This past Sunday, as Americans awoke to a second post-election week of divisive political discourse, travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet’s weekly newsletter led with a message of inclusion from a most unlikely contributor.
“I leave office more convinced than ever before that international cooperation is indispensable,” wrote President Barack Obama, as part of a 900-plus word reflection on how, as the headline reads, “a million miles of travel gives him hope for the future.”
The themes in the essay, which also ran on LonelyPlanet.com’s Tips & Articles channel and on social media, may not be surprising: "The President…spoke about the capacity of young people, so many of whom he has had an opportunity to meet during his travels, to shape the world around them,” wrote Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesperson, in an email to PW.
What is striking, besides the post-election timing, is that the message was shared exclusively with a brand that is neither expressly political nor, for that matter, exclusively American. And that the White House made the first move.
“[The White House] approached us in August, and we discussed the idea of doing the op-ed timed to his trip to Laos,” says Natalie Nicolson, senior PR and communications manager in Lonely Planet’s U.S. office. (In September, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian country.) While that piece didn’t pan out, says Nicolson, “we kept at it.” Finally, this past Thursday, during Obama’s final stop in Peru, the White House team passed along copy written by the President himself.
Lonely Planet has edited leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama in the past, but this felt different, says editorial director Tom Hall. “I was keen for the president to reflect on his own travels while he was in office,” says Hall. “It was a chance to share a universal message that reflects our core belief that travel is a force for good.”
The White House chose Lonely Planet because it “caters to those whose spirit of adventurism and engagement will form the contours of our collective future," says Price.
Hall stresses the project’s apolitical nature, reiterating that it was conceived before the election results came in; now that the message is out, however, “a lot of people are saying ‘Wow, how did that happen?’” he says.
The short answer: Good timing, the right fit for contributor and audience, and “a sign that well-known brands are a platform as well as a publisher,” says Hall. “In this case, it’s a positive exercise—and an exciting one.”
CORRECTION: This article originally misspelled Natalie Nicolson's surname.