Industry-specific trade shows are a great source for non-fiction freelance writers and journalists, particularly those looking to break into niche business markets. Trade shows are full of industry experts, trends and new products, services and innovations, and are often an overlooked research source.
Spending a day or more at an industry trade show can be time well spent – if you have a plan. As a former magazine staff writer and current freelance writer, I’ve spent days at these events for industries, from automotive to animals. For instance, as a dog writer and blogger, I regularly attend SuperZoo, an annual pet business event in Las Vegas. Navigating trade shows this size takes some planning.
To start, you’ll need a press pass, which gets you into the show. Usually, there’s a pre-show application process. Some are more extensive than others. (Obviously, show organizers don’t want people just looking for freebies.) Clearly, the best chance of getting a press pass is to have an assigned article but, often, a track record of proven placements and/or credible niches is acceptable.
If you have an assigned article, completing should be your focus. However, trade shows give you plenty of opportunities to generate additional articles, especially if you’re able to score some on-site interviews, and reduce follow-up effort later. Come with several ideas you want to research, but be prepared to pursue some ideas you hadn’t considered. For instance, when I attended SuperZoo, I knew I would be writing at least two or three ‘new product’ round up blog posts. But, once there, I noticed trends, like new pet technology, that generated an article for a tech publication later. Maximizing your efforts is key.
Here’s a strategy that’s worked for me:
Connect with Public Relations (PR) representatives, and set up meetings with them in advance. If promotion professionals are attending, it’s likely because they represent several clients at the show, which is beneficial for several reasons: First, they’ll likely take you on a tour of their clients, saving you the time of scouting out people, and introducing yourself. Second, they often send you information about their clients before the show, allowing you to research and generate article ideas you can pitch to publications before you go, or after you’ve confirmed facts at the show. Either way, focus your efforts.
Yes, you might end up at some booths that aren’t of interest to you. But, in my experience, the overall time savings is worth it, primarily because PR professionals help with introductions. Remember, the reason companies invest in a trade show booth is to make sales. Not everyone is interested in speaking to the media, or getting publicity. So, cold calling for article quotes and interviews is a gamble (and time-consuming).
However, if the company has invested money in promotions, and hired a PR professional, that firm likely understands the value of writers and press as part of their marketing objective. Thanks to an introduction from the person they’ve hired to find and vet you, they are more willing to spend the time demonstrating products, and answering questions.
Apply for a press pass early to get on the list as soon as possible. PR professionals usually contact media members before the show to set up meetings during the show. Also, marketing representatives from individual companies will contact you to promote their product, or invite you for a meeting. Be selective. Don’t over-book yourself.
Two final notes: Asking for freebies (even for review) isn’t good practice. PR people will offer those if that’s an option. And, don’t overlook scheduled public speakers. Not only do they give you a chance to sit down (you’ll need it) but those will also give you a few more expert quotes. For instance, I planned to research an ‘urban chickens as pets’ article for the last SuperZoo. PR reps set me up with good sources who sold products. Then, I noticed a scheduled speaker on that subject. Bingo. A fourth expert to quote in my article. My research was mostly done and I had a first draft written before I left the trade show.
Sherri Telenko is a college professor and freelance writer specializing in travel and pets. Check out www.dogtrotting.net – global travel for dog lovers.
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