A few weeks I was forwarded an article with the title: “How the Mammoth Lakes Food Bank is Saving the Town’s Tourism Industry.”
The article was produced by a woman named Madeleine Barber for TTG Media, an industry trade group based in the United Kingdom.
The article was based upon an hour-long phone conversation that Barber had with Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s Executive Director John Urdi.
And it was a well-written, feel-good story, talking about the extra $180,000 raised for the Food Bank in charitable contributions from the community, the challenges he’s faced juggling his day job with the 35 hours/week he puts in at the Food Bank, and even how the Bank has brought the community together and introduced him to new friends.
And the Food Bank has particularly aided those who may be ineligible for unemployment checks and/or CARES Act largesse.
“We recognized that there were a lot of people here that were going to suffer,” said Urdi.
The story wraps up with a description of Mammoth’s bucolic setting and a note of optimism. “after being quarantined in Los Angeles people are going to want to get back to nature.” This is an idea that fuelled the release of a brand-new tagline for Mammoth Lakes: “Release yourself back into the wild.”
Although the international tourism market at Mammoth Lakes is small at 18%, almost half of that is made up of visitors from the UK.
I finish the story and the first thing I said to my cynical self was, “I wonder what that cost.”
So I tracked down the author of the story and wrote her the following email:
My name is Ted Carleton and I live in the Mammoth Lakes, Calif. area.
Someone recently forwarded a piece you wrote about the Mammoth Lakes Food Bank, which appears to have achieved fairly wide circulation.
What do you charge for putting together these types of stories?
What would be the turnaround time?
A few days later, I received the following response:
Thanks for getting in touch! And apologies for not getting back to you sooner – I don’t check that email account very often, so it’s best to get me on this one.
We charge £2,000 for a sponsored feature, which would be on ttgmedia.com indefinitely and be promoted on both social media and in our Midday Bulletin email, which is sent out to 12,000+ subscribers.
We are a trade title, so our audience is primarily travel agents in the UK and Ireland. If this is audience you’re looking to reach and you have the budget available, then I’d be more than happy to let you know the next steps.
*£2,000 equals $2,500.
According to MLT’s Michael Vanderhurst, Black Diamond, MLT’s media agency in the UK, was responsible for bringing about the recent Travel Trade Gazette (TTG) feature.
TTG is described as one of the leading travel trade publications in the UK, and a key source of keeping the primary airline, tour operator, and travel agent contacts abreast of updates and developments with destinations around the world.
TTG requested details of ‘positive new stories’ that were helping the tourism industry during lockdown. MLT and Black Diamond shared details of the MLT food bank initiative with the hope that we could generate an article highlighting the efforts of the food bank and how it has helped the local community and workers while many businesses have closed.
The resulting feature is said to have reached 120,000 readers online, and was also posted on TTG’s Facebook (12,300) and Twitter (47,000) pages, and has helped Mammoth Lakes stand apart from other destinations.
The latest numbers The Sheet had available at its fingertips from FY 2017-2018 show that MLT pays Black Diamond a $20,500 annual agency fee. MLT spent an additional $42,500 with Black Diamond for P.R. work that year.
Point being … I dunno. Marketing ain’t free, and MLT decided that the Food Bank initiative was something it wished to highlight.
But it is rather depressing … that everything, no matter its mission, no matter its intent, is ultimately boiled down to a marketing opportunity.
I do object to the suggestion (that was indeed made to me) that the story didn’t cost us anything. At best, that’s a disingenuous claim.
Hmm. So if I don’t pay the prostitute, but I pay my friend to pay the prostitute, if I see her later, does it count as a trip to the brothel?
Or maybe I simply object to myself and my lousy business acumen. I wrote a Food Bank story a few months back and didn’t get paid a dime for it.
But perhaps the fundamental question is this: Does a story about a community that saves itself with a Food Bank linger in a person’s brain to the extent that they’ll book a trip to that destination a year or two later?
And is this the best use of local marketing dollars right now?
By the way, I listened in on the Bishop City Council meeting on Monday. Council made zero changes before approving its deficit-spending 2020-2021 budget. The city has let go of part-time employees and retained all the full-timers. It has also implemented a hiring freeze.
The city will also place a 1% TUT (Transactions and Use Tax) increase on the November ballot in a bid to shore up its finances. Councilmembers spent a whole bunch of time wordsmithing the ballot language so as to assure voters that the tax hike is all about preservation of essential services. Mayor Laura Smith voted against the measure so she can say she did, though indicated during deliberation she was willing to approve a three-quarter point hike.