A beginner's guide to TravMedia's IMM
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 offers of famils or press trips. So how can freelance writers get the most out of IMM?
A beginners guide to TravMedia's international media marketplace (IMM)
Up until a few months ago I had never heard of IMM. But, as you know, this year I'm looking to expand my travel writing opportunities and a friend who is an incredible travel writer told me that I really should look into attending the sixth IMM Australia, held in Sydney in February 2018.
What is IMM?
IMM is a single-day networking event where people in the media, such as 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 register 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 last year, 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.
I got hosted for two nights in the beautiful and newly revamped Hyatt Regency in the centre of Sydney over looking the harbour. The evening I arrived I met with Camilla, the marketing communications manager of the hotel. We met at the Zephyr Sky Bar on the 11th floor of the hotel - it's an incredible space that feels like you're on the deck of a ship (complete with gentle mist wafting through the air). The cocktail list is quite incredible - I went for a Lemon Passion (lemongrass gin, dry orange curaçao, vermouth, mint, lime, cold pressed apple and lemon and passionfruit foam served tall over ice - amazing!). It was great to be able to say thanks to Camilla for hosting me and to hear about the hotel and learn a bit more about what awaited me the next day at IMM.
A fortnight or so before IMM, you'll get access to the exhibitor list (there were 152 travel brands exhibiting in Sydney this year and 170 media professionals). You have 22 appointment slots on the day and you can enter up to 75 preferences (25 first preferences, 25 second preferences and 25 third preferences).
The range of exhibitors was enormous - from tourism boards such as Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and VisitBritain, to individual venues such as Warner Bros. Studio Tours Hollywood, to resorts and hotels (such as Trisara Resort Phuket and Uga Escapes in Sri Lanka). It's quite mind-boggling and I spent a few hours reading each of the exhibitors' information.
As it was my first time, 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.
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 are interested in your niche and add those. Try to group them together – so rather than trying to stretch yourself thin, think about adding in several exhibitors in the same area. It could help you build a nice little travel itinerary."
I think Monica's advice is so wise. I didn't even think about doing this (I was much more like, "Oh wow! I could go to Turkey! Thailand! Canada! Arizona! Tasmania!"), but I did end up meeting with three exhibitors who are in the same region of the USA and I am starting to see how I could pull a comprehensive trip together with those three connections.
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 exhibitor you select has the time (or inclination) to meet with you.
When I missed out on some of the exhibitors I wanted to see, I got in touch with them and introduced myself and said that I’d love to catch up with them during morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea. This worked really well.
How to make the most of your time at IMM
I received contrasting advice about whether to leave some appointments free (block them out) or whether to book myself fully. I booked up each of the 22 appointments, and I have to say, next time I'd probably leave one or two free. There's very little time to wander and have a look at the other exhibits and I think this would be key for making incidental connections and striking up conversations with others who also have free time.
"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 met a great contact at lunch and was grateful that I had plenty of business cards.
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 (I received wine, chocolates, biscuits, candles, a portable mobile phone charger, teabags, notepads, pens, kombucha and cuddly toys). At the last minute I decided not to take my computer away with me for the two nights and I'm so glad, otherwise I would have been way over the carry-on limit.
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 printed out one A4 sheet for each of my appointments and wrote 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 I spoke to commented, "It's great from a PR's perspective if a travel writer has done homework about us - it shows that they are interested in our destination or product and it means we can make sure the 15 minutes we have available is used productively."
Spend time on your TravMedia bio. This really matters. It should be short and sharp - let people know your areas of interest or speciality (e.g if you write about food and wine, cycling tours or cruising) as well as where you have been published. This will give them 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. They 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 and who I wrote for. So have a sentence or two ready.
Mine spiel went something like this, "I write mostly about food, travel and health and wellness for food publications such as X, inflight magazines such as X as well as digital outlets such as X." If you don't have a succinct sentence to say, simply say what areas you write about or are interested in - 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 really helped what we talked about in the 15 minute meetings. 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 of the people I met with commented that not many people knew when they would be interested in travelling," she says.
You'll also have an opportunity to ask lots of questions of the exhibitors.
Here are some questions I found really useful to ask:
What's unique / new about your destination?
What are some of the hidden gems 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 (you want to gauge whether they are families, people in their 50s etc and what countries they come from so you can match them with publications)
Do you have ideal publications you want coverage in?
How do you usually work with writers - e.g. do you offer group trips or do you work with writers on an individual basis? (This is an important question to ask to gauge their hosting capabilities - some of the exhibitors I met didn't have funds for airfares but could host me once I was in country).
Take lots of notes - I thought I would remember points from my conversations but I didn't. Thinking back now, I'm 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?
It's only been a few days and my head is still spinning. I am about a third of the way through emailing each of the exhibitors I met with to say thank you and just to confirm what we talked about. Some, there won't be any developments, but others offered me hosting if I could secure particular commissions with specific publications.
All up, depending on whether I could get a commission with a particular publication, I had offers for famils from between 10 - 12 exhibitors.
In these days after IMM I feel incredibly grateful. To meet with 22 (and counting) passionate people about fascinating places from Sri Lanka and Austria to Arizona and Noosa. Everyone I met was lovely and even though I was exhausted by the time I got back to my hotel room on Friday night (after a great cocktail party), I felt so thrilled I had gone.
As Jennifer said, "Don't be afraid to approach someone you've always wanted to meet. The room is full of like-minded and supportive people."
I'll keep you posted about any trips that come out of my meetings!
Are you a travel writer? Have you been to IMM? What advice would you give?