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Conferences + Festivals

Networking Tips From Realscreen Summit 2013

Realscreen Delegates' Lounge (Photo (C) TVMole)

Realscreen Delegates’ Lounge (Photo (C) TVMole)

Realscreen Summit 2013 has wrapped. This year it was a sell-out with more than 2,000 registered delegates, which should perhaps be no surprise as it is one of the world’s key industry conferences for those working in non-fiction television. A packed schedule of panels and workshops means that you can keep up-to-date with new programming trends and hear first-hand from some of the main gatekeepers. But with everyone from commissioning editors to acquisitions executives, financiers, distributors and producers in attendance it’s a also a great opportunity to make new contacts and reconnect with old ones. Meet the right person and you could form a new production partnership, find funding or successfully pitch your new idea.

In the space of nine hours I’d bumped into several old contacts – two distribution executives, a commissioning editor, a production executive, a head of development, a producer and an executive producer – and had prearranged meetings with two others – a production company MD and festival director. I’d also chatted to several others, either through introductions or striking up a casual conversation. It all felt quite natural and organic, but then I’ve worked in the industry for a long time, have worked in the USA and attended Realscreen before, so the seeds were already sown. But want if it’s your first time? It can be an intimidating experience to be a festival virgin, and all the more so if you are going alone. So how can you best make the most of your experience at this or any other industry event in 2013 and beyond?

Realscreen Delegates' Lounge (Photo (C) TVMole)

(Photo (C) TVMole)

I talked to Georgia Brown, UK-based Director of Acquisitions, Shine International, who was attending the conference for the first time, and her LA-based colleague Hayley Babcock, Senior Vice President, Shine International Acquisitions North America, and producer/director Cindy Pace De Pasquale, Castlefrancofilms who are both Realscreen veterans, to get their tips to help you make the most of your experience. Here is their combined wisdom distilled and combined with some of my own:

    • Buy your pass well in advance – most festivals operate an Early Bird basis, which can save  you money.
    • Submit your project to the “So You Think You Can Pitch” or any other relevant events well in advance of the deadline. You are unlikely to do your best work at midnight the night before.
    • Make a list of all the people you want to meet and set up meetings with them in advance.
    • When planning meetings, make sure that you leave yourself enough time to get between floors and venues. Some larger companies hire hotel suites which can take time to get to if there is a logjam at the elevator.
    • Print and pack enough business cards to last you for the whole conference.
    • Practice your one-line introduction so that you aren’t tongue-tied when someone speaks to you and asks why you are attending.
    • Find a good centrally located area where you can get free WiFi in between meetings and panel sessions. Most people at Realscreen congregate in the delegates’ lounge or lobby bar. Spending your downtime here gives you more opportunities to chat to new people and have some serendipitous conversations.
    • Recce the venue when you arrive so you know where the restrooms / coffee stations are for when you need emergency relief/sustenance.
    • If you have prearranged pitch meetings, it’s helpful for the commissioning or distribution executive to have seen your treatment and/or promo tape in advance – that way you can spend your time in useful discussion rather than reviewing your materials.
    • Make sure to be super-organized – you need to be able to find your business cards, proposals, promos, pens when you need them in the middle of a meeting without digging about in the depths of your bag/pockets.
    • Get the cell phone number of all the people you plan to meet so you can let them know if you are running behind or lost.
(Photo (C) TVMole)

(Photo (C) TVMole)

  • Don’t forget to eat! In the mad rush to fit everything in it can be hard to find time for a proper lunch or dinner. Schedule in some proper breaks or at least make sure you have some snacks with you that you can eat in the go. If you are going out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner be sure to schedule in enough travel time so that you don’t miss post-meal meetings.
  • Go to as many events as you can because you never know what you might learn or who you might meet.
  • Be especially sure to make time to go to the bar after dinner – that’s where all the best networking happens.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers; everyone at the conference loves TV and loves to talk TV and they are all there to make new connections.
  • Keep your eyes open; someone you know maybe talking to someone you’d like to meet and can therefore broker an introduction.
  • But be respectful of people’s space: if they look deep in conversation don’t disturb them; don’t launch into an unsolicited pitch to a stranger; make sure you know who you are talking to before you make that embarrassing faux pas of criticizing their output and understand that Development Executive has different meanings in the USA than in the UK and elsewhere.
  • If you are feeling networking fatigue, you can still make friends on Twitter by tweeting along to sessions. Retweet other people’s tweets and they will probably return the favour, raising your profile in the process. It’s also great way to keep across what’s going on in other sessions or even find out that you’d rather be in another session so you can make your escape.
Finally, once it’s all over, be sure to follow up with all the contacts you made, reflect on what went well and what you could have done better, and start planning your next trip!



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