8 networking mistakes PR professionals make
Networking. UGH. It’s a cliche, necessary evil that we all have to do in order to be successful. I think that networking gets harder once you become more seasoned--it’s definitely easier when you’re first starting out in a career. Most professionals are eager to help the next generation!
As a young professional, I made many networking mistakes. And I still see those junior to me making the same errors, from missing the opportunity to talk to someone who can help them advance, to avoiding making connections with the media. These are easy to course-correct, with a little proactivity and drive.
To help, here are eight common networking mistakes that young PR professionals make:
1. Forgetting about digital networking. LinkedIn and Twitter are two tools that can be used for conversations and networking—they just happen to be online. And they’re at your fingertips! Too often, young professionals create a LinkedIn profile to get a job, and abandon it once they start working. However, it’s a networking tool that is easily accessible with high visibility that is a good foundation for a personal brand. Twitter is a complementary tool that helps you understand important issues, allows you to join industry conversations, and helps build rapport with reporters—if used correctly.
2. Connecting without context. One of the frequently misused networking tools is the LinkedIn connection request. Simply hitting “Connect” and telling someone who you want to get to know “I’d like to add you to my personal network” no longer makes the cut. Using the connection function should be used as a conversation starter, not simply a request. I personally never connect with someone I don’t know if they don’t have a relevant message.
3. Not meeting reporters. When first starting out, reporters are hungry for sources—especially ones that no one has. Young PR professionals might forget that setting up an introductory meeting benefits both parties involved. It’s true that reporters are not always your friends—but it doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. Building these relationships is an investment and starting early in your career (and in theirs) counts. Plus, who knows—maybe you will end up being friends!
4. Not taking advantage of internal networking. Taking your first job out of college is a wake up call—not only because you now have to wake up early, but because it’s the first step in your career. What some young PR pros forget is that being in your first career is leverage inside your company. In addition to starting to build experience, it’s an opportunity to talk to people who have been in their roles or industries for years (sometimes decades). Reaching out to people you work with who are more senior to you for 30 minutes over coffee should be part of your job—and almost everyone would be happy to meet with you.
5. Knowing what you don’t want to do. When you first start out, not knowing what you want to do is okay because PR mean a lot of different things. But knowing what you don’t want to do is just as useful. It helps guide you in the right direction of the career path you ultimately want. When networking, people will inevitably ask, “What do you want to do eventually?” and a great answer is “I’m not 100% certain, but I know I’m not interested in X, Y, or Z.”
6. Being uncomfortable with silence. Pauses are powerful: in public speaking, in interviews, and in conversations. One of things I often find myself telling the junior staff on my teams is “Don’t feel like you have to fill the silence.” Once you have gotten to the main point, allow the people to whom you are talking or presenting digest and respond. It also helps avoid the “uhs” and “uhms” we so often find ourselves saying, making you seem more confident and professional!
7. Skipping creating a personal narrative. One of the things we do for clients is help them create a narrative—whether it’s for corporate, a product, or an executive. But we can’t forget to develop a personal narrative for ourselves. It’s not just an elevator pitch—it’s the beginning of your career story.Whether meeting with an industry professional or a reporter, they will want to hear about you, your work, and your passions.
8. Asking more specific questions. Most professionals do a lot of networking and they get asked a lot of the same questions: “How did you get to where you are?” or “What do you do in your role?” But by asking more specific questions, you get the answers to questions you have wanting to ask, and you stand out. Don’t be afraid to ask what someone thought about the latest crisis situation or who a reporter is dying to interview. It’s one of the best ways to build rapport.
Have other mistakes to add to this list? We'd love to hear 'em!
Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She was the first to publish academic research about regulation, reputation, and banks. She plans on doing big things. Connect with her on Twitter. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.
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