Guest post from TBEX North America 2019 Sponsor, Finger Lakes Wine Country and Public Relations Professional, Carol Cain

One of the top questions from content creators hoping to nail that pitch or networking opportunity with brands is how to do it best. Should you bring a media kit? Should you layout a solid, full pitch? Maybe instead master a brief, but impactful, elevator pitch? How much should you ask for upfront? Do you ask for anything at all? Is it OK to just say “Hi”?

Before I share my tips with you, a little background.

I started blogging in 2008. This was after working in public relations in the non-profit, in the publishing world, and as a volunteer for organizations ranging from breast cancer foundations to at-risk teen shelters. Travel blogging is worlds away from the kind of work I did, and the type of media and brands we worked with then couldn’t be more different than those whom I work with today.

But public relations and marketing, at its core, is the same and the key elements that make for a beautiful alignment between media and brand remain true across industries.

I know this because the communication practices that I trained and mastered during my time in field served me well in growing my own brand and business with my blog, Girl Gone Travel, and again as owner of Brave World Media, a social media marketing and branding agency.

One of my clients, Finger Lakes Wine Country, is a sponsor for TBEX Billings and was the destination host for TBEX North America 2018. I was involved with the conference from the host destination perspective from the idea phase until the very last TBEX attendee was gone.

Safe to say, I’ve learned some things which might help in the networking process, and these tips are good, not just for content creators, but also for the brands looking to connect with them.

Research before requesting

Whether an attendee or a brand, before you send out that request for invite on Blogger Bridge, research. Don’t rely solely on that platform for your insights either. Dig, Google, and check out social platforms. Make sure that at the very least the party you are interested in, or made a request to meet, is what you are looking for. The slots for the networking sessions are limited, use them wisely and be selective. Sometimes a brand may sound exciting on the surface, but upon further inspection, you might find that kind of work they do isn’t really your cup of tea – or expertise, which brings me to the next tip.

Have talking points to show that you know your audience. Nothing irks me more, both as a brand representative or as a blogger, then when I show up to an agreed upon meeting and get asked, “So what do you do?” It is disrespectful and a massive waste of time. Research each other before requesting and have some knowledge of whom you are addressing before meeting.

Focus on the long-game and on perfecting a skill

Media work, especially travel media work, is a tough gig and stressful, especially if the goal is to make money on travel campaigns and paid partnerships. If the money-making strategy is dependent on the amount of paid campaigns and trips you hope to get in one year then you are drastically limiting yourself to a very small pool of opportunities. The importance of mastering a skill based on traditionally trained professions – whether it be copywriting or videography, is what keeps you in demand when those sponsored travel wells run dry.

In fact, you might find yourself being hired for more paid opportunities not traditionally in travel – or in front of the cameras of travel, than for a paid-to-travel gig.

For my clients, I reserve those paid-to-travel gigs for people with whom I have a relationship with. People whom I trust, whom I’ve met more than once, and with whom I have spoken with for more than 15 minutes. And I am always looking for new people and contacts, but we take our time. The smart brands do. This is because budgets are limited, and we have people that we have to report to as well. Press trips are expensive, and we have to justify all of it. So, when it comes to paid campaigns especially, those decisions will never be made in a 15-minute networking session. Or at least, they shouldn’t be.

 

Taking those 15 minutes in your networking session to simply introduce yourself and make that contact, and then deciding if that’s a relationship you want to pursue as a long-term investment.

As for brands, commit to building those long-term relationships too. Don’t just rely on the least expensive approach to sustain your marketing and branding message. Invest in the relationship building, then invest the money in those quality people. Never make promises you can’t keep or can’t afford.

Be honest, with yourself first

There are brands that I absolutely love following on Instagram, who do some really cool things. That I like to take in as a consumer or viewer, NOT as a participant or spokesperson. Some brands are known to have lucrative budgets, but our messages don’t align – no matter how much I like generous partnerships.

Same with content creators. Some have a nice following and a great voice, but they just are not the right fit for your brand’s focus or upcoming goals.

Be honest with yourself, your abilities, your interests, and your long-term goals and don’t just follow the money simply because it is there. Make room, or better yet, recommend someone who would be a better fit. There is always someone, and this practice foster collaboration and community in ways that are far more valuable.

So, what should you bring?

A business card is fine. Most of us on the brand side have a lot of stuff to carry, and ship and manage. Your beautiful media kit is best emailed, and your simple and clear business card is all we need to follow up. But do come to make an impression. We want to remember you and get a sense for your style, your work, your interests.

And brands, they need to impress you too. Networking sessions sometimes can seem like an imbalance of power, with brands seemingly holding all the cards. This is not true. Brands and marketers need creative talent and ideas too and they’ve invested a lot of money in the hopes of finding it TBEX.

Do you go for the ask right away?

I think it’s fair to ask what a brand’s marketing strategy is and what their goals are for the upcoming year. Granted, September is a little too early for companies to have those details and plans, let alone set budgets narrowed down, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get solid answers right away.

But it is helpful to know if a brand participates in paid campaigns with bloggers, or if they are just looking for creatives to send on press trips, or what exactly they want.

I know content creators who don’t do anything unless they are paid right off the gate. For my clients that might not be a good fit (again, long game and relationship building), but there are brands who work differently. They might have already been following you and requested to meet for that face-to-face. So, you never know.

But if you’re going to present yourself as someone who charges for what they do, have a solid portfolio to present (via email) and an even solid pitch to let us know why we should consider.

Lastly, don’t limit your networking to these 15-minute sessions

There are so many opportunities to connect and converse and get to know each other, make the most of it. Just, keep cool. Don’t interrupt conversations or shove your card in people’s faces. Don’t stalk or be too aggressive. Like I said, most decisions involving budget spending and media investment will not be made during a first-time meeting over beers. Some can, of course, but not generally. So, just talk and get to know each other and take the time to shine and learn and grow.

These are the things that make for a productive, worthwhile conference experience and potential work in the end.