We sit down with Glen Mutel to find out what being a travel writer and magazine editor at the same time entails, and about the relaunch of the official magazine for the Association of British Travel Agents.
Tell us about ABTA Magazine?
ABTA Magazine is a trade title, traditionally a monthly, but we're in the process of relaunching it as a quarterly. It's produced for ABTA members, which means primarily tour operators and travel agents, and various other travel companies who are on our subscription database.
How is ABTA Magazine different from other travel trade outlets?
We are a client mag, and we are the mouthpiece for ABTA to a large extent; we cover what they do, we cover their opinions on things, we echo their take on things, but at the same time ABTA are clever enough to give us some leeway and allow us to look at things from both sides in our analysis and in our features. I'd say we are a client magazine, but we're also very much a travel trade magazine. We've got a bit of a twin identity, but you never really feel out of the loop when your client is ABTA, so that's a good thing.
What prompted ABTA's multiplatform relaunch?
ABTA Magazine has a valid reason to be in print. We go to agents and operators, not just chief executives but front lane agents, and it's a good thing to have a print title sat on your desk, people can come and pick it up, but there has to be a balance there as well. We had to have some kind of online identity, and because we're ABTA we couldn't go down the route of rolling news, as I don't think that's what people want from ABTA Magazine.
Now we've got the print title which is quarterly, and deals with analysis of travel issues, then we've got our online resource, www.countrybycountry.com, which is a compendium of travel information, travel essentials for various destinations, as well as frequently updated content, highlights, features, and we have an e-newsletter as well.
Do you work with PRs?
Yes we do. Any kind of PR agency; there's quite a broad church out there. The same names crop up again and again, but we're open to working with anyone.
What information from PRs do you find most useful?
There are certain approaches that certainly work well, everyone in my position gets a lot of emails, so it always helps to know what the story is pretty soon on, to have pictures if they are there as part of the press release, that kind of thing. To have the press release targeted to what we do, I mean stuff like that every PR knows, and when they can I'm sure they all try to do that, but when they do it's helpful.
Do you use freelancers?
We have used freelancers heavily in the past, and we will do again, but the way in which we use freelancers is evolving at the moment. There was a time when we did twelve 100-page issues a year, and a lot of freelancers were required to fill that amount of space. These days we do a quarterly print title, so there will be less call for freelancers in the short term.
However, once countrybycountry is up and running then the need to pay freelancers to write for us will grow, and hopefully we can get back to the levels we where at. We've also got other titles as well, like the dailies for WTM, and alongside ABTA Magazine we're going to have supplementary guides and they will require the use of a lot of freelancers.
What do you consider best practice for freelancers?
Meet the brief, that's very important. Some freelancers, if they don't like the brief they write to their own brief, and that's a big no-no because even if it's good work it essentially creates work for the editor.
The most important thing is that people re-read their work. That might sound patronising but in the past, when I first took over this job, I got a lot of pieces from people who had finished their piece and submitted it, and it didn't look like they'd re-read it to see if their sentences were as good as they could be. I would spend a lot of time re-ordering sentences, and that's the minimum you expect.
What impact has social media had on your job?
I'm yet to be convinced of Facebook's use to me, professionally. I'm aware it's useful to others, and we do use it because I think it's important you have a presence. Beyond that I don't see amazing results coming from it, but I'm happy to be proved wrong about that, and my opinion is slowly changing.
Twitter on the other hand is invaluable, but it has taken me some time to accept this; if you had had this interview with me last year I would have admitted to being a sluggish Twitter user. It's very good for shouting about your news as well. For example, if you win something as a journalist, or your team wins something, you feel very sheepish about throwing that into conversations, but on Twitter there's a different kind of etiquette, so you can go out there and really sing your company's and magazine's praises.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Well I'm an editor, but unlike some editors I have a 50/50 job between editing and writing, and because we have other magazines, particularly National Geographic Traveller, and I write a lot for that, I do a column for that. I would hate to just write and hate to just edit, but I really like writing and editing, and it can be difficult switching from head to head. If I've been writing it can be hard to suddently have to edit, and if I've been editing it can be hard to suddenly have to write, but if I didn't have that I think I would miss it.