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
As the economy continues to plummet and unemployment reaches a 25-year high, many of us are thankful to be engaged in good, honest work. Standards have also skyrocketed. Beyond checking in for the 9 to 5, we are required to be more efficient, persuasive and successful at meeting our goals. Our livelihoods depend on our ability to adapt quickly to rising expectations.
The increased pressure of cubicle life extends even more forcefully to your clients. Now more than ever before, companies shelling out the big bucks for PR expect not just results, but a tangible passion from their PR team. The savviest companies realize they’re not just paying a vendor – they’re enlisting a trained team of enthusiastic advocates that can get behind their product and authentically champion their brand to mainstream press, bloggers or their consumer base.
Time is limited, and a prized resource in these troubling times. But a few small investments of time can establish a solid relationship with your client that should weather you through the storms.
1. Know the business. Spend some quality time getting to know your client’s product. Pretend you’re the end user and you have to decide if this product is worth your energy. Are you excited about the product? Feeling just “meh” about it? Let your client know. He or she will appreciate your investment in their product and your knowledge of their core business will make you a valued asset in the development and promotion process.
2. Look for the competitive edge. Do some industry reading. How does the competition stack up to your client? Are there strengths the client has that you can capitalize on? Weaknesses that need addressing? Become an expert on your client’s space and look out for how you can leverage the competitive advantage.
3. Don’t be a “yes” man. If you have doubts about a proposed strategy, say so. Speak up. Start a productive dialogue. Demonstrate that you have the client’s best interests at heart, and provide compelling reasoning to prove it. You’re not being paid to affirm the client’s ideas about PR. They are paying you for your expertise. Make it clear that you are ardently thinking about the future of their business and advocating the most effective strategy for promoting it.
4. Imagine you’re the boss. What if you were running your client’s company? Think of what fears, hopes and dreams would overtake your mental energy. What would keep you up at night? Your client will usually share these answers with you, but putting yourself in their shoes provides a more colorful picture of reality. Work on anticipating those thoughts and thinking from the bigger picture perspective as a business owner.
5. Be an advocate even when you’re “off the clock.” We’re often required to attend networking events after hours to build contacts and rub elbows with new and different people. Do you have your 10 to 30-second elevator pitch at the ready? You never know when you might need to advocate your client at the appropriate moment to a relevant person.
Your client is pouring their heart and soul into their company. If you commit to mirroring that passion in the work you execute on their behalf, they will appreciate your efforts (and continue to keep you employed!).
I’ve been reading a book on media relations that’s been a great resource for me: Media Training 101 by Sally Stewart. It’s a good primer on smart PR tactics when working with press.
The interesting thing about the book is that it’s primarily geared toward executives and business people. Not PR pros.
Why is that funny? Having worked with quite a few execs throughout my career, I can’t imagine them having the time to read a book on media relations strategy.
Many of my clients can’t find time for a good night’s sleep, let alone the 4-6 hours it takes to read a 300-page book. You understand this when you get e-mail responses from your CTO after 10 p.m. at night and realize they’re still hard at work.
Which is what led them to hire a PR firm or consultant in the first place. The reality is it takes quite a bit of training to develop smart communication strategies for your brand.
That doesn’t even take into account the man hours needed to implement the plan once you put it together.
Reading through those pages is a reminder of how much training good PR pros need in order to prove their worth as true experts in communication. This now includes knowledge of traditional media outlets, key audiences, social media platforms, and any other new communication tools pop up along the way.
PR is a lot of hard work and the bar of excellence is high. If you’re a PR pro, you know how tough it is, and if you’re a journalist or blogger, you value the good PR people that are out there.
If it wasn’t challenging for companies to communicate effectively to their various audiences, the need for PR wouldn’t exist. And that’s why good PR, the kind that uses communication tools intelligently and gets results, will never die.