Networking is such a buzz word, particularly for PR people. Who do you know? What relationships can you leverage for your clients? Who do you have an “in” with? A former colleague of mine once told me that as a PR pro, “your contacts are your currency.” And in many ways, she is right. The way that a lot of people size up a PR pro is based on the number of “heavy hitters” she has in her proverbial Rolodex.
While there’s no denying the importance of networking for PR pros, it seems to me that some young PR pros have the wrong idea of how to go about networking in a way that will be mutually beneficial to the PR pro’s individual brand as well as to that pro’s clients.
Let me give you a scenario. I’m at an industry-flavored event (a social media panel, a Web 2.0 presentation, what have you) and afterwards, my colleagues and I feel the urge to “network” a bit afterwards with anyone we find particularly interesting. Too often I hear this response: “Well, y’know, I don’t really see anyone here that would be a fit for my clients. I’ll wait for you guys while you network, and then let’s skedaddle.”
This is NOT the kind of attitude young PRs should be taking in regard to networking. I see too many people that look at networking as a burden and a chore, yet another way in which they are required to “work” at building relationships for clients. This is the absolute WRONG way to look at networking.
When it comes to networking, you should leave your business interests when you leave your cubicle. Why? It’s really very simple: People hate being used or treated like they are only valuable to you because of their ability to help you.
This is not to say that your clients and/or business interests won’t come up naturally in the conversation (you definitely SHOULD have brief talking points prepared on your clients that you can whip out at a moment’s notice. Tomas Carrillo over at The Closet Entrepeneur has a great “elevator pitch” how-to here). But let it be an afterthought to the convo, not the reason for its inception. People will be able to tell you’re trying to start a self-serving conversation if you begin the dialogue with “so have you heard about XX company and how awesome they are?” Or if you start by being too inquisitive into what your conversation partner does (i.e. conveying this type of attitude: “Sooo…should I keep talking to you or move on to someone more important?”). Let the conversation evolve naturally. “So, what brings you here tonight?” “Having a good time?”
And that is the karma of networking. You should network with the knowledge that every person is valuable and should be treated as such, whether or not they seem to have an initial purpose for your current interests. Then, later on down the line, karma will no doubt come back to benefit you. You should never base your choice to network with someone on the clients or business-related interests you have. Your clients will not be around forever, but hopefully the contacts you build throughout your career will stand the test of time. You never know whether or not a contact you make now that seems irrelevant may come back to benefit you later on.
Worst case scenario: you will meet someone interesting that doesn’t happen to hold any on-the-face value to what you’re working on for your clients. So what? Big whoop. One of the reasons why I enjoy the PR industry is that I am encouraged to get out there and meet people. And many of those people are interesting, dynamic individuals that provide me with an exciting range of conversations and dialogue.
Wouldn’t it be great if journalists, bloggers, and other important folks thought of you as “that gal that loves to water ski” or “that guy that blogs about marathoning” instead of “the flack that reps XX company”?
Repeat after me:
- I will NOT network for selfish reasons, because networking genuinely and without an agenda will give me good karma.
- I will network for the pure pleasure of meeting new and exciting people, with the knowledge that the relationships I build may end up benefitting me beyond this mere pleasure of good company in the future.
Now take three deep breaths, and repeat until it really sinks in. There, doesn’t that feel better? Now get out there and start meeting people, just for fun, and see how many great and worthwhile connections you can make when you’re not constantly angling for the “pitch.”
Some other great resources for honing your networking skillz:
- What in my opinion is THE book on networking and forming meaningful, beneficial relationships: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The Art of Schmoozing by Guy Kawasaki
- How to Work the Room by Larry Chiang
- Networking with Jerks by Penelope Trunk
- Three Common Networking Missteps by Penelope Trunk