Press 101: How to Apply for a Press Badge as a New Outlet
Blogs, Vlogs, and new press outlets for our geeky world are popping up almost daily. Cheap technology and the rise of social media has helped propel individuals and small outlets into great sources for geeky news. And thus, the battle for press badges at conventions has gotten tougher. Not to mention, it can be confusing for a newer outlet to know how and when to start applying for press badges. Remember, every convention is different, and thus has different rules about applying, and who they will accept as press.
This is meant to act as a general guide based off of my experience in the industry, and the opinions and preferences of friends that hold Press positions at various conventions across the US. Even if you follow this guide’s advice word for word, there is never any guarantee you will be given a press badge at a specific convention. Please always be polite, write a full and accurate application, and ask when you have a question about a policy or decision.
Before you even think of starting to apply for press badges though, keep a few things in mind:
Is it easy to find your outlet online? Have you created a name and brand for your outlet that is unique?
What kind of coverage are you offering? Print, video, audio, etc? As a note, many conventions do not offer press badges to outlets that only offer photography coverage.
Has your outlet been consistent? Posting or updating regularly is key!
Each event has the right to deny an outlet a badge. It may be that you don’t meet their qualifications yet. Or that they have reached their cap for press badges that year. Or maybe they don’t think you fit their mission/model. There can be a lot of reasons.
Also know that a press badge can be revoked by a convention for any reason, at any time. By receiving a press badge you are agreeing to follow the convention’s and venue’s rules and policies. It's a privilege, not a right, and as press you are expected to behave accordingly.
Start with a Professional Website
When creating your outlet, you want to make sure you look professional. Having a website, updating it regularly, and linking to your social media give you something to show conventions and individuals. Creating a site is pretty easy, and can be done for free if you don’t have the capital to spend on something right away. A website, rather than linking to a Facebook page or other social media site shows that you put time and effort into your coverage. I also recommend getting some business cards made. If you’re at a con or event, it allows you to network with con runners, or potential readers.
Know Your Social Media and Your Numbers
Keeping up with half a dozen accounts on different platforms can be a hassle, but every good outlet has this mastered. You don’t necessarily need to be on every platform, Twitter and Facebook are the top two to consider, with Instagram coming in right behind as a close third. It’s also important that you try to make profiles that are specific to your outlet, rather than being personal accounts. This just looks a little more professional, but isn’t a requirement all press heads will ask for. But remember, branding is important! You want your voice to be consistent across all your social media, however you have it organized!
The other half of social media is knowing your numbers. This means the analytics. Every platform has them. Some are not native, meaning you have to use a third party application to track analytics. But it's worth looking into for every platform you’re using. Why? Some conventions will ask you what your reach is. This can be more important than your follower count, because reach can go beyond your followers and subscribers. Which in turn means your content getting in front of more people.
Protip: Follow the convention on all their social media and make sure you’re talking about the con before it happens. Publicity before the con helps the convention because it alerts your followers, readers, and anyone that may come across you before the con that you’re attending. Remember, conventions want press to attend to help publicize their event. If you’re doing this before the event, during, and after, then the convention is getting the best coverage.
Read the Convention’s Press Policies and Acceptance Guidelines
Every convention has its own set of rules for how they deal with press. Some conventions may accept new or ‘emerging’ outlets to help grow portfolios. Usually if a convention offers an emerging press badge it comes with fewer perks and guarantees, but it’s still a press badge, and still worth applying for. If there is a portion of their guidelines that you are unclear on, or confused about, send the convention a polite email. If you cannot find information about how to apply, it may be that applications aren’t open yet. Just check back regularly.
Why Should You Get a Press Badge?
Again, press outlets are springing up everywhere. And often they cover very similar topics, industry news, convention reports, dos and don’ts, etc. So why is your outlet unique? Why should a convention give your outlet a badge over another, similar outlet? You need to be able to show the press head that your outlet is unique, can produce a variety of content, and that your content isn’t cookie cutter. Coming up with a unique, new, approach can be difficult, but it's well worth it. You’ll also want to show the convention that your content is worth giving you a badge for. Meaning your content is current, on topic and interesting. Most importantly, be honest about your past coverage, or lack there of. Press heads will check your website and social media, so if you say you've done coverage of something, there should be proof of that.
“If you're a photog, you've gotta have more than just a gallery of images. I want searchable text content, stuff blind people with screen readers can have access to.” - Press Coordinator, WA
Yes it's an obvious thing to do. But you’d be surprised at some of the emails convention staffers get! Make sure your application and your credentials/examples are spell checked. Everyone makes typos here and there. It’s all part of having too little time, sleep and typing too quickly. But making sure you take those extra minutes to spell check, edit, and give your submissions a quick overview counts a lot!
“Spell check everything. I've denied outlets for too many spelling or grammatical errors. They look worse than boring photography.” - Publicity Director, OR
Submit Your Application Early
If you’re worried about being accepted, or if you’ve filled out a section correctly, it's always better to submit early so that you can submit questions or additional information. Waiting until the last minute only makes you stressed, and gives the convention less time to work things out with you if possible.
Respond to Emails about Your Application
If you receive an email from the convention asking for clarification, more information, or preferences, respond quickly and politely. Even if you think you included the information in your application, just remember to respond professionally. Staff are human and sometimes information gets overlooked, misplaced, or just plain lost.
Don’t ask for Interviews with Every Guest
Usually interviews are limited at a convention, and often go to established outlets first. If you’re lucky enough to be given the option of asking for interviews as a newer outlet, understand that you need to be reasonable. Asking to interview every guest will not be viewed favorably. Also be aware of what your outlet covers, if you generally cover comics and pop culture, you may not be granted an interview with the convention’s band. Unless you have a very good pitch for a potential article.
One important part of a convention for Press, especially new Press, is networking. For Press you want to be talking to attendees, staff, vendors and artists as well as the guests and industry. Not only do you want to make people aware of your outlet (getting new readers/viewers is always great!), but you can get different perspectives by doing this. Networking with the staff and other cons that may be attending can put you on their map, and let's them know you're engaged and interested in the convention(s). You'll also want to track down the Press head and introduce yourself as a professional courtesy. It’s also a good idea to try and attend any press events you’re invited to. It will give you an easy place to meet staff and other attending outlets. And even ask any questions you may have for the press staff.
Originally published on 7/29/2016 at conventioning.wordpress.com