Tradeshows offer a unique marketing opportunity for freelance writers. Many industries and trade associations ranging from the oil, chemical and food industries to home builders and restaurant owners have tradeshows to exhibit the latest in equipment and services to their members.

I tried out my new strategy at Houston’s May 6-9 Offshore Technology Conference (OTC). This is a major annual tradeshow. In 2012, there were more than 2,500 trade show booths and 89,400 attendees. So far my payoff from attending the tradeshow and marketing there is $6,000. Smaller tradeshows may yield smaller payoffs but require less time to explore marketing opportunities.

In the past, when attending tradeshow booths I did not approach the sales and marketing personnel staffing tradeshow booths unless I was collecting information for a newspaper or magazine story. Mostly I attended technical sessions to collect information for trade magazine and newspaper articles. However, this time I decided to try something different and approach tradeshow exhibitors with a low-key solicitation of business.

Finding tradeshows

The first step is to identify tradeshows to cover. Conducting an online search using the names of local convention centers will provide a list – often months in advance – of tradeshows scheduled to occur in your area. Don’t know the names of local convention centers? Using a combination of “convention center” and the name of your city as search terms will ordinarily solve this problem.

These listings include the names of sponsoring associations. These are the people to contact for a complimentary press pass. I send them a cover letter and my writer’s rÈsumÈ emphasizing my work most related to the companies exhibiting at the tradeshow. If there are particular technical sessions I plan to cover, I will mention these too.

Tradeshow activities

It took me over three days to cover the 2,500 tradeshow booths at the OTC. I traipsed the tradeshow floor pulling a backpack on wheels in which I stored company literature I picked up. I also took high-resolution digital photos (with permission) of tradeshow booths and left my business card at these booths.

Using business cards I picked up at tradeshow booths, I am sending some of these companies letters of introduction summarizing my extensive experience in the oil and gas industry and my interest in writing for them. I pick the companies I contact based on the information in the company literature I picked up and the papers their engineers presented at conference technical sessions. The tradeshow literature I picked up helps customize these letters. I am also sending each company the digital photos I took of their tradeshow booths. I took these photos with a high-resolution SLR digital camera so they are better than photos taken with a cell phone.

The conference was Monday through Thursday. Many attendees weren’t leaving town until Saturday or Sunday following the conference. On the back of my business cards I noted I would be at a particular coffee shop in downtown Houston all day Friday and available for meetings to discuss possible corporate writing assignments.

My business card note has already resulted in Friday meetings with representatives of four petroleum and well drilling companies. As a result, I landed two whitepaper assignments and a workshop assignment. I’m hoping for more from my letter writing campaign, which is still in progress.

Small tradeshows

Small tradeshows may be held in hotels rather than convention centers and in small cities rather than big ones. The strategy I used is still applicable. The time investment can be much less for smaller tradeshows. One day at a smaller tradeshow could more than suffice to do what I did at the OTC in four.


The OTC was in my hometown, Houston, so I had no long-distance travel or hotel expenses. Even modest sized cities often host tradeshows. One doesn’t have to travel to a major metropolitan area to cover tradeshows.

I applied for and received a complimentary press pass citing my experience in writing trade magazine articles on the oil industry. If you can’t get a complimentary press pass, it may be worthwhile to pay the registration fee so you can attend. For example, the registration fee for the OTC was $210 but I earned much more than this by attending.

So far I have over $6,000 in assignments. This strategy could work well for writers with other writing specialties such as food, home repair and maintenance, etc.

John Borchardt has written more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He is the author of “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” a Library of Science Alternate Selection. He frequently blogs for the American Chemical Society.