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Gary Arndt: Chat Transcript


Think you’re just a little guy and incapable of competing with the big guys? Think again.

Gary Arndt is an award-winning blogger, whose travel blog was named one of the top 25 blogs by Time magazine in 2010. At New Media Expo in January, Gary will be leading a session called “How To Compete Against Billion Dollar Media Empires And Win” which you won’t want to miss. In the meantime, check out the transcript from when Gary joined us for our weekly Facebook chat.


Gary Arndt Hello from Barcelona, Spain!
New Media Expo Hi Gary! Thanks so much for joining us – especially since you’re traveling and I know time is tight. Tell us, what was the one thing you did that made your blog stand out from all the rest and receive such awesome recognition?
Gary Arndt In the travel space, there are many big brands: National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Travel Channel and every newspaper in the world.

Yet, no one can remember the name of anyone who writes for any of those outlets. People know the brands, but none of the people.

The single biggest thing I did was share my personality and my story. I did things at a personal level that big brands were incapable of doing.
Gary Arndt In addition to the content I was creating, I also had a meta-story. People could learn about my background, where I had traveled to and it made the entire experience much more rich than just a series of articles in a magazine.
Lou Mongello Hey Gary! Great to “see” you!
New Media Expo What are some of the personal things you do that Lonely Planet and National Geographic don’t?
Gary Arndt 1) I meet with my readers all over the world. There isn’t a major city I don’t visit where I don’t sit down and have drinks or dinner with someone. I usually get one to a dozen invitations from my readers in any city I visit. Mainstream journalists never do that.
Gary Arndt 2) I’m extremely open and transparent about what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. Other than producing an article, there is little you know about who created a post and the story behind it. I’ve posted my phone number on twitter many times :)
Gary Arndt 3) I’m willing to go off topic to show my personality. I’m a big fan of the Green Bay Packers and I think most of my readers know that :)
TBEX Don’t you see a shift in the way print journalists approach their audience, though? I feel like I see more & more journalists using social media & being more “personal” with readers (& potential readers). Is being “personal” really enough to set us apart these days?
Kerwin McKenzie Hiya Gary. So what advice would you give to others trying to get their voices heard?
Gary Arndt Two question I often pose to people when I speak is:

1) Have you heard of National Geographic?
2) Can you name a single person who has ever written for them in their 125 year history?

Most people can’t. They follow the brand, not any 1 person.
Gary Arndt TBEX, to a point. Everyone is trying to jump on the social media bandwagon. At the end of the day, they aren’t paid for social media and they have no vested interest in growing an audience.

There was a great article I read today from the past editor of the Washington Post. His biggest regret is pushing the brand, not the personal brands of the writers.

He is correct.
New Media Expo Can’t a person be a brand?
Rick Wolff Sounds like it’s good advice NEVER to brand oneself, lest we end up like NatGeo.
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, to a point. Oprah is a brand, but she is also a person. People like her because she is a person. Her brand is fundamentally different from Vogue or Wal-Mart which isn’t a brand.

People like Oprah because she is public about her weight struggles and other personal issues.
Rick Wolff I hate Oprah because she’s a brand.
TBEX That’s true, I just wonder whether being a personality is going to be enough in the future to set individuals apart, since brands & the people behind them have as much access (if not more) to social media & other personality-driven media. What will set individuals apart then?
Gary Arndt Rick, it depends on how you define brand. There are corporate brands and there are personal brands.
Kerwin McKenzie It’s tough though Gary; I just saw a major airline share a link of a story that was done on them from two major U.S. TV stations. I don’t see them doing that for bloggers as often.

It’s changing though as I do get my posts shared by the airlines I mention as they like the content that I provide.

So I guess it will take time for bloggers to compete with big time media.
New Media Expo Gary Arndt What are some of the topics you tackle that the major travel brands won’t?
Gary Arndt TBEX, the problem is what happens when the personality becomes too big for the media outlet? Ultimately, at the end of the day, they are employees. If they get fired, the benefit they had from being associated with the brad can disappear.

Witness what happens to the NYT Frugal Traveler after they get replaced. Working for the NYT is very powerful. Formerly working for them isn’t.
Gary Arndt Rick, a lot of people like Oprah :)
Gary Arndt Kerwin, don’t try to play the same game they do. Other big companies will always want to work with other big companies before htey do bloggers. Go directly to the people.
Rick Wolff But they like her IN SPITE OF herr being a brand, not because of it.
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, I’m not sure it is an issue of topics per se. It is broader than that. Any given newspaper or magazine might take on any given issue. That doesn’t give them personality. It is the little stuff inbetween the posts that can help create personality. It is the voice that the post is written in as well.
New Media Expo It’s Oprah’s personality and the personal way she interacts with her community that makes them want to buy into the brand, though, isn’t it? Once more brands figure that out, bloggers may have to find a new angle.
Kerwin McKenzie Rick; they can relate to her is my feeling; she has that likable personality :-D
Emily Chase Smith Gary, in your experience, what’s the best way to go directly to the people?
Dave Thackeray Is that Everything Everywhere the telecoms company? Glad to see they’re doing something right for a change!
Gary Arndt Rick, they buy into the brand because they like Oprah as a person. The person came before the brand. Again, this is all semantics about what you call a “brand”.

There is something qualitatively different about Oprah vs ESPN.
TBEX That’s a good point. So does that mean you think being a personality is enough to set individuals apart from brands in the future, too? Or is there something else we should be poised to do?
Gary Arndt Dave, I had the name before they did :)
Gary Arndt Emily, there is no magic bullet. It has taken me 6 years to get where I am. I’ve built my audience by traveling full time and doing things that other people want to do. I’ve been engaging with people the entire time.
Rick Wolff I will think upon these things re: branding. I’m listening.
Emily Chase Smith I see an engagement pattern in what you’re saying – all the way to meeting individuals for drinks. :)
Gary Arndt TBEX, have an interesting personality :) I see too many bloggers that are trying to duplicate what magazines do. Don’t play their game. Give them the “6 Great Things To Do In London” space. Anyone can write that.

Be funny. Be sarcastic. Be vulgar. Be inspiring. Be something that you don’t see the big media companies do.
Gary Arndt Emily, yes. My life is a giant way to scam free drinks out of readers :)
Emily Chase Smith I’m also intrigued by you ” doing things other people want to do.” You’re taking them where they want to be.
TBEX HA! “Have an interesting personality.” Noted. I’ll work on that. ;)
Rick Wolff Were/are there any things in the personal contact sphere that gave you pause, or hesitation?
Rick Wolff I.e., that you didn’t want to do?
Gary Arndt When I made the decision to make a business out of this, I realized i had to do what the mainstream writers weren’t doing.

I travel FAR more than any traditional travel writer in the world. I’ve committed myself to a lifestyle and I think that is reflected in my audience.

You can’t fake that level of commitment and I think people respect it.
Women on the Road How far should you go in sharing who you are and how you live? Where do you draw that line?
Megan Enloe So….be controversial?
TBEX Is the online travel space any different from any other market in this regard? In other words, is the “be personal” advice applicable to every industry? Or do you see some areas where it works better than others?
New Media Expo Women on the Road As Gary Arndt seems to live everywhere, I imagine he has different lines.
Gary Arndt Rick, no. I’ve never had a problem with it. Everyone is very respectful and usually just have lots of questions about traveling and the places I’ve been.
Gary Arndt Women on the Road, Everyone has to set their own boundaries. I’ve talked to many female bloggers who, understandably, have different limits that I do.

As a general rule, however, the more open the better.
Shane Ketterman Sorry I’m Late! Welcome Gary and so happy you are speaking at NMX :)
Gary Arndt TBEX, I don’t think it is true in print, with the exception of columnists. Most want a consistent voice for their publication. The Economist doesn’t even list article authors.

It is less of an issue on television, but even then there are limits to what on air personalities can do/say.
Gary Arndt Megan, not necessarily. Saying repulsive/racist things will get you attention, but it wont get you fans.

You have to have an opinion and be able to defend it. People will respect you even if they disagree.
TBEX Women on the Road Speaking as a woman, when I travel by myself I’m fairly public about where I am (country, city) but I don’t check into Foursquare publicly, for instance. In some cases, I don’t even check into Foursquare until I’m leaving that place – especially if it’s the hotel I’m staying in! :)
New Media Expo Gary Arndt By “the more open the better” do you mean people should share home towns and Foursquare checkins?
Gary Arndt You’ve all heard the phrase “create amazing content”. I think that is true, but personality can often be the well that the content comes from.

Gary Vaynerchuk for example didn’t get his audience because people like wine tasting shows. He got it because he’s Gary Vaynerchuk.
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, with what I do in travel, sure. But again, I can understand if people don’t want to do that. I don’t think Foursquare is a deal breaker.

It isn’t just sharing your location (but that can be part of it), it is sharing your opinions and feelings as well.
New Media Expo Gary Arndt – Who do you write for besides yourself?
Gary Arndt TBEX, who is this? Mary Jo or Jessica? :)
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, as in outlets? I don’t really write for anyone.

I do occasionally have photography showcased on Outside Magazine, but that’s about it.
Gary Arndt My favorite sports blog is a Packer Fan Blog. They do stuff that ESPN never would. They do it because they are unabashed fans. That is why I like reading it.
New Media Expo Gary Arndt Beyond personality how did you get noticed? What did you use to drive traffic and what drew people to see your blog in its early days?
Gary Arndt They have no airs about trying to be objective.
TBEX This is Jessica. :) *waving at Gary*
TBEX (And as an aside to anyone who might be lurking, I’ve seen Gary speak a few times at TBEX conferences, & he’s an excellent speaker. Go to his NMX talk, y’all!)
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, several things:

1) I’ve put a lot of emphasis on my photography. I knew nothing about photography 5 years ago, and today I’m an award winning travel photographer. I think the quality of the images makes a difference.

2) I made a purposeful emphasis on visual content. It is easy for people to digest and consume. I also think travel is fundamentally visual.

3) I got lucky. I was an early blogger and the Time Magazine thing didn’t hurt, but that was a result of the other things I did.

4) I also worked my ass off. I’ve posted a travel photo every day for 5 years straight. I’ve spent half a decade living out of a bag, going to places that people would love to visit. I think that is reflected in the WOW factor that people have when they discover me.
Gary Arndt I also try to answer every Tweet, FB question and email I get from readers. I have an assistant to help me with many things, but the content and engagement is something I can’t outsource.
Amy Moore What’s the biggest mistake you see bloggers make when it comes to audience or branding?
Gary Arndt One other tactic is to USE big media outlets to promote you.

Because you are a personality and an expert, you can be an excellent source for quotes for stories.See Translation
New Media Expo Gary Arndt It’s different now for bloggers. There’s a lot more competition and a lot more people clamoring for attention. How can a new blogger get noticed and hear about all the noise?
Gary Arndt Amy, the biggest mistake, and I see this a lot in food, parenting and travel, is viewing other bloggers as your audience.
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, you have to really make a splash. You have to do something really different. How you do that is up to you.

You also have to network your ass off.

I’m amazed at how few bloggers in the travel niche for example have never bothered to contact myself or other successful travel bloggers.

I know many people are intimidated by bigger bloggers, but the reality is, I answer all my emails and am gald to talk to almost anyone.
James Craven Hello Gary, billion dollar media brands have advertising, circulation and marketing depts, what do you do as an individual brand to compete in these areas?
Gary Arndt If I was starting a new blog today, the first thing I’d do is make a list of all the top bloggers in that space and try to get to know them.

Get them to mentor me, learn what they do, and just be friends with them.

Most of the bloggers I know, I know because they just happened to start blogs at the same time I did.

Everyone starts with an audience of zero. If you are going to have a small audience, at least have the right people paying attention.
TBEX You are a good resource, Gary, but trying to “be the next Gary” probably isn’t the right goal for newer travel bloggers. The space is changing, & trying to emulate the people who’ve already done it seems like it will put you behind the curve instead of ahead of it, no?
Rick Wolff I’m going to blog about something sometime, haven’t picked a “space” yet. Taking notes.
Gary Arndt James, at a certain level you can’t. You can’t compete with an 8 figure advertising budget.

The closest thing you could do is run Facebook advertising, which can be done surprisingly cheap if you do it right, but even that has its own drawbacks.

If you work hard and hustle, you can carve out your own niche.
New Media Expo Not all the top bloggers are very forthcoming, they don’t want to give away their “secrets” for free or they simply don’t answer their email. Are there any resources – books, webinars, classes, etc. you’d recommend to bloggers?
Gary Arndt TBEX, odds are, yes.

Not everyone can travel around the world forever.

My advice to new bloggers in the travel space is to have a destination focus. They tend to do the best with money.

I know one guy who makes a very good living off a site that just focuses on one of the Canary Islands :)
Gary Arndt New Media Expo, other than knowing how to set up wordpress, there is little you are going to get out of these webinars.

Most blogs about blogging know nothing about the problems I’m discussing. There is no problogging channels on TV. There isn’t a marketing section in newspapers.

Whatever you see online is usually the pinnacle of that media for those niches.

I think the best teacher is experimentation.

I seldom talk about business just because I don’t want to bore my readers with talk of business when I can talk about more interesting things I’m doing around the world.
Gary Arndt I also think every niche is different. A marketer who markets about marketing to other marketers isn’t really going to know specifics about any given industry.
Gary Arndt Also, if you don’t have the budget big brands have, you have to replace that with time and work. Almost every big blog I can think of in any niche has been around for years. It doesn’t happen overnight.

You have to be in this for the long haul.
Emily Chase Smith Gary, can you give us an example of a “splash” you’ve orchestrated or seen?
New Media Expo As we wrap up, Gary, is there anything you’d like to plug? What are you up to?
Gary Arndt The entire reason I submitted the proposal for this session at NME was because I was so frustrated with the blogging gurus that never addressed this problem because they didn’t know it existed.
Rick Wolff I don’t think I have any “long hauls” left.
Gary Arndt I’m currently in Barcelona where I”ll be speaking at an event on the Yahoo campus on Friday.

After that I’ll be back in the US for December to write a book.

I don’t have any webinars or ebooks to plug :)

If you would like to follow my adventures as I travel around the world, feel free to follow along on my Facebook page: Everything Everywhere!
Derek Sass Hi Garry, I am planning a trip from Johannesburg to Namibia and then down the west coast to Cape Town and blog aimed at Baby Boomers. My internet access in a lot of that area is likely to be intermittent. Do you have any advice?
Gary Arndt Emily, one of the best examples in my niche would probably be Sonia Gil. She come out of nowhere and within a year had a very successful travel video podcast.

New Media Expo Thank you, Gary Arndt. I’d like to encourage the NMX community to continue to ask any questions they have – if Gary would be so kind as to check back from time to time. And please don’t miss Gary’s session “How to Compete With Billion Dollar Empires and Win” at New Media Expo ’13. http://nmxlive.com/2013-lv/speakers/gary-arndt/

We hope you can join us for this week’s Facebook chat featuring Jay Baer. Jay’s NMX session is titled “Youtility: Why Smart Companies Focus on Helping, Not Selling” and he’ll be giving away lots of great information on the topic during the chat. Join us this Wednesday at 10am PT/1pm ET to ask Jay questions about how to avoid selling–and start helping instead.

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