Networking for students: tips from the comms professionals (3/3)

Network like a pro!

In the past weeks I covered a few aspects of networking. I wrote two pieces on how students can approach it and make the most of it. These were the insights from my little experience. For this piece, I reached out to the experienced comms practitioners and academics to find out what is their networking advice for students.

David GallagherPresident, Growth, Development, International at Omnicom PR Group, shared some insights into the virtual networking:

“Social media has introduced a whole new universe of networking opportunities. It flattens hierarchies to make very senior people accessible, extends your reach literally around the world and can open doors to real-world prospects. 

“But I am a little surprised at the scatter-gun approach many seem to use. Random likes and shares by themselves won’t get you much; success requires a little bit of discipline and structure, but it’s not that hard.   Read, write and share.

Random likes and shares by themselves won’t get you much; success requires a little bit of discipline and structure.

“Read (or watch/listen) to leaders and commentators in your field.  This gives a sense of what’s important, who’s leading the conversation, and what the tone of conversation is. Write (or record) your own ideas, observations or experiences and they related to your work (or the work you hope to get). This tells people a little about who you are, what they can expect of you and your willingness to put yourself out there with a little more than a CV. And share: start finding the connections between what you’ve read, what you’ve written (or will write) and share them widely and with specific thanks or recognition to those who inspired you. This starts to bring it all together and makes all three parts easier and more cohesive over time.”

[see also: #4PRQs with David]

Sarah Stimson, chief executive at Taylor Bennett Foundation, has also emphasised the importance of networking in the digital space:

“The easiest way to start networking is to do it online. Twitter is a great resource for this, you can reach really senior people directly and it can also lead to attending events in person. Once at an event, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions; most people love talking about themselves. The key to building strong relationships is being able to offer them something so always have in the back of your mind ‘what can I do to help this person?’ Also, don’t forget to ask for business cards – I find the most useful part of networking is what happens afterwards. If you’ve spoken to a particularly interesting person it’s great to be able to follow up with a quick email to say you really enjoyed meeting them and you’d love to see them again for a coffee when they have time. It’s surprising how few people do that and it’ll make you really stand out.”

If you’ve spoken to a particularly interesting person it’s great to be able to follow up with a quick email to say you really enjoyed meeting them.

[see also: #4PRQs with Sarah]

Rich LeighFounder of Rich Leigh & Company, gives another great piece of advice for networking via social media channels — blogging and PR chats play a big part here:   

“I made a conscious decision as soon as I got into PR that I’d make networking a priority. We’re fortunate that networking doesn’t just mean sycophantic schmoozing at industry events today – everything from simply speaking to people in and around the industry online to organising a coffee with somebody to pick their brain can lead to opportunities to learn, form opinions and make connections. I’d probably say that that’s in the order of importance, too – far too many people are entering the industry with the notion they know it all, something I talked about at some length here.

We’re fortunate that networking doesn’t just mean sycophantic schmoozing at industry events today.

“The chances for students to network are everywhere in PR, as is the opportunity to contribute and learn out loud. Blogging and guest blogging are the obvious ones now, but PR chats are another good way to be noticed. I’d say that every year there are a handful of students that make it their aim to be vocal, contributory and, more than anything, involved members of the wider community, and I’m confident these are the ones agencies are taking notice of.

“As ever, there are people in the industry that are keen to support young PRs – myself included – so if any out there have questions or would like advice, there’s no harm in asking. That person might be busy, or overloaded with requests, but the worst that can happen is they don’t respond, or say they don’t have the time.”

President-Elect 2017 of Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Sarah Hall, told me about going to events, importance of the research and following up:

“Networking is a great way to make new contacts you might be able to collaborate with and can often lead to new employment. However choose your events carefully and make sure you use the time wisely. Research the guest list (often public on Eventbrite) so you’re knowledgeable about who you’d like to meet and what you’d like from them. When chatting to people show interest and demonstrate an understanding of their organisation and never go in with a hard sell. Follow up emails or tweets are always a nice touch. Don’t forget social media is a brilliant place to interact too – you can generate just as much new business from it and I’ve certainly widened my network thanks to the like of Twitter, Linked In and Facebook.”

When chatting to people show interest and demonstrate an understanding of their organisation and never go in with a hard sell.

[see also: #4PRQs with Sarah]

Richard Bailey, editor of PR students’ favourite Behind the Spin, points out that we should keep our connections base diverse:

“It’s not all about you. Interesting people are not always people like you. So look for connections with others who may be from different backgrounds. Look for the things people have in common, not the things that divide them. Even royalty and celebrities have more in common with the rest of us than you might assume. Be respectful, but treat everyone equally.”

Interesting people are not always people like you.

Graeme Domm, Senior Lecturer of the BA Public Relations and Advertising course at the University of Westminster has offered an approach of building a ‘quality’ contacts:

“Try to be discriminating: some career-builders network enthusiastically but indiscriminately, gathering names, cards and connections as if they are a race to see who can build the biggest number. It’s true that we can’t always know who might help our career one day, but in my experience it’s still useful to consider what you have in common with any potential contact and how – if ever – there might be a real mutual benefit in building an association with them. Names on a list can look great: but quality contacts, who really do know you and are willing to both give and receive favours, are the real ‘gold’ you should be seeking.”

Quality contacts, who really do know you and are willing to both give and receive favours, are the real ‘gold.’

I also received interesting insights from Frank MarrDirector and Head of Marketing at A Marr + Associates:

“Key skills to networking… Be fearless, don’t be afraid to talk to people and make sure you have plenty of questions to ask. You’ll typically have about 10 minutes to get along with someone so make sure it’s not all about you.”

Be fearless, don’t be afraid to talk to people.

Natasha Plowman, director and founder of Spinning Red, emphasises openness and curiosity:

“Networking, for me, is learning about different people, what they do, what they think and understanding if you have some kind of connection. The big tips for me are be open, ask questions, understand them as well as share your story. Networking isn’t about sales, but about stories – what you do after and the connections you create will determine if you have developed your network or simply participated in an event.”

Be open, ask questions, understand them as well as share your story.

Oliver FosterManaging Partner at Pagefield, told me about treating networking as any other type of social situation:

“Treat professional networking as you would any other social interaction – get to know the person you meet on as personal a level as feels appropriate. Networking is ultimately all about relationships – not necessarily finding lifelong friends, but building up a bank of people you can trust and who trust you throughout your career. But don’t be too transactional too quickly – there’s no rush, so invest quality time in it and sometimes, where appropriate, try to do so by mixing your new network with your existing network of friends, and even partners.”

Networking is ultimately all about relationships.

Helen Reynolds, creative communications, social media engagement and PR excellence specialist, has also offered an excellent piece of advice:

“One thing that I would advise anyone to consider to increase the impact of their networking, and indeed their whole career, is this: know your professional mission. For me, that’s making government and the public sector more open and better at listening. Others might want to work to get more women on boards, eradicate pseudoscience or maybe get their organisation to be more environmentally responsible. We all work with varying success at different levels but what will make you stand out isn’t your status or professionalism – it’s your personal motivation. Stand for something, and share your experiences and knowledge about how you are trying to achieve your passion. Then people will know you’re more than just another fluffy PR.”

Know your professional mission.

via the brilliant @HelReynolds

via the brilliant @HelReynolds

Max Tatton-Brown of Augur brilliantly sums up what every student should remember, while networking:

“I think the real challenge for students is to balance your enthusiasm against the risk of seeming naive. Everyone would rather work on strategy and creative all day — but in junior roles, the value of solid working habits and discipline is much greater to me than ‘I’m the next Don Draper’

“Show me you have a grasp of the pragmatic, practical realities. That you want to learn from great people and put in the hard work to train your muscle memory so one day you could be amazing, and that will impress me.

“Show you understand it’s a long journey and your first couple of years are really just orientation — not just in PR, but in work and working habits itself.

“Show me you understand a joy in the nature of the job, of working toward something that’s hard and even seemingly unrewarding, that you welcome the unglamorous aspects.

“Show me you have some understanding of *yourself* and where you might excel or even might need the most help in the longer term.

“The difficulty with all of this is, I can say from personal experience, I’m not sure you can actually achieve it except in retrospect. But try to soak it in a bit. And bear in mind, if you can work out how to relate to an unfamiliar experience (i.e. what we’re looking for) and persuade us, that’s more or less the ultimate skill in this job. Show that potential, and it will forgive many sins in many other areas.”

Show that potential, and it will forgive many sins in many other areas.

Ella Mintyauthor, public speaker, university lecturer & Chair CIPR Foresight Paneltold me about engaging and paying attention:

“Strike a conversation with the person(s) you are trying to engage with, paying much more attention to what they are actually saying than to what you want to hear. The worst thing you could do is to use ‘Who do you work for’ as an icebreaker – that would certainly get you remembered for all the wrong reasons. That would simply translate into your being interested only in the organisation the individual works for, not in him/her. While that may be true, remember that networking is about the people, not about their organisations. Stand out by making a really good impression – always play the long game.”

Networking is about the people, not about their organisations.

Chris Owen of M&C Saatchi PR puts a huge emphasis on staying intrigued and curious, while meeting new people:

“Networking is an essential part of communications – it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. It’s about knowing the right people to intro your clients to, and as you move up the career ladder, network to expand your new business pipeline and own portfolio. However, as someone working in a creative industry where your brain is your biggest asset, it’s crucial to network to simply remain intrigued, and to uncover fascinating things, and fascinating people. Clever people will make you cleverer by proxy – don’t shy away from that. You can never know all the answers, (and no agency should ever expect you to), but by having a strong network your grey matter will be constantly prodded and poked. Moreover, it should be fun – why get into PR if you don’t want to mix with smart, amazing people?”

It’s crucial to network to simply remain intrigued, and to uncover fascinating things, and fascinating people.

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You can also read the previous parts of Networking for students, where I wrote about the industry events. I also covered networking in the more challenging way, which is one-on-one meetings.

If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!

Author: Marcel Klebba

Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi PR. Working across the corporate & B2B accounts. Freshly graduated from the PR course at the University of Westminster. Interested in current affairs, tech, social and digital.

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