Going to ExPlay 13 early this month was a new experience for me. I might be working and producing content on the internet, but I had not previously engaged with the industry on a face to face level. For someone just breaking into the industry, getting the opportunity to network was incredibly exciting. I don’t think I can preach the benefits of networking for the established journalist and the wannabe, as both have different aims.
Being at a conference sells you in a way that you can’t over the internet or even at an interview. When an editor of the publication sees you there, it is like seeing an animal in their natural territory; they get to see how you really behave out in the field. It’s also a good opportunity to chat to writers and editors on a more personal level, which could lead to work experience. However, when you’re chatting with someone who is already employed, don’t be robotic and desperate. You want your dream job, but they’ll know that by the fact you’re unemployed and yet at an event. Just be friendly and natural. Even if you don’t come away from your chat(s) with an opportunity, you should come away with new friends (and, yes, ‘contacts’).
You can also go ahead to chat with developers. If you’re chatting to indie developers, they could offer to let you have a hands on with a build of a game. This is a great opportunity for a write-up and, if you don’t have that much experience behind you, then it is even more valuable. Integrity, though, is a growing concern, so if you’ve been specifically sent something then I think you should be honest in your piece. Give a disclosure that is was sent to you directly. You can really like a developer on a personal level, but you are a professional, and both parties should expect each other to be professionals.
Whether you go to an event or you don’t, using social media is important. I don’t want to have to tout the benefits of one particularly platform but Twitter is where you need to be (aswell as LinkedIn, obviously, which is a mark that you take yourself seriously). You should be engaging with the work of journalists. However, there is a way that this should be approached. Being false and sucking up to people is not cool; showing your honest – but not brutal – opinions is. Show that you are a person rather than some copywriting machine.
You’ll find that the need for networking will never go away. As Matthew Reynolds, Gaming Editor at Digital Spy, said to Wannabe Hacks, you need to be personable in order to make contacts. ‘Without that, you won’t get leads’, he states. Readers will also want to see that you have a social media presence – and they’ll notice if you keep yourself to yourself.
Networking is both a necessity of journalism and rewarding. If you don’t think you can hack it but are desperate to be a games journalist, then you need to work on it or consider another career path. If you can hack it, then be prepared to meet plenty of interesting people, and to have a good social life – journalists do have a reputation for being able to party. Being able to network successfully is by no means a guarantee of a career in journalism, but it will take you more than halfway towards that goal.
Keep an eye on my blog – I’ll be posting every Monday and Wednesday at 6pm, and whenever there’s a hot topic.