Jimmy Im: Founder of Travelbinger, PR Director, and Former Senior Writer at CNBC

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we are talking with Jimmy Im. Jimmy is a veteran travel writer and expert who has been to 113 countries and stayed in more than 650 hotels. He is the founder and editor of TravelBinger.com and has written for top-tier publications including Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Men’s Journal, Robb Report, Marie Claire, and many more. He was also a senior lifestyle writer at CNBC. Welcome, Jimmy, I’m excited to talk with you today.

 

Jimmy Im  00:57

Thank you, Angela. It’s so great to be on your show.

 

Angela Tuell  01:02

Yes. So I have to start, you know, with you are not only a prolific travel writer, but you also have a full-time PR job. How do you manage them both?

 

Jimmy Im  01:13

You know, that’s a really good question. And it’s, it’s funny, because it’s, it’s not easy. I’m not gonna lie. I think what helps is the fact that I was a freelancer for such a long time, I’m really good at multitasking, I’m really good at prioritizing, you know, having a full-time job in PR. It’s great because it’s in travel. But I think the benefit is that you know, I’ve been a writer for so long. I’m back in you know, I’m back in PR. So I’ve been on both sides of the fence. And I think that is kind of the secret sauce. So I know, it’s a come, it’s almost like effortless was with the job. Yeah. And then I do a lot of the writing, um, you know, at night or, you know, on the weekends, but yeah, it’s, you know, on top of that, you know, I run my website, travelbinger.com. And that’s been really exciting. So it’s, I do have my hands full.

 

Angela Tuell  02:11

Yes. So you started in PR, and then did freelancing in kind of mesh both? Is that how your career path has been?

 

Jimmy Im  02:19

It, it – yes. I started, I worked for a vodka company doing PR and events. Like when I first moved to New York.

 

Angela Tuell  02:27

I’m sure that wasn’t fun at all.

 

Jimmy Im  02:29

I know. Right? It’s so it’s, it’s I the stories that I have are insane. I know that I was also like a pretty big DJ back then as well. I was involved in the nightlife. And so it was an I, you know, I have a lot of stories.

 

Angela Tuell  02:48

So did you always want to be a travel writer? And or did you think you wanted PR first and then that kind of happened? Or how did that happen?

 

Jimmy Im  02:57

Well, I actually, you know, it’s funny, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. And I had known since I was a kid. I remember writing my first you know, short story when I was maybe five years old. Yeah. And so I was you know, throughout, I was always writing poems and short stories. In high school, I was known as the writer, you know, all the things for our yearbooks, and, you know, even just knew the prom invites, I would write the little, you know, blurbs and stuff. And I was on the yearbook. But I always wanted to be a novelist. And so that was the career path that I thought I was, you know, taking. I went to Emerson College, but it actually, you know, travel writing just kind of fell in my lap. I loved traveling as well. That’s one of the first jobs I got in New York, you know, like real jobs was Business Traveler magazine. And I was an editor there. And it just everything just started happening from there. And it’s funny because I didn’t put two and two together. I just thought as a job. I didn’t even realize I could travel with them. And so my editor the editor in chief asked me to write a review for it. It was like the new business class for Lufthansa. And so that opens so many doors. I, you know, other editors, you know, an editor at Travel Weekly reached out to me and asked me to write a story. Yeah, so it’s, It took off from there, I became a freelance. I left and I became a freelance writer.

 

Angela Tuell  04:28

I like wow, was this real life? I’m traveling and being paid for it. Right?

 

Jimmy Im  04:32

I remember this is, you know, back when I was in my early 20s. So I started young, like very, very young. Yes, yeah. And it was easier to be a freelance writer back then. Because, you know, the state of the publishing industry was different, you know. All these new websites were coming out and they had so much money and yeah, so I, you know, successfully became a travel writer. I wasn’t looking for it, but it just kind of fell into my lap. And I’m very grateful that it happened. Because I see a lot of this world.

 

Angela Tuell  05:07

Yes. And now it’s not the same as you described as much. It’s a little bit harder for freelancers now, there are so many more of them too.

 

Jimmy Im  05:14

Oh, absolutely everything. You know, what really changed is when social media became a thing, and when influencers started coming out, that really changed everything, because it happened around the time that publishing what, you know, the magazines were Yes, they were just closing, right. So it started becoming a little bit more challenging for a lot of freelance writers know, I knew they had they actually had to get jobs. You know, I was still a DJ at the time, I could supplement my income. But it became harder it was, you know, it became a lot harder to be a freelance writer.

 

Angela Tuell  05:48

Yeah, it’s kind of like everyone’s a journalist. Or they claim to be, everyone claims to be a journalist. Right?

 

Jimmy Im  05:55

Once I decided I was just it wasn’t, you know, becoming financially it didn’t make sense to be a freelance writer anymore. I, at the time that I was thinking about going in-house somewhere, just out of the blue, you know, a former editor I used to work with. She was at CNBC and asked me to join, they were launching new lifestyle verticals. So I went in-house at CNBC. Yeah. And that was, that was an amazing experience.

 

Angela Tuell  06:25

Yeah. I’m sure.

 

Jimmy Im  06:26

That’s yeah, yep. So –

 

Angela Tuell  06:28

How do you choose your next destination? And do you prefer to go solo, or, you know, on press trips or with others?

 

Jimmy Im  06:37

I prefer solo trips. Pressing trips are, you know, and I think that most people, I think this is a thing for a lot of publicists post-COVID. There are so many, it’s so hard to please everybody.

 

Angela Tuell  06:53

Right.

 

Jimmy Im  06:54

But I do definitely do solo trips. Now. I haven’t done a press trip in a really, really long time only because I always have my own agenda. You know, there’s an editor in this is an even this is for a long time. I’ve always preferred Zillow because if you look at the right, you know, the outlets that I wrote for they’re so different, right? And you know, Conde Nast Traveler to Men’s Journal to Passport to Marie Claire, I, I’m catering to so many different audiences. And then if I go on a press trip, it doesn’t like I’m limited in terms of what you know, I really have to just be on my own. That way, I can just set my own schedule and see what would be best for this outlet. And what would be best for this outlet? Shoot in terms of choosing my own destinations, going back to the blessing in disguise, or the positives of COVID, I ended up buying a car. And so my destinations are chosen by where I would like to drive to say, yeah, that is the number one priority. And then it really is it has to be – now and I don’t know if you experienced this or you know, any, you know, publicists that are listening right now. But the more experienced a travel writer is like the veteran travel writer. We’re a lot more picky in terms of the destinations we go to. And so yeah, it really is, you know, we have that sense of like, been there done that. Okay. So if I’m going to make an effort to visit a destination, there have to be a lot of new things that I can experience. So it’s those are usually the angles that I like like, what’s new here? And what’s you know, what’s the new restaurants, and especially if it’s a city or a destination that has multiple new luxury hotels that have opened as well as restaurants, maybe celebrity chef, open a restaurant, and there’s this new attraction and those are the things that excite me in terms of the destination? Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  09:09

What are your favorite types of stories to write?

 

Jimmy Im  09:15

Lately, it really has been, I’ve been writing a lot of like, road trip stories. I did a really big, you know, that’s because it’s a huge trend. Everyone’s got cars and everyone’s thriving, and it’s a huge market now. So I’ve been doing a lot of road trip stories. And that’s been really fun. I always travel with my dog. Who is you know, she’s a shitzu. And she, you know, saw her first trip was when she was seven weeks old, you know, so, so used to it’s like second nature to her. Just, you know, she always knows when we’re gonna go travel somewhere, but yeah, so I do a lot of pet-friendly. kinda of like pet travel stories. There’s always you know, there’s always something to write about.

 

Angela Tuell  10:06

So aside from the freelance articles you’re writing and the full-time PR job, you also are the founder and editor of travelbinger.com, which is a travel and lifestyle website. That is the only independent travel website, both on Google News and Apple News, which is amazing. You know, many travel journalists have their own websites, but do not have the kind of following that yours does, or the success that yours has had, You know, how have you grown it so much?

 

Jimmy Im  10:36

That, you know, that’s a really good question. And it’s so funny that you bring that up because I launched the website, I launched it, I think it was January 2020. And so of course, COVID hit right after, and it did not do well. And I got investor, I mean, it was like a whole thing. Yep. So thankfully, things have grown. I, you know, I’m very grateful. And, you know, I’m gonna say I’m proud of myself for getting into Google News. It’s so hard to get news. And Apple News says Apple News is one of the hardest, I mean, their criteria are just to be you know, and if you go to Apple News, it’s only the major players that are there, right? It’s like Conde Naste Traveler, Travel + Leisure, or AFAR. So I feel, you know, it is a huge accomplishment. And it’s a huge accolade. It’s, you know, writing daily content and having, you know, the best content. And then Google News, obviously, like any stories that I’ve published will always be, you know, not only in Google News, but ranked really high. So they appear, you know, the first page, you know, in a Google search, first or second page, you know, obviously, depending on the story, but it’s been great. It’s been really good, you know, I do a lot of affiliate marketing, or Yeah, affiliate link. So that’s really helpful I’m affiliated with like Amazon and whatever.

 

Angela Tuell  12:15

So in the travel space, right? I mean, so are you doing products, too, or travel products?

 

Jimmy Im  12:22

I will do, I will do product reviews, I didn’t have a review section on my site, but I’ve branched out, it’s now a travel and lifestyle website, because there are a lot of people coming to my site looking for, you know, like, interested in the lifestyle component. So it’s been great, and it’s been great just keeps growing and growing and growing. And to the point where it is, thankfully, I think, you know, knock on wood that nothing really ever impacts travel the way that COVID did, but you know, it is it’s doing very well and it is you know, passive income and it’s, I’m, I’m very well, I wouldn’t even say passively because I, you know, I have to pay –

 

Angela Tuell  13:09

You have to do so much with it.

 

Jimmy Im  13:11

Yeah – I have to do so much work. But it’s been really wonderful. And it’s yeah, I’m very proud of, of where it’s at now. Yeah,

 

Angela Tuell  13:22

That whole affiliate marketing too is just such an undertaking. I mean, you’re probably a pro at it by now. There’s so much that that goes into affiliate marketing, and it’s, it’s somewhat new, you know so that that had to be a big undertaking too.

 

Jimmy Im  13:37

it was I’m part of two big programs, and I was accepted into two big programs. So I’m very excited about that. Every story will have something and you know, obviously, that’s a new website, any website, affiliate market, you know, it’s just how media is these days, but I don’t do a lot of it is, you know, I can write a story and I’ll probably, you know, sometimes I’ll link to your hotel sometimes I’ll you know, if you have a lot of hotels are part of affiliate programs, and, you know, they get really excited about having links and you know, back way, so important, right,

 

Angela Tuell  14:16

um, the travel writing side and the website, you know, side how can PR professionals help you do your job and what, you know, pet peeves do you have?

 

Jimmy Im  14:23

You know, I do get a lot of pitches. And it’s probably the most basic thing that anyone any writer will say, in any of these, you know, interviews is, you know, no, know who you’re pitching, right? Like, I don’t want to get pitches for things that I’m not going to write about. And it’s really a matter of really getting to know the writer even you know, just for me, as you know, doing PR as well. It’s so important to go through your you know, all platforms, if you don’t know a writer get to know, you know, what did they like to write about? Go look at their social media and see what, you know, what interests them. What are they posting? It’s the same thing for me as a writer and an editor. It’s like, I probably will not write about like the, you know, pink stuffing pink stockings that are for kids it, you know, I mean, like, look at, just look at the stories I’ve published on my website, and then you’ll, and you’ll get it. And then, you know, just as a freelance writer, like, I am known to just do luxury travel or even as the term is becoming more common now, extreme luxury. And so, yeah, that is, I probably wouldn’t write about, you know, just kind of like a basic place or like a budget brand.

 

Angela Tuell  15:59

So before we go, I need to ask you about your side hustle if it wasn’t enough for what you are already doing. But tell us a little bit about that.

 

Jimmy Im  16:09

I am a professional tarot reader, and I have a Tarot reading business. Yeah. And it’s called the taro ship. Just started a YouTube this spring. And so I do tarot readings for every sign like I do weekly readings and monthly readings. And I also do celebrity readings. Yeah, so that’s been going really well, you know, again, I just started it in I think it was May. And I have like about 5,000 subscribers at this point.

 

Angela Tuell  16:42

Wow.

 

Jimmy Im  16:43

I think is a good sign for

 

Angela Tuell  16:44

Ok, for those who don’t know, a Tarot reading is –

 

Jimmy Im  16:47

Yeah, so it is just it’s, you know, using the tarot cards, I use the Rider Waite Smith deck. It is divination and it you know, it’s more like guidance, right. And so, I worked for a famous astrologer for five years, I was her editor. And so I edited all her horoscopes, and I can tell you right off the bat, one of the hardest jobs in the world is being an editor for an astrologer. Okay.

 

Angela Tuell  17:17

I bet. Yeah.

 

Jimmy Im  17:19

So much work because you have to know all the back-end stuff you have to know what you know, what this alignment means why this happening, and what this planet represents. And you have to know all the backend stuff. So you know, it was very educational for me, I got to learn everything about astrology. And you know, I can you know, as you know, I can just tell you right off the bat, you tell me what sign you are I can tell you what’s going to happen for you right now and you know, by even next year, but I combined what makes me unique is that I combined astrology and tarot and not a lot of tarot readers do this. And it’s really interesting because Tarot and astrology go hand in hand, and they have for centuries, like every card, you know, in the tarot deck has is assigned a specific astrological aspect or is ruled by a planet or whatnot. So they

 

Angela Tuell  18:21

Do those virtually and how do people learn more?

 

Jimmy Im  18:25

I do in person but not as much anymore because it has COVID virtually through Zoom, and so how it starts off and I do events, so I just you know, Kimpton hotels, I just did a big event for them, they had a corporate event here in New York City in July and so they hired me to do you know, readings for everyone there. I just did another one at a boutique hotel opening a few weeks ago. I’ve done you know, birthday parties, so I you know, I get booked for events, but it’s so funny because a lot of those people will come back and do you know, personal readings and book Personal readings with me and because it’s it is really interesting, and it really is just guidance. I don’t know how it works, but it just works. It’s a crazy thing, but I do yeah, think that you did ask about pet peeves. Yeah. One thing that I what this is and you know, this is coming from not only me being, you know, working in PR but also as a writer for a really long time. There is one thing that I’ve noticed this year, and I don’t know if it’s because of remote work, but and then a thing for you know, and this is probably the biggest takeaway for any publicist that’s listening. If there is a publicist who has no idea what they’re doing and doesn’t respond right away like I will not work not only with that person but that agency it’s very important. I’ve had, you know, sometimes I’ve been on deadline, you know, I write these big 13-page features for Passport, you know, both print and online. And sometimes I need things. I always try to give advance notice. You know, if there’s a publicist who really can’t get me the thing, but then has you I’m really good. You know, I’m an empath. So I can pick up energy. That person represents your agency. And when I get the attitude of them feeling like they don’t want to do the work, I get that impression of the agency. So it’s really important to hire the right people. And to do these check-ins with, you know, the people that you work with, there’s so many publicists out there who are that I’ve worked with that because of their just how they work, which doesn’t, which isn’t great. Like, it’s very, very obvious that they do not care. It really does represent the agency and then I just go with another agency and I’ll you know, write about their hotel. That’s a competitor thing.

 

Angela Tuell  21:22

Yeah, I completely get it. Well, thank you so much. You’ve been very insightful as it was, it was really interesting. And how can our listeners connect with you online aside from the Tarot side on the travel side?

 

Jimmy Im  21:34

Probably just going through my website travelbinger.com. Um, it’s just Jimmy at travelbinger.com is my email.

 

Angela Tuell  21:40

Perfect.

 

Jimmy Im  21:42

That’s probably the best way.

 

Angela Tuell  21:43

Great, thank you so much. And we’ll link to all of the things you mentioned in our show notes.

 

Jimmy Im  21:48

I appreciate it. Thank you so much, Angela.

 

Angela Tuell  21:52

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at Communications Redefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

What do luxury travel writing, PR, and Tarot cards have in common?  Listen to this week’s episode as Angela chats with Jimmy Im about his career journey.

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