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Industry events are a great opportunity to connect with your favorite brands. But how do you get the conversation started? What should you bring? When should you follow up?

In this guest post, Katie Proctor, MBA, RDN, Founder of Wellevation HQ (an influencer marketing consulting group) shares all her secrets from “the other side of the table” as a former agency rep and brand marketing manager in the natural products industry.

Plan your days in advance

The work really begins as soon as you register for the conference.

The Expo Hall is generally the best “one stop shop”, but many brands will also sponsor educational sessions, DPG meetings, or other events during the show.

Complete a thorough review of the conference schedule to understand where potential brand contacts will be hanging out and how you can find them.

Also keep an eye on the individual brand’s social media channels or the event hashtag leading up to the conference in case they share other opportunities that aren’t officially listed in the program materials!

Map out your daily route, focusing on your priority connections. Be realistic about your schedule so that you can have quality conversations without feeling rushed, trying to hit every booth or event.

The reality is you’re not going to be passionate about every single product or association out there so spend your time with those who really matter to you.

Be in the moment

Brands attend FNCE because they want to meet YOU!

They don’t want to just hang out behind their booths, stand awkwardly at the podium after a presentation, or sit alone at a sponsored breakfast.

Remember that the people behind the brands are just like you, and if you approach the event as an opportunity to build relationships and meaningful connections, rather than deliver a sales pitch, you are more likely to find opportunities come your way after the show.

Be confident that brands are interested in your perspective, especially as it relates to their industry, product or target audience. At the same time, be inquisitive and engaged by seeking to understand their perspective as well.

Throughout the event, be present and approachable. You never know who you’ll accidentally “meet” while waiting in line for the bathroom, coffee or even walking to your next session.

Keep your eyes up and scan the crowd for connection rather than staring at your phone. Emails and social media won’t disappear, but your opportunity to meet someone face-to-face can come and go in an instant!

Get in front of the right people

Ideally, you’ll be able to speak to someone in the marketing department, whether that is someone who works for the brand directly or their agency partner.

These are typically the primary decision makers when it comes to future campaigns, but you have an opportunity to make an impression (good or bad) on anyone you speak to. If the person you want to speak with is busy, be open-minded.

Don’t underestimate the role an intern, coordinator, or other staff plays. Every company is structured differently, and you never know who is involved in making recommendations for future partnerships.

It’s also not unheard of for brands to give extra badges to friends or family. You may even find yourself speaking to the company’s founder or a close relative without realizing it (I’ve seen it happen many times). You’ll want them singing your praises after you walk away!

What to bring

Truthfully, as little as possible. Resumes and media kits are overkill for large scale events.

The priority is not to impress someone with the size of your audience or stress over having a small one. The opportunity is to impress the brand with who YOU are and the knowledge, creativity and connections you bring to the table. 

Even business cards often get tossed in the trash, because brands receive so many pieces of paper at these events.

The best thing you can do is remember the name of the person you connected with and:

1. Get their card (instead of leaving yours and hoping for a follow-up)

and/or

2. Direct message them on social, mentioning who you met at the event, to get in touch that way.

How to connect

Like a human!

Start by taking the mystery out of the person on the other side of the table. You both are attending the event with goals and objectives in mind so find out theirs!

  • Why are they here?
  • Who are they trying to reach through RD’s?
  • What new products are they showcasing?
  • What message are they trying to spread?

I suggest having a short, but descriptive introduction when you first meet someone but don’t immediately go into a pitch (trust me, they hear plenty and start to tune out if they don’t feel engaged). Ask questions and listen, and where you fit in will come much more naturally.

This would be a good time to genuinely ask the brand how they work with RD’s/health professionals, content creators or online influencers. Once you understand what’s important to them, you will have a better idea of how to frame the conversation.

Don’t worry about details like your rates or how many followers you have on Facebook (seriously), just listen to what they need and start brainstorming how your strengths could benefit them. Even if you don’t present these ideas in-person (but don’t be shy!), it will get the wheels turning for what could be a win-win partnership.

If you love the product or company, give them a shout-out on social media. It demonstrates goodwill and that you aren’t only brand-friendly if there’s money behind it. Their social team or agency may be keeping an eye out for these mentions during the show and referencing them later.

Things to avoid

As someone who has worked many conferences, there are a few things that consistently leave a poor impression on brand reps.

I’m listing a few of my top “don’ts” here so you can save yourself the trouble and potentially embarrassment!

DON’T save important conversations for the last hour of the day, especially on the last day of the show. The brand reps have been on their feet for hours and they are ready to leave!

     Pro tip: Visit the booths when the educational sessions are going on as they will be least busy and able to pay more attention to you.

     DON’T be that person who clearly just wants free samples, demands full size or display product, or grabs stacks of pamphlets/coupons. We usually cringe when we see the extra suitcases! To the brand, it just appears that you’re in it for “free stuff” and not interested in building a connection or higher-level conversation.

     Pro tip: Try whatever they’re sampling and give feedback! Brands love that.

     DON’T flat out ask if the brand wants to sponsor you or pay you for services without building a genuine connection first. This is like skipping all the important stuff on a first date! Plus, at bigger shows brand reps get tired of being constantly sold to or pitched, especially if they’re not the right person for the pitch.

How to follow up

We all know how overwhelming it can be to come back from a vacation or event and get right back into work. That’s exactly how the brands feel – so give them a little breathing room.

I recommend waiting about a week to follow up (unless otherwise indicated during your discussions) so they can catch up on their inbox and make space to communicate with you. Otherwise you risk your email getting lost or deleted in that post-event madness.

Most importantly, remember that landing brand partnerships is a long game. You are planting seeds to blossom later, so you must continue to cultivate the relationship after the event. If you want a brand to view a potential partnership with you as more than a transaction, then you also need to treat it as such.

And don’t forget to make time for your RD colleagues, too! Brands will often discover other potential partners by noticing who an existing partner associates with, online and offline. As you can see, I’m a big believer that everything comes back to relationships and that when you focus on people first, the partnerships will follow.

P.S. If you haven't checked it out yet, I totally recommend joining The Unconventional RD Community on Facebook, signing up to get my 25 Must Have Resources for Online Entrepreneurs (seriously, this list will save you hours of googling), & connecting with me on social media! (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

Best, Erica