Networking can be a daunting concept. On the 11th of February, I went to a PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) event in Manchester. At the event there were a number of speakers from top public relations agencies across the UK. As a second-year Business Management with Communications student with a keen interest in a career in public relations, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to network with established PR professionals.
Throughout the event, the professionals lectured on the best ways to break into the industry and the do’s and don’ts of applying for PR jobs. By listening with interest to what they had to say and making notes on their names, the companies that they worked for and their backgrounds, I hoped to find conversation starters for when I went to speak to them. Knowing who you are talking to and a bit about their background is essential when networking, as people are far more likely to engage with someone who is well-informed than someone who hasn’t done their homework.
When it comes to networking, confidence is key. If you have a lot to talk about and appear genuinely interested in the conversation, it is much easier to network productively. At this particular event, there were a huge range of people in attendance, from second years like myself to Masters students and PR consultants. Surrounded by such a diverse and talented group of people, it is easy to feel nervous when approaching someone for a conversation. But at the end of the day, no matter what anyone has achieved, they are still just people and are always willing to talk to you if you make an effort!
I learned a lot about the industry and how to network effectively that day and my proudest achievement was gaining a contact at Weber Shandwick, the largest PR agency in the world. I went to speak to their representative and chatted to him about what he had to say when he was presenting to the audience, before talking about myself and my interest in PR. I ended up getting his business card and he told me that I could send him my CV and a cover letter with a view to gaining some work experience with the company. In this respect, networking opens the door to a number of opportunities and when sending in an application, it is always better to address an enquiry to a specific member of the company.
From my experience that day, I’d say there are a few essentials when it comes to networking. If you are looking to gain a proper contact with a view to earning some work experience, then definitely try to find a conversation inroad with the person you are aiming to speak to. This can be done by researching them online beforehand (LinkedIn is great for this) or by making notes on what they say during an event. As well as this, it is vital to be confident when approaching a person and have a short ‘elevator pitch’ with which you can sell your most important attributes and achievements, so that you can show them why they should be interested in talking to you. I’d also advise prioritising the people that you want to speak to the most; there were a large number of professionals in attendance at the event, with only short breaks in which we could chat with them. And conversations, if you have a lot to talk about, take longer than you think- so you may not have time to speak to everyone!
Remember, some people won’t have the confidence to go and speak to professionals in this way and so by just making a small effort, you can gain a lot from a short conversation. It is not being too bold to ask them about internship or work experience opportunities with their company, so long as you seem like you know what you are talking about and have researched the company that you are speaking to. Asking a person if you can connect with them on LinkedIn, or follow their Twitter handle, can be very beneficial as it gives you a way of contacting them in the future. Networking really isn’t as daunting as it can seem at first if you just treat it as a professional conversation and it is important not to be put off by the status of the person you want to speak to!