Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Charlie Starmer-Smith, head of travel for the Telegraph Media Group, reveals all about new developments including a luxury travel site and adventure channel and why he wants PRs to feed in ideas.
Charlie joined The Telegraph as a trainee and has worked on The Telegraph travel team for more than eight years. He was voted travel journalist of the year at the 2009 Travel Press Awards and was named head of travel for Telegraph Media Group in January. He oversees a team of 20 across all travel departments at The Telegraph, which includes online, quarterly magazine Luxury, ipad and print, with responsibility for all travel content across all Telegraph channels.
The travel team is moving towards working across a seven-day operation, led by Charlie and four key senior editors; Maggie O’Sullivan on Discover The Sunday Telegraph; Michael Kerr on the Saturday travel section; Oliver Smith on the website and Andrew Pervis on its luxury magazine, Ultra Travel.
There is currently a team of four that works on the Saturday section, three on the Sunday, six online and five on the magazine. The team is being reshuffled so that one person is in charge of a geographical area, making ownership of different areas easier. The best way to find out who looks after which area is to email firstname.lastname@example.org, which will send a message with a list of journalists, what they cover and how to contact them.
The team still uses freelancers, as a lot of the in-house team tend to be desk-bound. There is a pool of freelancers that are used on a regular basis including Sophie Campbell, Nigel Richardson and Lee Marshall. Charlie is also keen to find new fresh voices to keep content up-to-date and relevant for readers. Charlie said that PRs should pitch to the travel commissioning editors but didn’t think it was a bad idea to approach freelancers as well as that way good ideas won't "slip through the net".
The team works two weeks ahead before going to print, particularly for the Saturday and Sunday sections. The key editorial meeting for print takes place on a Monday morning at around 11am. Selling in something about an event that happens every year should be done a few weeks in advance, while more topical stories can be sent through in the last day or two before the team goes to press.
There is no forward features list as such, but if you can find the person who is dealing with a particular geographical area you are interested in, you’re much more likely to get an idea of what they are looking for in terms of content.
The number of print pages the team needs to fill each week varies and is driven by advertising - Charlie said January saw the biggest travel section to date, running to 48 pages. The Saturday section can vary, from 20 pages at Christmas to 48 pages at busier times. The Sunday issue can feature eight pages at Christmas and 22 pages at busier times. The magazine, which this year will run to seven issues, is usually around 76 pages. Next year the magazine will be published between 10 and 12 times so there are some big opportunities for PRs to secure coverage.
The next magazine issue will be this autumn. While it will still include luxury spa hotels and holidays, it will also cover adventure as luxury is also about access to things. PRs who have adventure-related clients or new and upcoming destinations to visit should get in touch with ideas. The team is still accepting ideas for the autumn issue, although all features have been agreed. There will also be an Ultra Cruise special issue released in November, with a focus on high-end, ocean and river cruising.
Charlie said there are opportunities for brands to sponsor magazine issues. A special edition is being sponsored by AMK Travel to mark its 50th anniversary. The team has also worked with BA on a similar issue with The Telegraph coming up with the 50 best destinations in the world which tied in with BA routes so there was a natural fit. Any PRs wanting to investigate sponsoring issues should speak to the commercial team.
Charlie said the luxury sector is always of interest to the team and a luxury travel site is going to be launched in October. People will still be able to navigate around the usual Telegraph website, but they will be able to find dedicated luxury content in this area.
The average age for print readership at The Telegraph is around 55, while online it's younger at around 41/42, with iPad and Kindle editions also showing a difference. The average reader spends £1,650 per person per holiday and takes up to three or four holidays a year.
The team has always been interested in aspirational destinations, but with the economic downturn, Charlie wants to cover more closer-to-home holidays. With the Olympics taking place, the team is turning the spotlight on UK coverage, but at the same time will not alienate other readers who want to travel far and wide.
The team has launched 14 UK destination guides in the run up to the Olympics, made up of people who live in selected areas choosing what they believe are the best hotels or restaurants, which is then updated throughout the year. A lot of this information is the used in the paper and/or online. Charlie said this was a good opportunity for PRs to get relevant information covered as more than five million users read the travel section of The Telegraph site.
The website currently has a London channel in the run up to the Olympics, and Charlie wants it to keep going after the big event. He thinks that the Olympics will see a surge in tourism after the event so it's important that they’re covering the games.
Exclusives are good for the team and can elevate a story up to the front half of the travel content, maybe even the front page, but Charlie said that a good story doesn’t always have to be exclusive. If The Telegraph covers something that The Times has, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as most people who buy The Telegraph, won't necessarily buy The Times.
The team prefers individual press trips, as they tend to get a much better story. Charlie also said that PRs should be careful when organising itineraries. It's good to let a journalist get on with what he/she wants to do for at least part of the trip rather than being too prescriptive.
Charlie welcomes case studies from PRs. The team covers a lot of news pieces, so if a case study is looking at trends or topical issues affecting travel there’s more of a chance they will be used. Interviews with interesting people associated with travel are also popular. Celebrities need to be people who will resonate with The Telegraph reader. Someone like Katie Price is not really going to work. Although, that is not to say they don’t like quirky celebrities, as the team is currently doing an interview with Miss Piggy from the Muppets.
Research-based stories are welcome and the team has used many in the past, having recently done one with Expedia on air passenger duty. The best person to approach with ideas is Oliver Smith. Charlie said the sample size needed to be significant and, depending on the story, should ideally be around 1,000 participants. Name checks are always given and online a hyperlink will be included to the company which did the research.
Everything that goes in the paper is put online, although it may be presented differently to fit the online style. There is also a sizable budget to commission online-only material. The team wants to increase video and picture guide content and provide bite-sized stories so that readers get as much information even when skimming.
The paper used to have few pages dedicated to business travel, but it's an area that isn’t covered as much at the moment. Charlie is currently working on ideas to reignite this content as there is a big crossover with travel and business.
The travel team currently has more than 26,000 followers on Twitter and 14,000 members on Facebook. Charlie thinks social media is a great way of getting stories out there, but questioned whether social media was good for finding stories. He plans to bring in a full time social media specialist later this year. Charlie prefers people to pitch to him through the more traditional routes first, but said he was happy for a PR to approach him via Twitter if he hasn't responded to their emails.
There are some destinations Telegraph Travel won’t cover. They have to be very careful about advising readers to go to a destination for which they can’t get travel insurance. The team does want to push boundaries when it comes to locations as the holiday map becomes smaller and smaller. They have just sent someone to Somalia, not to encourage travellers, but to do a feature on the "first shoots of tourism".
The team welcomes interviews with CEOs and experts in the travel industry and it's something Charlie is encouraging. He would like to see interviews, not specifically about a particular country, but on the wider issues around the industry. PRs should also consider the business pages if pitching a CEO. If you represent a travel company that is doing very well during economic hardship, the business team is going to want to hear about it.
Charlie is open to meeting PRs, but because of time constraints he prefers a quick coffee in The Telegraph's canteen. The odd lunch does happen but it would have to be something very important. The team gets inundated with invites to press events so they have to pick and choose what they can attend, and Charlie advised PRs to be targeted with their invites.
The team is launching a new adventure section on the travel site, with Ben Fogle as its figure head, in the next few weeks. It will be headed up by adventure editor, Jolyon Attwooll. Charlie said that PRs should start feeding in products and ideas now.
He has also signed up The Hotel Inspector host Alex Polizzi to write a regular column. She will potentially be looking for idea suggestions, although Charlie said PRs should initially pitch ideas to the travel team first.
Charlie thinks that when websites like TripAdvisor started, it was a great tool for consumers to voice their opinions. However, over the years it has become "a victim of its own success". There is too much influence and too many fake reviews that are too hard to police. The fact that you don’t have to provide any proof that you’ve stayed in a particular hotel is the fundamental problem with the website.
He believes there is a real opportunity for The Telegraph to develop its own review-type site, providing the top 20 hotels for singles, families or couples in any given city, which have been reviewed by tried and tested experts and offering the opportunity for readers to agree or disagree. The team is currently collating around 2000 expert reviews with the hope of developing an app. They also plan to publish The Telegraph Book of Great Hotels by 2013.