Every day for the past year, Lindsay Anderson has eaten at a different restaurant in Richmond, blogging each meal as part of a one-year gig many consider to be a dream job. The position has offered the 28-year-old a way to make use of her master's degree in food culture and communications from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy – "classic liberal arts kid," she jokes – and given Tourism Richmond its most successful campaign in at least a decade.
Ms. Anderson, a Prince George native, beat out more than 1,500 applicants from 30 countries last spring to become the official blogger for Richmond's 365 Days of Dining campaign, which offered a salary of $50,000, living compensation, a daily stipend of $30 and a one-year membership to the Richmond Olympic Oval. Tourism Richmond CEO Tracy Lakeman says the campaign, which ends Wednesday, has exceeded all expectations.
This makes Tourism Richmond one of the latest organizations to harness the PR power of the paid blogger. Whereas press releases all too often sink to the bottom of a flooded e-mail inbox, an authentic, continued presence on a blog, when well executed, can engage the public and compel readers to follow along for the journey.
"This has been, without a doubt, the most successful campaign we have done since I have been here in the last nine-and-a-half years," Ms. Lakeman said Monday. "You talk about how much it costs us – you've got Lindsay's salary, part of her living expenses, the cost of the food – that's nothing compared to the exposure we've received."
Some of that exposure has included more than 250 articles worldwide, television appearances and countless mentions online. Business membership to Tourism Richmond has increased, and patrons have reportedly gone into restaurants ordering specific items Ms. Anderson has blogged about, pulling up her posts on smartphones as references.
In Ms. Anderson, Tourism Richmond got a naturally bubbly communicator whose passion for food extended back before the campaign existed. She wove anecdotes about herself, her friends and her family with personal observations and opinions of the dining experiences – such as one restaurant that offered a traditional Beijing-style, charcoal-fuelled hot pot, which was one of her favourite dishes all year.
That Ms. Anderson is a naturally positive person helped, too. But Tourism Richmond, with the help of a social media marketing firm, recognized that, to be successful, the blog would have to be authentic.
To that end, Ms. Anderson was given free rein to be critical, or negative, if she was dissatisfied with a meal or restaurant – which she was, occasionally. After one overpriced and underwhelming breakfast, for example, she wrote a scathing review that generated a flood of comments from people who agreed with her critique.
"If you're not authentic, people will call you on it," Ms. Lakeman said. "When you go into something like this, it takes on a life of its own and you have to allow it to happen. Of course, it was nerve-wracking."
Other bloggers have had similar success with paid content. Bob Kronbauer, editor-in-chief of local lifestyle blog Vancouver Is Awesome, garnered considerable attention for the Village on False Creek, which at one point was dominated by news of unsold units and going into receivership. In a year-long campaign with Rennie Marketing Systems, Mr. Kronbauer's family moved in and he blogged about life in the neighbourhood: beaver sightings, the off-leash dog area, new businesses opening. There was no mandate to be positive, but "I think it was just implied," Mr. Kronbauer said. "Our whole [blog] angle is celebratory stories and that's self-imposed to begin with."
Similarly, Jaeger Mah lived at Vancouver International Airport for 80 days in late 2011, blogging and shooting video on everything from the airport's baggage system to snow geese in the airspace.
Three paid Metro Vancouver bloggers who have helped businesses build their brands.
Who: Lindsay Anderson.
Blog: 365 Days of Dining, Tourism Richmond.
When: June, 2012 to June, 2013.
What she did: Ate at a different restaurant in Richmond for 365 days, blogging about each meal.
Compensation: $50,000 salary, living expenses, $30 daily stipend, membership to the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Who: Bob Kronbauer.
Blog: In the Village on False Creek, Vancouver Is Awesome.
When: May, 2012 to May, 2013
What he did: Told stories about the positive aspects of life in the neighbourhood through sponsored posts on his popular lifestyle blog.
Compensation: $29,700 – the cost of rent.
Who: Jaeger Mah.
Blog: Live@YVR, Vancouver International Airport.
When: August to November, 2011.
What he did: Wrote blog posts and shot video about what goes on at Canada's second-busiest airport.
Compensation: $15,000, and $4,000 to spend at airport merchants.