Helming a trade association with the words "food," "wine" and "travel" in the title may seem like a dream gig for anyone interested in pursuing the good life. (And nowadays, let's face it, who isn't?) Food Culture recently caught up with Maralyn D. Hill, President of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), https://www.ifwtwa.org, to learn more about the challenges of being a lifestyle journalist, how food and luxury goods companies covet this elite group, and why the average person is reading more about food.
Maralyn D. Hill, President, International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association
First Job Flight Attendant, American Airlines
Favorite Food Personality Julia Child (deceased); Paul Bocuse (living)
What I'm Reading Right Now WordPress 24-Hour Trainer, by George Plumley; Roadside Crosses, by Jeffery Deaver
As President of the IFWTWA, how have you seen membership change over time?
The International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association was aptly named, as we hold the unique distinction of covering the three aspects of a destination and culture -- the food, wine and travel. The changes I’ve seen over the past three years while serving on the Board are a more diverse membership with respect to age and writing genre, increased involvement of more members, and a full Board of Directors.
There are many reasons for our growth.
When I was elected to the Board of Directors in 2006, we brought in a new webmaster to redesign our IFWTWA and Global Writes ezine sites so they were not static. They are a work in progress as everything is being changed to meet current needs of our members and potential members seeking a professional organization.
We started offering media trips again.
Global Writes started publishing on a regular basis with new articles by our members going up weekly. The articles are promoted through RSS feeds, TravMedia.com, Food4Media.com, Travel4Press, Tripatini, and Linkedin, among other sites.
We started social networking. This has added a tremendous awareness of IFWTWA being an organization on the move. Our social networking groups are open to members and those interested in learning more about what we do.
We now have a full Board of Directors who are all committed and engaged in making the organization valuable for all members, and we also listen closely to member requests.
Younger members are encouraged to get involved and together with our Board creates a dynamic team working together.
We are adding new benefits every few months, if not more frequently.
We offered a scholarship for the first time in 2009 and plan for it to be an annual award and hopefully expand categories in the future.
Is it due to more independent food bloggers?
In part, yes. It has only been during the past three months that having an active blog has been accepted for membership. That was a huge change in our guidelines. Someone has to be an established and active blogger on food, wine or travel before his/her blog is considered a suitable qualification. In addition, it has to be well written.
The occasional or random-topic blogger is not going to qualify.
There certainly are new successful bloggers that we are now able to recognize because they have talent.
Do members of the IFWTWA mostly write on their own (their own blogs and newsletters), or are they commissioned to write pieces by larger, traditional publishers?
It’s a mix of both. The majority of IFWTWA members are freelance writers who have consistently published traditional print columns, articles and books. Many have their own blogs, and some have widely-read newsletters.
For those that write on their own or independently, how and where do they find content to write about?
The difficulty is not finding content, but finding paying publishing outlets.
Every month we send our members “Press Pass,” which has several pages of story angles and publications looking for articles on various topics. Each month the market focus is different. Many of our members say they find steady clients from the leads in “Press Pass” and go to back issues and rework them when needed.
The press trips we offer provide content for many stories. You learn the food, wine and travel of many areas of the world, domestically and internationally.
Associate members will provide leads that members can follow.
A food event that was a highlight of my experience was attending Bocuse d’Or in Lyon in 2009 with French Master Chef Hervé Laurent and my co-author Brenda Hill. This was a Culinary Olympics of the world and it was a combination of food, wine and travel. I have enough content from that one event to write hundreds of articles.
Is the press release dead?
I don’t think the press release is dead, I think it has taken different forms. I know when we send out our press releases on TravMedia.com and Food4Media.com, we reach over 30,000 public relations organizations. The numbers for press releases on other social media sites are also huge. There are still people who read newspapers, and press releases are still featured. However, I believe it is best to hit as many markets as possible.
What are communicators and marketers doing to catch the attention of today's food writer?
This is a challenging question as there are so many ways and each is different.
More press trips featuring culinary tourism are being offered.
Many are using social networking to connect with today’s food writer.
Most manufacturers have better websites discussing their products and how to use them.
Has a slowdown in luxury goods sales and tourism affected the membership of IFWTWA, or the content of what the members write about?
Not at all. If anything, I believe it has helped us, as our members appreciate how much we do to keep up with current trends.
Do members of the IFWTWA consider themselves journalists first and foodies/culinary professionals second, or vice-versa?
As a member of IFWTWA one would be a professional journalist first and have a preference for writing about food, wine or travel. I do need to emphasize that all three categories hold equal importance in our Association.
When I co-authored my first book, “Our Love Affairs with Food & Travel,” we featured over 90 chefs from 19 countries and 17 states. It was a book about chefs. But, without writing skills, it would not have been successful. For me it lead to interviewing Carolina Chefs — writing a column and TV show — for Time Warner Cable for 4 years.
I didn’t start with food writing. I wrote advertising copy, incentive programs, motivational programs, and support material. Now, I write about food and travel — a labor of love.
But, a journalist has to know how to write and keep improving. Guidelines for publications change and you have to stay current.
What do you think of the quality of food writing overall? Has it improved over time?
In general, I like it. Due to the availability of seeing professionals on the Food Network, food shows, and all of the attentions chefs get, the average person has been exposed to may more elements of food. As a result, more people have a better understanding and can write better explanations about food experiences. I believe there have been wonderful writers around for years, but now there are more outlets for expression.
To blog consistently, you generally have to have a passion for your topic. As a result, the passion shows through. I’ve interviewed hundreds of chefs. The common denominator of great chefs is their passion. I fell this is also true of great writers.
Maralyn encourages any readers who are food, wine or travel writers to check out the International Association of Food, Wine & Travel Writers (IFWTWA) at www.ifwtwa.org. She suggests taking a look at the “Benefits Brochure” as well as a sample issue of “Press Pass” and “Global Writes.” She is available for questions at Maralyn@ifwtwa.org.