One of my most reliable sources of articles is industry events. In addition to getting the journalistic type of story that is relevant for news readers, I’ve found industry events to be a good source of features and “how to” articles.
As an example, I recently attended a Small and Medium Business Forum. The main theme was how technology can help these businesses become more efficient. “SMB’s therefore need IT to help them do their business more efficiently and profitably, without having to worry about the IT tools being used,” one of the main speakers said.
Speakers included representatives from are number of multi-national corporations. Admittedly, they were there to punt their companies’ products and services, but they also spoke about recent research they’d conducted, small business trends and some of the issues that keep small business owners awake today.
Getting myself invited to the event was easy. In the past couple of years, I’ve made it clear to event, PR and communications managers that I am interested in attending industry-related events.
They have the criteria of events that interest me, which includes the subjects I write about and the timing of the event. (It’s a well-known fact I rarely attend late afternoon/evening events, as I have family responsibilities.)
I also check web sites of a number of organizations and, if I find an event I’d like to attend, I send a quick email asking the organizers if I can come. Other writers who cover similar territory willingly share information. It becomes a regular reunion sometimes.
If you live in a small town, you may choose to twist things around a bit. Check out the conference programs of the local facilities, and then contact your organizers to get an invitation. It would provide a greater variety of topics while also keeping you busy.
Being there for my daughter is very important to me. So, I always make sure that I’m finished with work in time to be home when her school day ends.
I learned early on that I don’t have to stay at the event until the very end. I identify topics and speakers covering what I consider newsworthy topics, and set aside time for them.
With regards to the SMB Forum, it was a cold and rainy day and, while I had a productive, enjoyable session, I was very happy to go home early, put some vegetables on the stove for soup, climb into bed with my laptop and write. I did take the time to dash off a quick email to my two editors to give them teasers on stories I was working on.
So what came out of my SMB forum attendance?
1. A news/trend story about predicted IT spending by small businesses from now till 2010 ( based on new research)
2. A trend story about broadband adoption rates in the country and its potential impact on mobile work/telecommuting trends. The article also includes some info on research being done to extend laptop battery life.
3. A case study of a small company that did so well it outgrew its IT systems, and how they dealt with the problem. The article included the vendor viewpoint and some close questioning by delegates.
4. Tips from an attorney on IT-related legal issues that SMBs need to deal with, including some hilarious real-life cases.
5. A financial story on technology financing options available to SMBs.
The lead for a sixth article, a feature, came from a conference participant during a casual lunch-time chat.
The first five articles were published within two days of the event and I am now doing research for the feature article. While this article is essentially about writing, there is no denying that the event played some role, making it the seventh article out of a single event that lasted five hours.
Issues To Keep In Mind
1. Before you attend the event, pitch potential stories to industry-related publications. You need to make sure that the publication of your choice does not have plans to send a reporter to the event.
2. Make sure that you don’t offer the same story angle to competing publications.
3. Read the program – know who the speakers are and what they plan to talk about.
4. Research the event topics. This is especially important if you are new in the industry, because you will be inundated with new information during the sessions. You need the capacity to sift through what is news and what’s just industry mumbo jumbo or hype. This will also help you to identify the real story ideas and cut down on your writing time.
5. Ask for the presentations if possible – some speakers don’t mind sharing, others do mind. But, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Over time, people get to know you if you write about their industry and they will become more willing to share information with you.
After The Event
Don’t forget to thank the organizers for allowing you to attend. Sometimes I look at the prices that real delegates pay for the seat I’m occupying and I’m humbled.
Many of the organizers have also been kind enough to allow me to use their business facilities when the need arises (My wireless Internet connection was acting up and one of the stories was due that very morning, so the organizers emailed it for me.)
I also send event organizers links to published online stories, or fax them copies of the printed articles. It helps with their media tracking and keeps them receptive to future requests for me to attend their events.
Damaria Senne is a journalist and author based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Read some of her IT business-related articles at http://www.itweb.co.za. Her parenting/writing blog at http://damariasenne.blogspot.com.