Having come from a journalistic background the importance of building contacts was drilled into us from an early stage. During training our peers led us to believe good contacts were the golden ticket to a successful career in the media.
How right they were.
However, this all sounds idyllic and simple to achieve but the actual process is far from easy. Firstly, you have to be confident in yourself and be prepared to speak and engage with people you don’t know. This can be easier said than done but working in the media is often about pushing personal boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone. It can be a challenge but it ultimately makes you better at what you do.
Secondly, there’s an art to picking your times for making yourself known to those in the industry. Making small talk with a journalist on deadline will seldom result in strong bonds and best friends for life. You will no doubt get the short shrift – not the best start to a working relationship I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’ve soon discovered the same applies to existing and potential clients in PR. My biggest rule is to be yourself. It’s a pretty simple rule to follow that unsurprisingly takes minimal effort. No one likes that smarmy fake persona and those with a bit of life experience will see right through you.
For me, it all comes back to trust. How can someone work alongside you if what they see from the outset isn’t a true reflection?
Do be courteous, do be engaging and happy to help and above all be honest. Don’t over promise if you can’t deliver and, if you can, go that extra yard. The small things really do count and your clients will appreciate your efforts and in turn this will strengthen your working relationship.
Don’t underestimate the value of building those relationships further (on a professional level, of course) outside of work. Meet for drinks, attend sporting events, interact on social media etc, etc. Keep it healthy and alive.
Networking is crucial. If you know of events where potential clients or journalists will be attending go along and meet people. Chat but don’t be pushy and let them know what you do. Also, don’t be afraid to hand out your business card. You never know what could come of meeting the right person.
As your contacts list will inevitably grow it’s extremely important to keep a separate copy to hand. Losing a phone or laptop with all these important details could be disastrous.
And, who knows, as your contacts’ career progresses you could well be in line for that award-winning piece of coverage or that elusive high paying account – all from being you and having a chat.