Press passes generally get you into all the events during a tech conference for free. Most of the time pre conference bootcamps are included, as are all the seminars and such that you normally have to pay $800 or more to be able to attend. Because of this many people want to get press passes, but conference organizers can sometimes be shy about giving them out. Over the years I’ve found there are a couple of tricks to this process.
The first “trick” is that you need to in fact be creating a decent amount of content. Whether you’re creating videos or blog posts you need to be able to show that you’re someone who is going to tell the world about what you see. Truthfully you are not given a press pass for “free”. Rather you are given a press pass so that you can create inexpensive advertising for the event. Advertising is a huge expense in any business so a $600-$3000 complimentary pass per journalist is far cheaper than buying banner ads or such. They give you a pass and you write about the event. It’s a win for everyone.
To this end I would argue that you should have created a minimum of 100 pieces of content. When the PR person goes to check out your site if they see a few poorly written blog posts they simply are not going to give you a pass. Additionally you should have your platform setup to seem like a real business. Buy and use a real Domain Name, with a corresponding Twitter/Facebook account, and email address. Take a few seconds to make sure your site looks professional enough. You’re not looking to win any awards you just need your site to look like something a visitor would purposely come to. Then your About page for the site, and for you, should give a story that sounds professional. When a PR person goes to your site do they see something a professional would be proud of, or a newbie threw together?
The next thing to realize before you start asking for press passes is that it costs a lot to go to events even if they are free. Airfare, or travel, can cost $300 or more, hotel will generally be around $100 per night, then add in food and sundries and you come out to a reasonable amount of out of pocket expense. I generally figure the cost to attend events comes to between $500-$1500 before we even think of the ticket price. Think about this cost and whether you can afford it before you decide to ask for a pass.
Once you have a base for claiming to be “press” all you do from there is find the News or PR link on an events website and email, or fill out the form, that you are instructed to. I’ve found the best time to request a pass is between 30-60 days before the event. Being a new person to this process it is very likely they will ignore you and not even send a response. If you don’t receive a response within 2 weeks you should find the phone number for the PR person for the event and directly call them. The number is almost always listed on the same page where you find the other PR information for the event. What I have found for getting press passes, as in the rest of life, is that if you get a human on the phone and you politely explain how desperately you want want to be able to tell your followers about the event that the PR person will generally agree to a pass. A great lesson in life to remember is that it is incredibly easy to ignore an email, it’s very hard to turn someone down you are actually talking to.
If at this point you fail not all is lost. Most tech events have multiple levels of passes. The most expensive are $3000, but they generally have a $50 or even free level. This level will get you into the keynotes, the exhibition hall, and the vendor seminars. You’re not going to see everything, but frankly you’ll get a hell of a lot.
If you get the free ticket you can then go and find the Media Room at the event once you arrive. Once you’re at the event you find the person responsible for press passes and ask them very kindly, while looking them in the eye, can you pretty please have a pass. What I’ve found at this point is that they’ll go to a computer, pull up your website, and in about 2 seconds decide whether you deserve to be called “press”. Keep in mind the person you’re dealing with is not a VP or high level employee, they’re someone that is very happy to have a job and probably has far too much on their plate. They won’t give out a pass to someone who seems like they’re simply trying to get a free ticket, but on the other hand they don’t want to end up in an argument either. Being nice, polite and professional is the surest way to have the person simply sign off on your pass.
The great thing is that once you get a press pass your name is put on a press list and receiving passes in the future is as simple as emailing the PR person and saying how much your’e anticipating attending again. Beyond being put on the list for a single event many times numerous different tech events are put on by the same parent company. So UBM puts on all the versions of InterOp plus Cloud Connect and E2. When I received my pass for InterOp it ended up granting the ability to get passes for the rest (The same person handles passes all of them).
Getting a press pass the first time is a pain, but once you do it’s far easier to get more. Just remember to be nice, polite, professional and be just a tad bit assertive. All the PR person really cares about is getting more coverage for their event so simply make it clear all you really want to do is cover the event.
If you don’t receive a pass for this years event don’t give up hope for the future. Write about the event, share your content on social networks, and the next event you try to attend may work out better. If someone from the event reshares/ likes/ favorites a post you do a very polite nudge along the lines of “I really wish I had had a press pass so I could have shared more” can sometimes work magic.