Event Coverage: Engaging Readers & Stretching Resources

by Dan Blank on August 6, 2008

While the web is quickly changing the landscape for journalists, magazines, and newspapers, it is also a powerful tool to extend event coverage. The web offers incredible opportunities to do the following:

  • Extend your coverage
  • Further engage your industry
  • Maximize your resources

What can coverage look like? Feasibly:

  • Multiple articles a day
  • Multiple blog entries a day
  • Multiple videos a day
  • Multiple photos per day
  • Coverage that extends beyond your website, onto social networks

Even on weekends. Even for small events. I don’t say this to be clever, I say it because I am watching editors do just this. It’s astounding to see what a single editor can achieve.

So I want to share some ideas. Some of this is remedial, some you are already doing, some may be silly, and likely, you are doing plenty of stuff I didn’t even cover here. The goal here is to spark ideas and start conversations, with the sober reality that your resources are always fewer than you would like:

  • STRATERGIZE (yes I know how to spell)
    Don’t plan on just showing up at the event and covering “what happens.” Because the only thing that will happen is a day spent trying to play catch-up and feeling overwhelmed with what you are missing. Understand what the “story” of the event will be, and how it will be shared. What types of news will their be? which sessions are most valuable? What non-news, industry-culture topics are worth covering? Who will be there? what will the photo-ops be? Where will you take a break to work on your content? Exactly what time will updates be loaded to the website?
  • ORGANIZE & EXPAND (and not just during meals)
    Feeling overstaffed? I thought not. The fact of the matter is, you have to do more with less. Luckily, there are ways to maximize your resources to provide more coverage, without doubling your staff. But don’t leave anything to chance… you can’t prepare too much. To get fully comprehensive coverage, you need to be in 20 places at the same time. Sort out your roles, especially around taking time to coordinate videos and photos, and taking a break to download and post each. Consider using outside bloggers or leveraging others at the show to become contributors.
  • GET THE TECHNOLOGY STRAIGHT (ensure there are enough ‘speak and spells’ to go around)
    Weeks before the event, assess how many laptops, cameras and video cameras you need and can gather. Give yourself enough time to work with IT if anything is needed, even small things like extra batteries or cables.

  • SET EXPECTATIONS (even if they are low)
    Readers need to prepare for the event… whether they are attending or not. Setting expectations is the difference between huge traffic, and mediocre traffic. Pre-event coverage can be done in a number of ways. You can do articles that preview what to expect, be it official information about the event, or what your team is most looking forward to. You can even dig into the archives to do “best of” coverage from last year’s event, including photo galleries.

  • DO THE HARD WORK BEFORE YOU ARRIVE (or, have the intern do the hard work. sorry interns.)

    When you are at the event, you will be crazy busy. Create templates before you arrive, create article types, create landing pages, setup video and photo editing so that it is as easy as possible, set a schedule of when you will take a break to write articles or blogs, download images, edit videos, connect with fellow editors to ensure you aren’t missing anything. No matter what, you will be swamped at the event, but do what you can to maximize the amount of creative space you have while there, and minimize the drudgery. Ideally, you will have someone who serves as technical support and is not at the event – but safely back in the office. They can ensure everything is posted correctly, help with images and videos, and take care of the inevitable technical issues. It happens, be prepared.

  • AGGREGATE, EVEN FROM COMPETITORS (i went there)
    Is anyone else covering the event? You can diminish the value of the competition by being the de facto source for ALL coverage. Have an intern aggregate all coverage and include it as a catch all article of the “best of the rest.” Pay particular attention to individual reporters… bloggers or industry members who will be writing about the event on their own sites. If you can link together all the smaller, grass-roots coverage, you will not only be helping them, but serve as a great resource for your readers. As personal web publishing continues to expand, there is always the risk of us being viewed as “the establishment.” Being generous to the upstarts keep us connected at all levels.

  • GROW YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (put that silly MySpace page to work)
    Did you shoot and upload a video to your website? Add it to YouTube too. Be sure to give a descriptive headline, description and tags, and include a link back to your site. Take photos? Add them to Flickr.com and do the same. Did you just post a new article? Create a Twitter and Friendfeed account and share the link. Many of these services also have widgets that you can embed back into your regular articles and blog entries. The more you expand, the larger of any audience you will capture.

  • CONSIDER LIVE-BLOGGING BIG SESSIONS (because you need this kind of pressure, right?)
    Technology bloggers do this amazingly well… with minute-to-minute updates, and tons of photos. Click here for an example.

  • SPREAD LIKE A WEED (everyone loves weeds)

    How many events do you go to each year? Likely, not all of them, and certainly not the many regional events that your industry may have. Those are opportunities to not only expand your coverage, but empower your readers to become a part of your brand. Start small. Identify a smaller event that would be valuable to a larger audience. Enlist the organizer or attendies to provide coverage, even if it is just sharing notes or a single article. Then expand from there.

  • FUNNEL YOUR READERS (mmmm, funnel cake)
    The great thing about leveraging social networks like Flickr or YouTube, is that you can invite readers to share their photos and videos too.
  • FOCUS ON THE CULTURE (the odder the better)
    Events are the perfect place to share the passion of your readers and the industry as a whole. Who are the characters, what drives them, what are the inside jokes that will have people emailing around your blog entires and videos?
  • FOCUS ON THE ENTIRE CONFERENCE EXPERIENCE (eg: avoid the bathrooms on the 4th floor)
    The conference begins weeks before anyone gets on a plane… help every attendee with this process. Some travel all the time, some very rarely. Take the opportunitiy to help them with the process of attending a conference. Topics like: How to travel in the summer; How to prepare for the event (professionally or personaly); Productivity tips on how to deal with all that email or work when they return; What’s the most efficient way to cover the entire show floor; etc.
  • CONNECT IN SURPRISING WAYS (not Batman surprising… Strawberry Shortcake surprising)
    An event is an opportunity to surprise and inspire. If there is a box, think way outside of it. Contests, surprise meetups, treasure hunts… just like a slumber party. But with people you work with. And fewer pillow fights. Challenge them with provocative questions (worst food at the event, best dressed, best session, biggest dissapointment, worst travel story.)
  • HAVE FUN (or at least pretend)
    Have fun with coverage… funny photo galleries. Cover the coverage. Behind the scenes stories. Interview folks on the plane. Share photos of food… think of any commonalities that connects attendees.

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