Writer Networking — 3 Do’s and a Don’t

Networking tips for marketing writers

Marketing managers are often looking to hire new writers, but writer networking skills take time to refine. A few words to the wise content marketing writer.

Last year I attended a networking mixer for the San Diego chapter of the American Marketing Association. After a presentation by marketers from the San Diego Padres, we were treated to dinner and a game against our arch-rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers. These events get me away from the keyboard to spend a few relaxing hours among kindred souls in marketing.

Except when some marketing writer pesters 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 all paid to be here.

3 Writer 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 etiquette, I offer three writer networking techniques I’ve seen work over 15 years of mixers and trade events:

  1. 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: “So, 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. Note: Lousy ice breakers include “What do you do?” “What company do you work for?” and “How about this weather?”
  2. Keep the conversation moving. “A relationship is like a shark. It 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 only so far; then you have to begin talking as professionals. But too many people dive for the jugular here and want to figure out whether you, your connections and your budget are worth the effort. They ask questions like, “So, who are some of your clients?” or “Would you like to see some writing samples?” I’d rather hear 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.
  3. Have an elevator speech. Dianna Booher 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 describe the kinds of things you write and the kinds of clients for whom you write them. Professionals accustomed to networking have this down pat; it’s easy to tell whether they’re at ease with it. They even modify it occasionally to reflect the change in their client base. Work something personal into your elevator speech, so that I know whether you’re the kind of person with whom I want to do business.

1 Networking Don’t

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…


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”