Michael Graziano became the youngest North American man to visit every country in the world on February 27th, 2020. Within weeks, his entire industry of travel and tourism had dried up, a circumstance prompting him to embark on a new adventure – founding Mindful Media, an industry-leading PR firm.
By George Catan
Michael in Lebanon on May 19, 2019
I first heard of Michael Graziano a few years back when a friend of mine requested my help in filming a video submission for her entry in a competition hosted by Global Degree, a company founded by Graziano in 2014. She eagerly informed me that if she were to win, she’d get an all expense paid trip to join Graziano and his team as they traveled to every country in the world, allowing her to graduate with a “Global Degree.”
Founded on the premise of providing participants with an opportunity to complete their educational curriculum abroad, Global Degree attracted adventurous academics who shared the belief that ‘not all classrooms have four walls.’ The length of time that students participated in the program varied, some stayed one semester while others stayed several.
At the core of this venture, I learned, was Graziano’s ‘do or die’ goal to be North America’s youngest male to visit every country in the world. This passionate pursuit combined with the unique nature of Global Degree earned Graziano and his team substantial media recognition and social media exposure.
With a combined audience of 1.2 million followers and over 75 million video views, Global Degree earned a reputation as a trusted source for tourism information and travel content, a feat landing them sponsorship deals from big names in travel, including TripAdvisor, Discovery Channel, Gopro, Flight Centre, and many others.
Michael getting taught how to ride a motorcycle by a local in Mongolia
Ultimately, my friend did not win the contest, but her request for my support in the filming process put Michael Graziano on my radar with Global Degree being a regular contributor to the content featured on my social feeds.
At least it did, until this year when two things happened:
Firstly, Graziano succeeded in his goal of traveling to every country in the world on February 27th, filling 8 passports with 193 stamps.
Secondly, by Mid-March, travel became a fond and distant memory for many as the world implemented a strict COVID19 lockdown and the largest travel ban the world had ever seen.
As a follower of his adventures for the past few years, I was quick to wonder, what would be next for the globe trotting entrepreneur?
My curiosity did not last long.
After a brief hiatus, Graziano reappeared on his social platforms with a renewed appetite for discovery. This discovery differed from his previous geographical conquests. In just three months, Graziano pulled off the ultimate pivot – trading plane rides for public relations.
Mindful Media PR
Michael at his home office, sharing the success of his growing firm
As the founder of Mindful Media PR, Michael Graziano spearheaded a Vancouver based PR firm as his solution to the turbulence that COVID created within his previous industry. His reluctance to lay low until borders once again opened proved to be immensely wise given the success that his shotgun decision created since its inception in May of 2020.
Within months, Mindful Media was ranking not only on the first page of Google, but in the #1 spot on over 20 major keyword searches, giving clients a huge advantage heading into 2021. This accomplishment, ranking organically amongst elite Google real-estate, is one that seasoned PR firms have spent decades trying to achieve. Graziano and his team at Mindful Media achieved it in a matter of months.
Beginning at the baseline
So how does one go from being an international tourist for the past six years to start an industry leading PR firm?
The final stop on Graziano’s trip around the world was in Oxford, England on February 2nd, 2020. Here he took to the TEDx stage and told the story of his six-year adventure, sharing how Your World is Defined By Your Passport.
“Following my talk, I asked all 1000 audience members to turn to their neighbour and give them a hug… had I tried that a few weeks later, I probably would have been arrested,” Graziano joked.
Michael on the TEDxOxford stage, February 2nd, 2020
Having captured the world’s attention with his global escapade and inspiring TEDx Talk, many were curious about what would be next for him.
“It was a strange thing,” commented Graziano, “Everyone was asking what I was going to do next. I had absolutely no idea.”
On February 27th, when over 200 of Graziano’s friends and family welcomed him home and celebrated his completed journey, COVID was still considered fake news to most. Two weeks later, the world experienced a shut down.
“What’s crazy is that at my welcome home party,” recalled Graziano, “FlightCentre gifted a flight voucher as a door prize. The winner was given a dart to throw at a map of the world, and whichever destination the dart landed on, FlightCentre would provide the airfare.
“When the dart was thrown, it landed on China, mere centimetres outside of the Wuhan region. At the time, we all laughed as we all still thought COVID was fake news, and within weeks we learned how wrong we were.”
The serendipitous outcome of completing the adventure of a lifetime with only days to spare can simply be chalked up to one of life’s unexplained acts of benevolence. For Graziano, it meant he could embark on his next venture with the taste of success still fresh – though what this embarkment would be was still in question.
On to the next… which is what?
“Prior to COVID, I knew I wanted to leverage my travel knowledge to create guided tours for students and custom luxury travel excursions for those who wanted a premium experience – these plans all relied on tourism to still be an industry, which, as of March, it was not.”
The reality is, Graziano’s first-hand knowledge of the world is a privilege limited to a select few. Less than 300 people have successfully traveled to every country in the world, a figure lower than the amount of individuals who have ventured to space. He had knowledge to share with an industry that wasn’t in a place to receive it.
For many, this would be a painful point of internal trepidation – a lifetime accomplishment chalked up to little more than an inconvenience thanks to “unprecedented times.”
But for Graziano, this couldn’t be further from the case. This marked the start of another new adventure, something his years on the road trained him to embrace as opposed to resent.
The Conception of Mindful Media
Michael (Right) with his team Lexi Hsu (Far Left) and Courtney James (Middle) ft. swag from client Fredi
“I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew whatever it was, I couldn’t do it on my own. So I brought on a second team member – Lexi Hsu. We had three or four days of really intense sound boarding discussing our ideas. From there, we created a website and a focus group consisting of friends and family to determine what the name of our company would be. We landed on Mindful Media and created a website around this concept… to be honest, it all happened so fast that I couldn’t even grasp what was happening.”
Though creating a PR firm was a new experience for Graziano, the work involved in it was not. “I had experienced first hand the benefits that positive PR can create,” he explained. “During Global Degree, we had a few pieces of press written about our venture. These mentions allowed us to leverage deals with massive companies including TripAdvisor, that made our mission possible. If press was able to help me reach my own goal, I wanted to uncover what doors it could open for others.”
With Hsu at his side as Managing Director, Graziano brought on an Editor-In-Chief, Courtney James, to ensure content quality. Together, the trio overcame the growing pains familiar to any start up, and became fully operational within a matter of months.
“It’s been an incredible learning experience for me,” remarked Graziano. “I have two amazing women by my side – they help me to realize my ambitions while keeping me focused.
“All day long I listen to people’s stories, learn about their businesses, share their visions. Together, we find opportunities to tell these stories on larger platforms to larger audiences. I love this job so much, I don’t know how I could ever switch to anything else.”
What’s to come?
Michael at home in West Vancouver
Forbes, Business Insider, and USA Today are just a few of the outlets in which Mindful Media’s client pieces are featured in. Procuring press in such recognized publications allows brands to rank on the top of Google, an opportunity that can launch any business into the big leagues.
For some, success is a coincidence. This is not a statement that rings true for Graziano. Two back-to-back successes are not coincidences. They are the product of intuition, intellect, perseverance, and a healthy amount of courage.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how Graziano’s latest move plays out.