If I’m Elected President

My first ever paid blogging assignment, searching for elephants in Borneo.
My first ever paid blogging assignment, searching for elephants in Borneo.

Having served on the Professional Travel Bloggers Association for the past year, I knew elections were coming, but I didn’t think I’d be involved because I still had another year remaining in my term. Last week I received an email from Laurence Norah with a PDF attached to it title “PTBA Election List 2015”. I opened the PDF and my jaw dropped.

I was nominated for every single open position on the board.

It was extremely surprised and incredibly flattered.

I spent a few nights lying awake at night, thinking about whether or not I should run. I thought about it a lot. I also thought about how I whether I would benefit the PTBA as President. In the end, I decided I would, and I should.

Please excuse the length of this post, but I thought that this subject, and the PTBA members, deserved a very thorough and detailed explanation of exactly why I want to be President and why I’d do a good job.

Why I’m Running

I hadn’t considered running for President before I received that email. I was content with my position on the board. But after I received it I had just a few days to decide whether I would run or not.

As a blogger, I’m sure you understand how busy I often get trying to make a living in this crazy job. The Presidency of the PTBA is a very demanding position. I’ve never envied the workload Craig and Laurence carry, and I often wonder how they manage to accomplish as much as they do.

Despite this, after careful deliberation, I decided I wanted to run for President. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. I have a strong personal attachment to the PTBA. I get along well with most of the members and with Michael Hodson, who started it. I also believe strongly in what the PTBA was created to achieve. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how much I want the PTBA to succeed.
  2. I was overwhelmed by all the nominations I received. Those, combined with the encouragement I received from other board members to stay on the board for a second term (you may drop out after a year if you wish), was a big vote of confidence as well. I felt that if all these people believed in me, I should step up and do my part.
  3. Over the past few years I’ve done a lot of work to bridge the gap between bloggers and industry. I’ve helped bloggers find work and helped industry hire bloggers. I’ve developed an intimate understanding of how these relationships work, and I think this gives me a unique ability to help the PTBA succeed in bringing these two groups together.
By the way, I’m running against Bret Love. He also published an outline of why he’s running. I highly recommend that you read it too.  

My Vision for the PTBA

It’s no secret that the PTBA has had some ups and downs.

Some people, like myself, are happy with it.

Some members have felt that the benefits aren’t worth the membership fee.

Some folks downright hate it — but I think most of those people dislike us more for political than practical reasons.

I’d certainly like to mend fences with those who oppose the PTBA, but, the way I see it, my job as President would be first and foremost to create enough value for blogger members that their $75/year membership seems like a steal. Basically, that means finding ways to get industry members to sign up and hire bloggers.

It’s my job to make it rain.

We found them. One of the highlights of my young career.
We found the elephants. It was one of the highlights of my young career.

How To Make It Rain

Disclaimer: These are not guarantees. Politicians make guarantees they can’t deliver. I’m not a politician. I’m a blogger. I call things like I see them. The PTBA’s manpower and financial resources are limited. The PTBA’s mandate also creates limitations and plans have to be approved by the board. If I’m elected these are ideas I would pursue within those limitations to the best of my ability.

The PTBA is a non-profit organization, but it’s still a business, and that’s been often overlooked in pursuit of the organization’s loftier non-monetary goals.

The truth is, all jobs are easier when you have money. The PTBA can’t effectively serve its members with volunteer workers alone. Sure, we’ve made a lot of progress over the past few years with volunteers and have made great inroads with industry advocating for the effectiveness of working with travel bloggers, but if we want to continue to grow we simply need more hands on deck, and that means hiring help. So, we need more money.

Here are some ways I propose to increase our cash flow.

1) Ensure Blogger Memberships Are Worth More Than They Cost

The PTBA has 300 members, give or take, paying $75/year for their PTBA membership. A lot of of those members are likely paying between $100 and $200/year each for premium blogging tools such as Hootsuite, CoSchedule, KingSumo, OptinMonster, and the like.

Premuim apps and plugins are great time savers and productivity boosters. I personally pay at least $300/year in premium app subscriptions, and that’s not including one-off plugin purchases. I pay $10/month for CoScheule, which enables me to schedule multiple social promotions for a blog post on all my social networks for several months into the future in about two minutes, right from my WordPress dashboard, and set them to start the moment my post is published.

I hosted a giveaway last month using the KingSumo plugin ($200 for an individual license) that garnered 12,000 email sign ups for both myself and the sponsor — mostly because of the plugin’s awesome viral sharing function.

I would like to look into purchasing PTBA group licenses for these kinds of apps and plugins. KingSumo is amazing, but at $200 for an individual license, it’s not cheap. The PTBA can buy a developer’s license that includes unlimited websites for $600. If we can spend $600 as an organization to save every member $200, it’s a no-brainer.

If we can find a few different avenues to leverage our bulk-purchasing ability for significant discounts, then the simple dollar value of a PTBA membership will quickly outweigh the cost for members. If the PTBA membership clearly offers more value than it costs, signing up for PTBA would be an obvious investment for bloggers, and we’d likely see more than enough new sign-ups to recover the money spent on group licenses and then some.

In that scenario we would have increased value for members while at the same time earning money that could be put toward further member benefits. This strategy could be executed relatively quickly and without too much work.

2) Create A More Attractive Industry Offer

I’d like to make the PTBA easier and safer for companies to use. Right now we offer a $300/year one-size-fits-all take-it-or-leave-it membership. I hate to say this, I’ve looked at the membership on behalf of clients before and concluded that it wasn’t worth it for them. This membership is totally inflexible and only appeals to a limited number of businesses.

From my perspective, industry members aren’t just a membership fee in the bank. They’re also a value-add for our blogger members because they’ll be offering discounts, freebies, and paying work.

So, I’d like to work on a tiered freemium membership model that would:

  1. Increase industry membership
  2. Increase our attractiveness to different types of companies
  3. Create an email marketing channel to potential paying industry members
  4. Increase industry offers to blogger members

3) Begin Offering Services to Members

This idea is a bit more complicated to execute than those above, but I think it’s worth exploring.

I think it would be beneficial for the PTBA to start offering discount services to members. This is most important for industry members.

We’re giving companies the tools to reach out to our blogger members, but that means nothing if they don’t know what to do with it.

I think we should offer reasonably-priced consulting services to help industry members develop good plans for working with our blogger members. This could mean helping them to plan paid blogger campaigns, showing them how to maximize the effectiveness of a blogger press trip, showing them how a Twitter chat works, or helping them develop a strategy for their on-site blog so that they can hire travel bloggers to help fill it.

If we were to offer affordable consultation services to our industry members we’d be able to help teach them how to work with bloggers, employ some of our members, and increase the number of industry offers to blogger members.

I think it would also be excellent to also offer discounted technical and design services to both our blogger and industry members and hire qualified members of the PTBA to deliver those services. This would help our members improve their blogs. By offering limited, blogging-related only, services to our industry members we’ll be creating an incentive for them to build their own blogs and hire our members to help create content for them.

If we were to hire members as on-call freelancers, I would think it fair to solicit member applications and then interview candidates, just as you would like for any job.

These jobs would not pay high rates. The rates would be set to benefit our members, and a small portion would also likely go to the PTBA, so the bloggers working these jobs would be doing so at least partially for the benefit the PTBA.

But, it would be a starting point for our industry members to work with bloggers, it would help get some bloggers paid, and it would incentivize our industry members to work with our members further. The wheels would start turning and relationships would start to be built.

This idea is more complicated and politically difficult to execute than those above because creates issues of hiring, management, and fairness, but I’m confident that those issues could be resolved.

4) Start Employing Members

In the long term, no organization can survive without full-time employees. Every membership-based professional organization has them, and we’re no exception. We need them.

If the PTBA can start to generate a significant and steady income, then that income should be used to hire employees. When possible, I think the PTBA should hire its own members.

Again, this creates issues of hiring and fairness, but no more than in any other company. I think those issues could be worked out through fair procedures and policies.

5) Other Goals

Above would be my primary goals. If we were to generate enough income to hire employees, I would personally think it would be prudent to have them work on projects such as:

  • A research-based industry rates sheet for hiring bloggers so that both bloggers and industry have a common starting point for negotiations
  • Best practices and ethics recommendations for both industry and bloggers so that we can eventually build a clear and comprehensive professional ethics code
  • Research and studies on the most effective ways industry can work with bloggers to help both bloggers and industry understand how they can create mutually beneficial relationships
  • Improvement of communications with members through a quarterly town-hall style meetings on Google+ and Twitter.
  • Improvement of board communications with members through a monthly presidential vlog and podcast.
These days, though, amazing trips don't cut it. We need to earn a living, and that's my focus.
These days, amazing trips don’t cut it. We need to earn a living, and that’s my focus.

Why I’m Qualified

After a year as a very active and involved board member of the PTBA, I understand how the organization functions very well.

During that time I:

  • Organized PTBA-sponsored presentations about working with bloggers, including one at ITB Asia and a series of six sessions & workshops at Arabian Travel Market.
  • Represented the PTBA at those events.
  • Created promotional materials for the PTBA for TBC Asia.
  • Introduced the PTBA to several of my industry clients

Outside the PTBA I also have a strong track record of working for the benefit of bloggers. Over the past couple of years I’ve:

  • Helped several companies put together fair and effective blogger outreach programs.
  • Spoken about the benefits of working with travel bloggers at Digital Innovation Asia and in front of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

I’ve been a part of the travel blogging industry for quite a long time. Longer than most. This community was there for me as I lived on three continents, went through three break-ups, and went through several family crises. In a way, the travel blogging community has been one of the most stable parts of my life over the past five years. It’s important to me.

I think that my involvement in the community has shown that I genuinely care about helping to improve and elevate our profession by offering advice to bloggers, finding new and unique ways for bloggers to work with industry, educating both bloggers and industry about ways to effectively work together, and simply helping people out when I can.

A Quick Comparison

In his outline of why he’s running Bret Love made a list of reasons he’s the most qualified candidate. For clarity’s sake, and since Bret and I are the only two candidates running for President, I thought it would be a good idea to compare our experience side by side.

Bret Said

I’ve been managing businesses since I was 18 years old.

Matt Said

I founded a national magazine in Taiwan when I was 26 and managed it until sold it at 29. Since then I’ve managed my own freelance career including some gigs managing other writers.

Bret Said

I became a professional writer while still in college…I’ve supported my family as a full-time writer for 20+ years…Working my way up to Managing Editor…managing dozens of writers.

Matt Said

I studied journalism in one of Canada’s best universities, got an A on my Media Studies thesis, graduated with honors, and have been a professional writer since I was 24 (12 years). I’ve also worked as an editor and managed large numbers of contributors.

Bret Said

At age 46, I’m considerably older than the average travel blogger.

Matt Said

I’m 36.

Bret Said

As a blogger, I’ve been devoted to freely sharing information that can build up our industry from day one.

Matt Said

Bret and I both feel strongly about sharing information and I believe we are both very helpful to new bloggers.

Bret Said

Through Green Travel Media we’ve provided paying work to nearly two dozen bloggers.

Matt Said

Through my work with various travel and online companies I’d estimate that I’ve provided paying work to around 150 bloggers.

Bret Said

We need someone who has extensive contacts in the traditional media world.

Matt Said

I’ve written for lots of newspapers and magazines including AFAR, Up! (the WestJet in flight magazine), and En Voyage (the Eva Air in flight magazine), but not as many as Bret.

Bret Said

We need someone…who can be an outspoken advocate for working with bloggers and exemplify the type of professional blogger they’ll want to work with.

Matt Said

Given our similar work backgrounds, I think it’s fair to say this statement applies equally to Bret and myself.

Bret Said

(I will advocate for bloggers at) Canada Media Marketplace and the New York Travel Festival this month.

Matt Said

I’m leading a six-session series on working with bloggers for the PTBA at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai next month and working on speaking engagements in Bhutan, Thailand, and Sri Lanka after that.

Bret Said

(I will) Improve communications, both among PTBA board members and with PTBA members, via a monthly newsletter.

Matt Said

The PTBA already does this, though not as consistently as we’d like.

Bret Said

(I will) Engage in dialogue with current, past and future PTBA members on how we can make the organization more beneficial to its members.

Matt Said

I’ll do monthly vlog/podcasts and hold quarterly town hall meetings with members.

Bret Said

(I will) Establish a comprehensive resource of educational materials for bloggers.

Matt Said

This is already a PTBA project. I’ve also been doing this independently on my own blog for about a year and will continue doing both with the PTBA and on my own.

Bret Said

(I will) Double the PTBA’s blogger membership.

Matt Said

I think that this is not only possible over the next 3-years (a president is part of the board for 3 years), but that it’s absolutely necessary for the health of the PTBA.

Bret Said

(I will) Strengthen relationships with major travel industry organizations.

Matt Said

I would like to pursue this, but it’s not the top priority for me. I’d rather focus on creating benefits that directly benefit members’ bottom lines.

Bret Said

(I will) Quadruple the PTBA’s industry membership.

Matt Said

I think that this is not only possible over the next 3-years (a president is part of the board for 3 years), but that it’s absolutely necessary for the health of the PTBA.

Bret Said

(I will) Improve transparency in the PTBA’s finances

Matt Said

The PTBA has procedures in place for this, but the execution has not been great due to unique circumstances. This should be an easy problem to solve.

Bret Said

(I will) Encourage growth and innovation

Matt Said

I will focus on finding ways to help members save and make money.

Bret Said

(I will) Nobody will work harder to make this dream a reality than Mary and I.

**Mary withdrew from the nomination for Secretary after Bret made this statement.

Matt Said

I will continue my hard work.

In Conclusion

I’d like to thank everyone who put their faith in me and nominated me for board positions. And thank you to all of the bloggers that I have worked with — and will work with — because without you I wouldn’t be able to have the career that I do.

I hope you’ll elect me president so that I can continue working to find new and creative ways for us all to earn a living while pursuing lives that most people aren’t even imaginative enough to dream of.


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17 thoughts on “If I’m Elected President”

  1. I’m a big fan and supporter of both you and Bret. After reading both, I think you both will do great things for PTBA. Several of us non members haven’t joined because of frustration over the perceived “benefits” of joining, or lack their of. So i’ll ask you, and Bret, the same question.

    Why should I join PTBA? What are the benefits to me? What can you guarantee to members?

    • I wish I could make a big guarantee Erick. But, as of now, that’s impossible because I can’t guarantee the board will vote in any single initiative.

      But, I can say that it’s very likely we can accomplish the following things fairly quickly:

      – Use group purchasing power to offer access to some premium plugins and services that are worth far more than the $75/membership fee

      – Negotiate discounts on educational resources for members, such as books and training services, which we already have done with Travel Blog Success.

      – We can and will increase the flow of industry offers to blogger members. But, that will likely take more time than the above benefits

  2. Matt, I’m incredibly impressed by this piece. I know you do so much work for bloggers within the PTBA and on your own, but I didn’t realize how extensive it was until I read it all at once.

    Thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do. You’ll make a great President of the PTBA. I’ll be voting for you on April 5.

  3. As one of the bloggers you’ve hired in the past Matt, I’m glad to hear you’re running! I’ve considered becomign a member in the past and you at the helm might put me over the edge. I’ve alwasy enjoyed your voice and transparency, it’s really encouraging overall. Best of luck to you, both of you!

  4. You’re signing up for a big job, Matt! But I love your ideas- especially the bundling of apps and web services. I’d like to make a teensie request in that instead of KingSumo, trying to negotiate something with Rafflecopter 🙂 It offers way more social sharing and I currently pay about $100 per giveaway to allow newsletter subscribing, pinterest, twitter, FB, etc sharing. So… thousands of dollars annually. That would be a huge benefit to me as a member!

    • Sure, we’ll definitely look into Rafflcopter. I think that when we get to the point where we’re actually making purchases, we’ll open up a discussion with members about what they’d like to use the most, and start making comparisons.

  5. Matt I have always admired how you support bloggers new and old. You don’t see them as competition. You don’t point out how you are doing it better than everyone else. You have always been a team player in the industry and tried to pass on the love to those around you. To me, this is the best quality for a president. It can’t be the “Matt” show. It needs to be about the greater good. Best of luck man!

  6. I think you’d make a great President.
    I love how easily you’ve made new information available to other bloggers, and I mean really valuable information about gigs, resources to improve our blogs, tips for writing better etc. You’re blog and newsletters have been a solid resource for new bloggers. I believe the PTBA and the travel blogging community in general (for those of us who are not in the PTBA yet) will benefit greatly from a leader with values such as yours.

    Good luck!! 🙂


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