Marketing managers are often looking to hire new writers, but they don’t like being assailed by them in networking situations. A few words to the wise marketing communications writer.
I’m pleased to be attending a networking mixer for the San Diego chapter of the American Marketing Association this evening, which will combine a presentation by people from the front office of the San Diego Padres with dinner and a game against the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers. These events get me away from the computer to spend a few hours among kindred souls seeking truth in the dark forest of social media marketing.
I hope that some writer doesn’t pester me to death for nine innings.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind the company of marketing communication writers. It’s the primitive networking skills most of them demonstrate that bug me.
Maybe it’s the amount of time they spend lashed to a keyboard listening to the little voices in their heads. Maybe it’s that they’ve chosen the profession because they’re uncomfortable in social, collaborative contexts. Or maybe it’s the odd sort of defensiveness and vulnerability most of us feel in a room full of people we don’t know, with the strange feeling that we ought to make an effort to meet someone new, since we paid to be here. (Boy, will I catch flak for this post.)
3 Networking Do’s
Keep in mind, though, that marketing managers, like everyone else, hire people they know, like and trust.
In the spirit of encouraging better networking etiquette among writers – and the hope of a change of pace for tonight’s ballgame – here are three techniques I’ve heard writers and other professionals use over 15 years of mixers and trade events:
- Start with a simple ice breaker. Figure out a benign, non-invasive, socially smooth question to pose to a complete stranger. Then use it to break the ice. My favorite is the most obvious one: “What brings you to this?” You’re both at a venue for a presentation of some kind, so talking about what brought you there is pretty basic and non-threatening. Besides, after a few sentences, your interlocutor is likely to turn the same question around to you, which is the idea of the entire thing. Lousy ice breakers: “What do you do?” “What company do you work for?” “How about this weather?”
- Keep the conversation moving. “A relationship needs to move forward constantly, or else it dies,” says Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer in Annie Hall, “and what we have here is a dead shark.” The ice breaker will get you so far, then you can begin networking; i.e., talking as professionals. Too many people dive for the jugular here and want to figure out whether you and your connections and your budget are worth the effort, with choice questions like, “So, who are some of your clients?” or “Would you like to see some writing samples?” I’d rather someone asked me something like “What have you been working on lately?” It lets me talk, it lets you learn, and it keeps the conversation from becoming a dead shark.
- Have an elevator speech. K. Sean Buvala proclaims that the elevator speech is dead, but I don’t buy it. Unless your interlocutor is incorrigibly self-centered, eventually your turn will come to explain that you write, and these are the kinds of things you write, for these kinds of companies. Professionals accustomed to networking have this down pat; it’s easy to tell whether they’re at ease with it. Work something personal into your elevator speech, so that I know whether you’re the kind of person around whom I want to spend time, whether it’s the 10 minutes before the presentation starts or nine innings.
1 Networking Don’t
And because I haven’t completely suppressed my professional tendency to focus on the negative, here’s something I recommend you NOT do:
Don’t expect to land a new client. It’s a networking event, not a bazaar. Don’t go slinging business cards like confetti, stubbornly convinced that you’re going to land a client that day or bust. Focus on what you’ll learn in the presentation, whom you’ll meet, and whether you’ll have a laugh or two. It’s a much easier mindset to take into a mixer.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack…