, our biggest point of difference from all other destinations and our priority push is the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s a Queensland icon and Australia’s greatest gift to the world. Yes, it’s under stress, but it’s still incredibly beautiful to snorkel, dive, sail, swim and more. We want people to go there, experience it, and fall in love with it.
Because from that love comes the desire to protect it.
What kind of coverage are you looking for? For example, do you prefer print over digital, TV over radio, journalist over influencer?
It’s more about taking the holistic view.
How can your content and your channel inspire the high value traveller in our key travel segments to visit the best address on earth (Queensland) and drive an unfair share of the market therein increasing our Overnight Visitor Expenditure.
Whichever channel works to push conversion – and move the traveller a little bit closer to booking a ticket – is the channel we want.
What are the different ways in which you work with writers?
We pitch angles, provide copyright free stories, provide images, create videos, brainstorm ideas, and support famils.
We love content creators who can bring a good mix to the partnership.
If a writer wants to travel to Queensland to write a story, what is the best way to approach TEQ for support (e.g. airfares, accommodation etc)?
We don’t just work with travel writers.
We collaborate with TV, lifestyle magazines, general news media, bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, radio, and more, so there’s a bit of competition to say the least and a lot of myths around famils.
Here are a few myths regarding support that I’d like to bust:
Famils are free
No they are not.
Depending on the request, the complexity and the size of the crew, a famil can take between four and 60 hours to arrange. There’s an opportunity cost if our time is spent working on a famil where the angle does not align with our key objectives.
So, if we say we can’t assist, please understand there are strategic reasons behind our response.
Maybe it’s best to reframe, “how can this work for you?
The tourism board doesn’t pay
We are incredibly lucky in that tourism runs in our Queensland DNA and our tourism operators dig deep to support our projects.
But there is a pain point.
When there’s a perishable product involved, such as the fuel for a chopper flight, a meal or a spa that requires an intensity of resources, you can bet TEQ will pay.
The corollary is if there’s a lot of available inventory in a non-perishable product, we may be able to get support. The likes of theme parks and reef operators are super supportive.
What adds to this puzzle is that a great majority of the Queensland’s tourism industry comprises of small businesses: hard-working Queensland mums and dads who passionately sweat it out 24/7 to make a buck. I think the stats are something like 75% of our operators don’t even file for GST (ie. they are not earning more than $75,000). So, to hit them up for two nights free accommodation and potentially displacing revenue from a genuine guest can make a big difference to their balance sheet.
Unless the returns are greater than the cost – i.e. that their product features in your content and that content will be consumed by their specific target audience, we don’t ask for freebies.
Even the bigger accommodation providers have limits. I won’t even go down the track of how free rooms for media can affect hotel RevPAR targets.
Tourism boards only work with editors and features in big titles
In today’s fast-changing media scene, consider that one of your biggest competitors are the brand’s own channels.
TEQ has huge channels; our Facebook site sits at 2,000,000 engaged subscribers, our newsletter has a smidge over 1,000,000 subscribers and our Instagram has hundreds of thousands of active visitors.
If you have a blog that hits 15,000 generic travel visitors a month, that’s an awesome achievement and we really do salute you (We know! We high fived ourselves when we hit the same milestone.) But, you are effectively competing against our 280,000 unique visitors a month and that content can be written in-house for zero dollars.
I’m not saying it’s all about numbers. It’s about how you present your channels.
If your Facebook site has 15,000 highly engaged marathon runners and you have an eDM with 5000 subscribers mainly from Sydney with a proven record of travelling to enter marathons, then a request to attend the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, could be our bingo moment.
But, be prepared for us to also ask you for images to amplify on our channels among other things.
You need to go to a remote luxury resort (again) to update your knowledge
While first-hand experience is critical, there are times a journalist can marry previous experience with desk top research to get the same result. I’ve watched one of the most talented journos-turned-PR story tellers create compelling “insider” stories from just in-depth telephone conversations and a good of investigative nous.
We have covered a little bit of this already, but what influences your decision about whether you support a writers’ request (e.g. for flights, accommodation, on-ground support)?
Apart from what I’ve mentioned earlier, like all businesses, we work with people we like.
If you, as a content creator, have a reputation for being a professional worker, you take your craft earnestly, you are respectful of the industry we represent, and you follow up with proof of the agreed content, then you are going to the top of the list.
Over the years, I’ve watched my team refuse to work with some of the most brilliant writers because they forgot their manners.
The attitude of gratitude is something that goes a long way. On both sides.
How do you find writer to invite on famils?
Reputation is your bedrock.
You can bet if you are a rockstar creator and a nice person, our PR colleagues are crowing about you.
Additionally, our team goes on “sales” blitzes annually attending conferences like IMM in Sydney, ATE and ASTW events to meet with travel writers. We also attend general news media networking events (such as Women in Media) and stage one-on-one sales calls with business/news writers.
And for writers who would like to be considered for a press trip, what are the best ways they can do this?
Call us and introduce yourself. As one of my colleagues said, “we don’t bite”. Send us examples of content you have published in the past and some ideas for the future (based on research, of course).
What should writers always do when dealing with PRs?
Apart from the tips already mentioned, treat us like partners and equals. For a while, PR was dubbed the “dark side” and deemed a “lesser” profession to journalism.
I’ve seen travel writers treat PRs like their bank accounts, there to fund a lifestyle, carry bags, change flights on a whim, and buy a level of wine they couldn’t afford to buy themselves.
Ours is also a craft that we’ve worked hard to refine and there’s a lot of strategy (plus hard slog and boring admin) behind the so-called “good times”.
The other point is the leaderboard is balancing. Brands now have their own channels – some sizeable – and our craft is going direct to the consumer and they seem to like it.
More and more we need to engage writers to help create content for us.
Finally, please remember we got into this industry because we actually like working with writers. In general, they are curious, fun, creative souls; the type of people who become our besties.
What do you wish writers knew about TEQ and tourism bodies?
We have very clear set KPIs, set by the state government, strict marketing objectives and a finite budget. Even if we love your angle to visit the smallest museum in the world that only three other people have ever visited, it won’t help us drive overnight visitor expenditure so just have to (regretfully) pass on the idea.
Approximately how many famils (group and individual) do you support each year?
Last year the domestic publicity team supported about 75 media famils (excluding TV programs) with around 200 content creators (some famils had multiple writers/creators attending the one themed trip).
Meanwhile, the international famils team supported a few hundred more. It’s pretty active! My team has been “right-sized” since then. So, who knows how many we will do this year.
Why do you think Queensland is such a great place for writers to visit?
The sheer variety of the experiences – which is both a blessing and a curse to package in any single marketing campaign – backed by the genuinely friendly nature of the people (excluding State of Origin).
The Great Barrier Reef is just that. Great! It may be under stress, but I’ve personally dived three times in the last year and there are technicolour life-changing experiences out there. Then there are our natural encounters. Seeing turtle hatchlings scurry on mass down a moonlit beach into the oncoming waves, spotting an oddly Jurassic looking Cassowary in the world’s oldest rainforest, or eyeballing a Minke Whale is like being in a real-life Nat Geo documentary.
Our food offering is also surprising. Travel 60 minutes west of Brisbane and you’ll find a green necklace of farms and fields that provide some incredible produce to notable restaurants in up and down the Queensland coast, some under a palm tree, with your toes in the sand. There are also iconic landscapes that hold the bones of 40 million year old dinosaurs and romantic stories of swagman. I could go on and on.
Thank you so much Shelley! How can people get in touch with you?
Isn’t Shelley a legend? I learnt so much from this Q&A, and loved her insight into how travel writers’ biggest competitors may actually be the brand’s own channels. Fascinating.
How have you worked with PRs and tourism bodies? Are you lining up for a trip to Queensland?!