Top Networking Tips From a Seasoned PR Pro

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We recently sat down with Jim Joyal, Partner here at SHIFT, to talk about all things networking. He shared plenty of tips and anecdotes from his nearly 30 years in the field as well as dispelled some of the myths he’s encountered along the way. There are plenty of books out there about how to be an effective networker, but as Jim was quick to mention, it’s difficult to be an expert on the subject since every event is a snowflake and everyone you meet will have a different personality. Becoming a rock star networker involves plenty of practice with lots of handshakes and conversations.

Here’s some sage advice Jim shared for how to step up your networking game.

Going to events is not the only way to network. If you don’t go to events, that doesn’t mean you’re not a good networker. There are several ways to network that you do regularly and probably don’t realize it. For example, interviewing candidates for an open job position can be a form of networking. There may be occasions a candidate chooses to go in another direction, but your advocacy and excitement leave them with a positive impression that could then bring them back as prospects down the road.

New business meetings are an opportunity to network, too. The conversations that you have and impressions you leave in these situations will lead to associations with other people who can help you from a personal/professional perspective as well as help your agency by bringing a client on board.

As Cathy Allen, Executive VP here at SHIFT, often says: even non-work events can bring you leads. So the next time you get invited to a birthday party or barbecue, make sure to socialize because you never know who you’ll meet. Whether it’s a work event or a social one, every connection could end up meaning something more down the road.

An event’s value depends on what you’re looking to gain. How valuable an event will be is directly related to what you want to get out of it. Are you looking to get smarter? Bring back a lead? Make the most of the event by knowing your objective, doing your research and thinking about how the event can help you achieve your goal. Don’t feel as though you have to talk to high-level executives or developers if that’s not part of your goal. Set your expectations in line with your objective.

Check out who else is registered for events you’re planning to attend. When registering on websites like Eventbrite, they’ll list who’s already signed up which can allow you to prepare ahead of time. Look at the sponsor list as well since those folks often have a booth at events.

Maximize your time. Thank goodness for name tags, which often include a person’s name and where they work. If you’re lucky, it’ll even include their title. Use these clues to determine if a conversation with that individual will help you meet your objective for the event. If you’re looking to gather leads, talking with a PR intern may not be the best use of your time. However, it would be wise to speak with them if you’re company is currently recruiting. And again, try to research who’s going to be at the event and have an idea of who you want to meet.

Three questions you should always be prepared to answer. In order to put yourself and your company in the best light, think through common questions beforehand. There are three that come to mind:

  • How is business?
  • What’s your agency area or focus?
  • What makes you different?

There are no magic answers to any of these, but it is important to avoid turning your conversation into a sales pitch. From an agency perspective, it helps not only to have a quick elevator pitch in mind but also to find ways to relate what you do to their business. If you start discussing your space and working with other internal departments, people are going to begin understanding that there’s a real distinction between your employer and others represented at the event.

Answering tricky questions. Every once in a while, you’ll be asked questions at networking events that may make you squirm. This can include financial-related questions or business your company lost. For questions related to finances, refrain from revealing sensitive information. However, if it’s related to cost of services or capabilities, you can certainly direct them to a senior staff member who can provide them with more information. An acceptable response here would be, “I can get you that data. My job is really in the trenches doing the work, but I will follow up with the information you need.”

In cases where you’re asked about business your company has lost, the biggest thing is to never speak ill of a current or former client because you never know who knows who these days. Always take the high road! Focus on the positive and express that they and the team still have a great relationship with the client. If you personally didn’t work on the account, acknowledge that and simply say you’re unsure of all the details. The truth of the matter is that losing business is often due to financial rather than personal reasons.

Do you have any other tips to share from your own networking experience? If so, please share them here!

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

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