PR – it’s all about people – meeting them, talking to them, learning from them and building new and lasting relationships. Essentially PR comes down to networking, networking, networking. It is a critical skill for success in this industry but is often one that makes even the most seasoned PR pro uncomfortable. Effective networking is the key to everything from securing new clients to establishing strong media contacts, landing a new job or moving up in your field and expanding your business through new opportunities.
While opportunities to build your network are everywhere throughout your regularly scheduled life, one of the best and easiest places to work on professional networking is at industry conferences. It’s not always easy to just walk up to a perfect stranger and start chatting but practice makes perfect.
If you want to hone your networking skills to make better connections, here are a few easy tips to help you get the most out of any new meeting.
- Do your homework and come prepared: Spend some time ahead of the show researching attendees/companies that you want to meet and come prepared with a few questions to help keep the conversation flowing. Don’t be afraid to reach out beforehand to schedule some pre-planned meetings as well. This will maximize your time by making sure you’re meeting with the right people to hit your objectives – whether that is gathering leads, recruiting or just expanding your network. Knowing what you want to accomplish ahead of time will help you meet your goals on site.
- Be personal: After all, you’re there to build relationships. Don’t dive right into business – share something about yourself, find a common area of interest and give them something to remember you by. Make them want to work with you!
- Know your message: Meeting with top executives can be intimidating if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to say. You want to put yourself and your company in the best light possible while avoiding coming off like a sales pitch. Be prepared to answer a few general questions like – What is your agency’s area of expertise and/or core offerings? Who are some relevant clients you have worked with in the past? What makes you different? By having a simple elevator pitch ready to go you’ll appear smart, confident and focused.
- Don’t be afraid of the hard questions: While being able to cover the basics is key,everyone dreads getting asked tricky questions that they are not prepared or able to answer. If you run into questions about company finances, lost clients, budgeting etc., don’t feel compelled to answer on the spot. You’re there to drum up new leads but if your expertise is more focused on the day-to-day execution, feel free to offer a follow up with your senior team. Don’t get caught in the trap of saying something you shouldn’t.
- Follow up in a timely manner: After the event, send a quick note to move the conversation forward. Follow up with useful resources, ask them to connect you to other members of their team if they are not the right person or simply look to coordinate a coffee meet-up to continue building the relationship. The networking process doesn’t end just because the show is over.