Is attending industry shows worth the cost?
BY LOU DZIERZAK
The trade winds start blowing at the start of the year. With the new year, January brings the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake city and the SnowSports Industries America Show in Denver. These not only kick off the trade show season, but are considered must-attend events for freelance writers focusing on outdoor recreation. But as soon as the shows finish, many freelancers start thinking about next year and wondering if attending is worth it.
Commitment to the show circuit can keep you away from home for weeks and even for savvy travelers, rack up thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
Freelance pay rates are low and no one is covering your travel expenses. Access to key brand executives is limited even for those who schedule interviews in advance. If a brand’s public relations agency contact can send the latest press releases and images, why endure the hassle of missed flights, excess baggage fees and catching the guaranteed 10-day cold that follows spending hours indoors with 5,000 other travelers. (Seems like half the people you talk to apologize for their runny noses and rumbling coughs. No one ever comes home virus-free.)
So travel is expensive, you don’t great access to sources and you’ll likely come home sick? It seems like an easy decision to stay home. But let’s take a look at the other side of the ledger before making the final decision.
For Aspen, Colorado, freelancer Allison Patillo, trade shows are one of the few times she’s able to leave the isolated world of working on her own. It’s a way to connect with colleagues, as well as industry leaders and editors, she said.
Most freelance writers have experienced the frustration of sending a well-thought-out, finely crafted article query to a magazine editor. Sadly, too many of those queries never reach the intended audience. Most editors aren’t rude folk who care little about freelancers. They are just overworked journalists constantly surrounded by fire-breathing deadline dragons.
Attend one of the many media events hosted by major brands at any of the big shows, and you may find yourself sitting next to that elusive editor. After introductions, the conversations often turn to looking for opportunities. Editors are always looking for new content, and freelance writers never fail to jump in with an idea.
“Trade shows are one of the most important parts of my year,” said Aaron Bible, a
freelance writer from Nederland, Colorado. “It’s a networking opportunity with my peers and my existing clients and dozens of potential clients. Every meeting, every interaction, every dinner is a potential interview and opportunity for getting new work, embarking on new creative projects, looking for contracts and full-time work, and meeting other writers and photographers who may expand your network and become valuable resources in the short and long term. I’ve met editors and gotten assignments just by hanging out in the press room and going up and talking to people.”
Perhaps one of the freelance writers with whom you shared a beer goes home and finds themselves with a new job at a publication looking for contributors. They start thinking of the writers they know—and you are on the list.
Editors from established publications aren’t the only source of assignments. In this crazy world of content marketing, startup businesses and ever-expanding outdoor-oriented websites, you might find work with a brand or company with an in-person introduction.
Regular attendance at trade shows also builds credibility in the industry. Despite the crowds, trade shows are actually small communities. Writers who attend show after show, year after year, are often recognized as industry experts.
“Connecting in person is the best way to understand the vision and goals of gear manufacturers and travel companies,” said James Dziezynski, an author and freelancer from Boulder, Colorado. “For veteran show attendees, those relationships morph into a sort of institutional knowledge that creates excellent working relationships based on an understanding of where all these brands want to live in a competitive outdoors market.”
Remember how you wondered if you couldn’t just get the same information you glean from the exhibit floor, from a press release in your email? Don’t forget 100 other media contacts received the same information. It’s hard to find a story angle from your house that will resonate with an editor who likely received the same email press release.
Networking is a buzzword, but it works. The relationships, friendships and nuggets of information found from roaming a trade show flow can lead to consistent assignments and steady income.
“Trade shows are going to have the best-connected people in the industry en masse and the aspiring professional would be foolish to pass up such the opportunity to engage with them,” said Dziezynski.
So confirm those flights, pack your bags and hit the road. Trade shows are definitely worth the investment. ♦
— Lou Dzierzak has been a freelance writer since 1997. His trip to the 2017 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will mark his 39th consecutive visit to the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Show.