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Paddling for a profit: How to turn one trip into multiple stories

BY KRIS MILLGATE

It’s that time of year. If you haven’t already committed to attending OWAA’s annual conference, you are probably weighing the pros and expenses. But if you plan it right, OWAA’s annual conference can be a money-making opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Last year’s conference in Duluth, Minnesota, led me to multiple stories on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, making the trip not just valuable, but also profitable.

Here’s how I turned conference expenses into income-generating stories.

ONE: HOW THE STORY REACHED MY RADAR.

I attend my first SHOT Show in January 2017. Katie McKalip, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers communications director, invites me to a conservation dinner while at the world’s largest gun and ammunition trade show. The food is fabulous, as is the discussion on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and what’s at stake if the Minnesota watershed is mined.

TWO: I’M INTRIGUED BY THE STORY, BUT I’M SO FAR AWAY.

It’s March and I’m looking at almost $2,000 in expenses for OWAA 2017 conference in Duluth, Minnesota. I’m upside down on value before I arrive in June. Conferences must justify themselves in opportunity (work) or I don’t get to go.

Duluth is closer to Boundary Waters than my hometown of Idaho Falls, Idaho. If I’m going all that way, I might as well go a bit farther and touch, portage, paddle and fish the Boundary Waters. I report more strongly when I know the resource firsthand anyway.

THREE: NONE OF THE CONFERENCE TRIPS SUIT MY STORY NEEDS.

By April I can tell I’m going to have to grab this bull by the horns and create my own post-conference trip. Duluth conference trip coordinator Gene Shaw helps me connect with Boundary Waters outfitter Steve Piragis of Piragis Northwoods Company. He’s fighting the mine. So is his fly-fishing buddy, Reid Carron, who offers to come along so I can pick up a fly-fishing story in addition to the mining story.

Piragis knows the outlets I work with, including Field & Stream, so he knows I have legitimate assignment potential. He offers one day in his canoe at no charge as a media trip with lodging in his guest house the night before.

I also line up Lukas Leaf of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. We met at that SHOT dinner in January. He’s in Duluth for the OWAA conference too. I interview him before I head to the Boundary Waters. I also pick up the other side of the story, the pro-mine side, during a conference panel discussion. A lot of heated statements erupt during panels. Don’t skip them.

FOUR: HOW TO GET FROM CONFERENCE TO MY STORY.

I don’t have a car in Duluth. I need one for the two-hour drive north and back to Duluth for my flight home. I mentored fellow OWAA member Emily Stone at the OWAA 2016 conference in Billings, Montana.

Emily’s a Midwesterner. Turns out, she’s going to conference in Duluth and she lives close enough to drive. Guided canoe trip in the Boundary Waters covered as media with additional expenses covered by me, her mentor? She’s in. My transportation is taken care of as long as I keep her gas tank, and her belly, full. I also happily answer any questions she has about the freelance life and the work I do.

FIVE: MAKING GOOD ON MY PROFITABLE CONFERENCE COMMITMENT WITH A STORY.

I don’t take advantage of my media status and I don’t expect handouts, not even from polite Midwesterners like Steve and Emily.

If I say I’m on assignment, I really am. Free media trips are great, but trips don’t pay my conference expenses or my mortgage. Stories do.

I turn multiple stories for print and video media outlets as soon I return from Minnesota. Gene knew I would. Steve and Reid knew I would. Emily knew I would. They kept their end of the deal. I keep mine. I write stories on fly-fishing for Sporting Classics and on mining, the original reason Boundary Waters sparked my interest, for Field & Stream.

SIX: HOW MY STORY KEEPS ON GIVING.

I wrote and sold three stories from my trip, but that is just the beginning.

I now have a personal connection with a natural resource that keeps surfacing in the news as the mining issue progresses. I’m ready to cover updates. I have established sources a convenient call away. I also have extra photos and video so I can offer new visuals every time I update the story.

As for Emily, she found a new angle for her weekly column during our trip. She also made two new friends. She lives much closer to Steve and Reid than I do and sees them more often than I do. And her book “Natural Connections” sells in Ely, Minnesota, our canoe trip launch city where she pitched a bookstore manager.

Moral of the story; Go to conference, request a mentee or be a mentor and put your own elbow grease into covering conference expenses by creating an assignment-worthy trip. ♦

OWAA member Kris Millgate is an outdoor journalist based in Idaho. See more of her work at http://www.tightlinemedia.com.

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