SATW Member Spotlight: Tom Adkinson
SATW member and avid angler Tom Adkinson has been a committed member of the organization since 1988, joining just in time for the convention in Australia.
” Considering the people I met, the experiences I had and the trout I didn’t catch, that was the most extraordinary trip ever,” Adkinson said.
He has a successful career on the public relations side of the travel industry, and now as an independent writer has returned to his journalism roots. Adkinson is an SATW Marco Polo recipient and continues to be involved as a member and is a mentor to newer members. Tom Adkinson discusses his next endeavors and the tools and resources he uses to stay ahead professionally.
A couple sentences about yourself and your work for people who may not know you:
With a family background in journalism it was daunting, but useful, to ask my AP editor father to read anything I wrote for school), I rolled through j-school and into daily newspapers and freelancing on the side. A fluke took me to Southern Living Magazine as a travel writer, and another fluke took me to the Grand Ole Opry and travel public relations. I continued to freelance a bit and increased the pace after finally retiring from the PR world.
What does it mean to you to be a Marco Polo member?
My selection as a Marco Polo was a total surprise and an absolute honor. I still shake my head when I see my name on the Marco Polo list.
You spent much of your career as a travel PR professional and now work as a freelance journalist. What has that been like personally and professionally?
I became known in SATW because of my PR work, but I had a life before PR in news and travel writing. In fact, I never expected to leave journalism, but PR gave me a chance to return to my Nashville roots.
In those decades of PR work, I truly enjoyed knowing what feature writers and reporters needed and helping them find solid stories. My background made that possible. Now that I’m back on the writing side, I’m glad I understand the resources and skills that PR professionals hold.
What defines the core of your work now and what are your specialties or niche areas?
I like to joke that I’m a master of the 500-word feature. That’s my shorthand for saying I enjoy putting single subjects in the spotlight. In the process, I hope I entertain readers and perhaps inspire them to visit a place or have a particular experience themselves.
I particularly enjoy stories that have some element of nature in them. I feel I perform a modest service to Mother Nature if someone who reads one of my stories says, “I’m glad that place exists,” or “I want to hike that trail, float that river or see that vista.”
What has been the key to your professional growth?
A Texas travel writer named Caleb Pirtle, the fellow who took me out of a newsroom and onto the staff at Southern Living, showed me how much joy there is in feature writing. By osmosis, I learned from him how much fun it is to meet people and share good times. The icing on the cake is being able to share those experiences. That’s a growth opportunity that never ends.
What is your next professional milestone?
I joke that I write for beer money and that my goal is to write for craft beer money. Putting aside wisecracks about payment scales, my professional goal continues to be finding topics I like that match the interest of editors.
How do you think travel PR or journalism will change in the next 5-10 years?
The reality of the last many years – shrinking and disappearing markets for traditional travel writing – will continue. That puts the burden on travel writers (storytellers, information purveyors, valued resources) to seek new ways to generate revenue. More and more, travel writers will have to find their own audiences.
What is the destination that has had the biggest impact on you and why?
Australia, my first SATW meeting destination. I had great experiences with SATW members there, and I learned a lot about tourism industry hospitality. I saw how curiosity could lead to friendships and great memories. It was a career-influencing time. Beyond Australia, the answer is China, simply because it is so vast, so varied and so colorful.
What professional advice do you have for others who may be transitioning their professional focus?
To quote a certain sporting goods manufacturer, “Just do it,” if you’re thinking seriously about change and if you really have the desire. Then, talk with your SATW connections and other contacts, friends and mentors. We live in a connected world, and as SATW members, you are linked to many people for consultation.
What are some of your best professional tools or resources?
I’m not big on technology beyond the basic equipment, so my answer here is that my best professional resource is the army of connections and friends I have made through the years. Although I know I can reach people by email or text, I believe that a conversation is best, in part because I believe when people hear each other’s voices, they learn more than the words that are spoken.