Where to meet and greet

To network or not to network? In good times and bad, the smart answer is always "yes." Connecting with fellow media pros is a practice that can light a flame under a fledgling career, accelerate one that’s on the rise, or keep an old one out of the obits.

In Chicago, an enterprising networker can literally attend a different event every night of the week and still not cover them all. Some are rather formal affairs while others are as casual as drinks at a local bar.

But no matter what your personal style, professional interest or allotment of free time, there’s a group out there waiting for you.

The number and variety of professional organizations in the Chicago area has always been robust, and in some sectors has actually flourished during tough economic times. With fewer staff jobs and greater competition for freelance opportunities, the task of networking takes on new urgency.

"Membership is up a lot; conferences are up a lot," reports Leigh Jones, a board member of the Independent Feature Project (IFP) in Chicago. "I think people are more entrepreneurial because of the economy."

On the other hand, groups that have traditionally counted on corporate support are feeling the pinch. "Fifteen years ago, a lot of Chicago corporations had complete in-house media departments on staff," says Dan Niccolai, president of MCAI-Chicago (formerly ITVA, Chicago chapter). "That’s not the case any more. The industry is much more fragmented."

Add to this mix a tidal wave of new media technology, and you’ve got a talent pool in need of direction, education and inspiration.

Part One untangles the alphabet soup of Chicago area organizations dedicated to media professionals. Part Two will concentrate on the proliferation of groups focusing on the booming indie film and theater scene.

AMC (Association for Multimedia Communications)
Membership fee: $90 for individuals

President Harvey Tillis reports that AMC started in 1990 “pretty much as a Macromedia Director users group” and evolved from there. Today the group is extremely diverse, reflecting the changing demands of the market. AMC’s mission is to help their 250 members “create value with knowledge management.”

One of the most unique aspects of this group is that they do not hold general meetings; instead, members can choose to attend any combination of four different SIG meetings each month. The SIGs include Content, Director, E-Learning and Web. Nor do they publish a traditional printed newsletter, opting to communicate via Web and Email.

AMC hosts an annual Interactive Communications/Interactive Design competition. Non- members pay a fee to attend meetings.

CSN (Chicago Screenwriters Network)
Membership fee: None

Founded in early 1995 by Ed Bernero and Christiana Miller, CSN is a relatively informal aggregation in which “Attendance = Membership.” All you have to do is show up on the first Sunday of each month (generally) at 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln. A $3 donation covers admin costs, and the restaurant’s $5 cover charge goes toward your meal.

Recent guest speakers have included Harold Ramis, Linda Seger, Maise Poi and Eric Poticha. There are about 50 members locally, and a West Coast branch is in development. CSN sponsors a “script feedback program” in which copies of your script are read by members who provide feedback the following month.

CAF (Chicago Advertising Federation)
Membership fee: Paid by corporations

Founded in 1905, CAF is the oldest organization for Chicago area advertising professionals. Members are corporations – every employee of a corporate member is entitled to member benefits. They hold a remarkable quantity and variety of monthly events including luncheons, seminars, career days, outreach programs and diversions like bowling and volleyball. Check out their very appealing website to see what’s going on. CAF sponsors the annual Windy Awards.

FLAP (Freelance Agency Producers)
Membership fee: None

And who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? On the first Friday of every month (generally) you can drop in at Post Effects for a cookout lunch and guest speakers who explore topics near and dear to freelance agency producers. Founded by Evie Silvers in 1999, FLAP has grown in tandem with ad agency downsizing. She reports that one of the most valuable benefits is the sense of community among freelancers who can otherwise find themselves feeling isolated and out of the loop.

A spin-off group called Dreamcatchers functions as an informal “think tank.” To get on the FLAP Email list, Email Evie at flapchi@aol.com.

IWOC (Independent Writers of Chicago)
Membership fee: Contact IWOC and ask about Professional or Associate membership

Board member Christina Foster says that this 20 year old organization has about 150 members, but that their roster has decreased slightly as of late. Their website includes an extensive set of links for professional writers.

MCAI (Media Communications Association International)
Membership fee: National and Associate (local) memberships available. See websites.
Local: http://www.mcaichicago.com
National: http://www.mca-i.org

This is the organization formerly known as ITVA (International Television Association), and still caters to staffers and freelancers involved with producing media for corporations. & #147;The name change was the result of a proliferation of new formats, e-media, online and interactive,” says Chicago chapter prez Dan Niccolai.

Although the chapter remains one of the largest in the country with about 300 members, those numbers have slipped in recent years. “National membership has taken the greatest hit,” he explains. “Right now there’s no national conference, which used to be a big draw.”

One of Dan’s goals is to bring a larger contingent of younger participants into the fold. They generally meet on the third Wednesday of the month in various locations. Non- members usually pay a fee to attend meetings.

WIDC (Women in the Director’s Chair)
Membership fee: $35 w/discounts for multiple years and students

Besides hosting a wealth of screenings and events all year, WIDC sponsors the largest and longest running women’s film and video festival in the country. They focus on hot-button issues like feminism, the challenges faced by young girls, political activism, multiculturalism and social change.

Events coordinator Lopa Pal reports that they have a "fairly stable" roster of 71 members, and that one of the most valuable member resources is a 700+ tape archive of works that have been part of their festivals since 1980. They also boast a 100-seat theater and media center in Uptown.

"It seems like we’ve got our finger on the pulse of what’s going on right now," says program director Sabrina Craig. "There’s a sense of urgency behind the activism, especially when it comes to cross-boarder issues. Our members use narrative as well as experimental formats in their work."

WIFV (Women in Film & Video)
Membership fee: $30 to $150

WIFV (affectionately known in some circles as "chicks in flicks") started in L.A. back in 1973, then grew to include 40 chapters, including Chicago, and is now headquartered in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, the contact information on their website regarding the Chicago chapter is no longer accurate. So if there are any active Chicago members out there, please let us know. — by Joan Tortorici Ruppert

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