This continues my series on professional networking.
If you don’t think promotion should be part of journalism, I understand. I did little to nothing to promote myself or my work in the first 20-plus years of my career. And I had a good career: rewarding mid-level editor jobs and senior reporting jobs at metro newspapers, top editor of a smaller newspaper.
I can’t think of a single self-promotional thing I did for the first two decades of my career, unless you count some internal boasting in newsroom chit-chat or an occasional humble brag to make sure the boss knew my role in a story.
I didn’t do anything to actually promote myself (that I can recall) until 1997. And I think my career since has benefited greatly from self-promotion, and from overcoming a strong journalistic resistance to promotion.
I decided in 1997 that I wanted to train journalists and get paid for doing so. I thought I had something to teach journalists after all those years of work, and I thought I would like training, and I could use the money. And no one would know that I was available to do training if I didn’t promote myself.
So I developed my first website, promoting my training services and posting workshop handouts online. I was taking a web design class under Father Don Doll at Creighton University, and my website was all about me and my training services.
But that was early in the history of the web and well before Google, so I also developed an amateurish flier promoting my services (design was never a strong suit of mine). I mailed that flier to newsrooms and press associations around the Midwest and landed three training gigs: with the York News-Times (a Nebraska daily not to be confused with the New York Times), the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Minot Daily News. Since I was a former Minot editor and well known to the folks at NDNA, those gigs came through a mix of networking and promotion. But I didn’t know anyone at York, and that first training gig came from the amateurish flier.
When I moved to the Des Moines Register in 1998, with writing coach as part of my title and duties, I took two more notable steps in promoting my training business:
- I moved the workshop handouts and promotional materials onto the Register’s website, where it would get more traffic and notice.
- I joined Newscoach list-serv, where newsroom trainers around the world asked questions and shared tips. I should add here that I would have quickly become annoying and unwelcome on the list-serv if I just posted self-promotional messages. What I did was answer questions. If someone asked about something that related to one of my workshops, I not only answered the question, but included a link to my workshop handout. While I was letting peers know the topics on which I could do workshops, I was gaining a reputation for being helpful. It was effective promotion, rather than spamming the list with messages that were purely promotional.
At every step of the way, promotion and networking went hand-in-hand. I sent that amateurish flier out to dozens of Midwestern organizations. But two of the three places where it helped me land business were places where I already had network connections. The Newscoach list was both a place to develop network connections and a vehicle for promoting my services.
In 2000, the trainers on the Newscoach list launched the No Train, No Gain website for sharing newsroom training materials. I became the content coordinator and leading contributor, eventually launching a blog called Training Tracks that I updated weekly. I didn’t do anything that was solely promotional. I just posted my training materials and quickly this obscure reporter from mid-sized Midwestern newspapers became known internationally as a leader in journalism training.
Another of the key organizers of NTNG, Joe Hight, then managing editor of the Daily Oklahoman, became a key network connection and twice hired me to lead workshops for his newsroom. That’s a perfect illustration of how networking and promotion overlap. Did Joe hire me because of my promotion through NTNG or because of our chats at trainers conferences? Probably both.
I still meet people at conferences who thank me for posting my handouts on NTNG.
People would tell me I should put my training materials into a book (a valid promotional step, but one I never took), and asked me how I could afford to “give” my handouts away for free on NTNG. My response was that I couldn’t afford not to give my handouts away. The website was the biggest factor in developing training and consulting as a sidelight that produced a five-figure second annual income for more than a decade, as well as leading to a full-time job at the American Press Institute in 2005, bringing a 33 percent increase in my base pay. I’d have been lucky if book sales would have covered publication costs.
I don’t blog to promote me or my work. I blog to be part of the conversation about journalism in the digital age, and to help other journalists. But my blog has helped my career tremendously. It has played a role in the last three jobs I’ve landed, as well as more training gigs than I could count.
No Train, No Gain is defunct now, but this blog has taken over that role as a place where I publish my training materials. And the tabs at the top of the home page and every post promote my training and consulting services as well as providing details about my career.
Be active and conversational in social media
I didn’t start using social media to promote myself. I just wanted to keep up professionally and I could see how important social media were becoming. But social media also gave me a powerful promotional tool to build my professional profile.
- It grew my professional network. I’ve met dozens, if not hundreds, of journalists first through social media before we met in person, often at conferences. At least two of them later became my bosses.
- As with my blog, I’ve been able to participate in the journalism conversation on social media, remaining active and prominent in those discussions.
- It gave me new skills and prominence in using those skills. I was an early adopter of Twitter in journalism, and because I was already blogging workshop handouts, my handouts for social media workshops gave me quick prominence in social media training.
- By posting links to my blog on social media, I have been able to draw attention to blog posts.
- Because I am conversational in social media, and not just promotional, some people get to know me personally better through social media. Tweets about travel delays, sports, my granddaughters, my cancer treatment and other personal topics have helped journalists who’ve never met me feel as though they know me.
Everything starts with quality
As I’ve noted in each installment of this series, promotion and networking only help you career if you deliver quality work. Those workshop handouts I started posting online were helpful to many journalists, so promoting them helped build my reputation. Promoting crap wouldn’t have helped my career at all.
Also in this series
Want to write a guest post?
You may have some experience in networking that would add to this series. If you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.
Interested in a networking workshop?
The posts in this series can be developed into a workshop or series of workshops for you journalism organization or university. If you’re interested in discussing or scheduling a workshop, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.