The dynamic digital world has changed every facet of PR work, in particular, how people network. But although if offers innovative ways to connect, it can’t replace good, old-fashioned conversation.
David Wilson, group managing director of PR firm Bell Pottinger, says: “Digital and social media channels provide us with a plethora of insightful opportunities to connect and stay connected so that your contacts’ book can swell into hundreds or even thousands of names. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, these channels do provide a more efficient means of connecting with masses rather than spending time sending individual emails. But is it more insightful than face-to-face human interaction? In the hierarchy of effectiveness the phone or mobile device takes you further forward, enabling you to engage directly, albeit usually by voice.”
Speaking over the phone and having “face time” online is valuable, but Wilson says an even better way to connect with contacts is to meet them: “Call me a traditionalist and think me silly for suggesting it, but the art of meeting with people, one-on-one, in groups, at big events and other face-to-face environments will always stand the test of time.”
Helen Campbell, consultant at agency Illuminate Communications, describes how one former boss of hers got so fed up with the sound of keys tapping, rather than voices speaking, that he yelled across the office: “We are not an email shop!"
Leave me alone!
You may want to talk directly to your contacts, but the problem is that they may not want to speak to you. As Campbell says: “You will often hear journalists telling PR conference audiences not to phone them and that they are too busy for lunch. However, relying on email and Twitter as our only networking tools can be restrictive and unrewarding.”
Campbell’s solution to this is to make sure that if you do make an effort to speak to a journalist, make sure you have something relevant to say: “Sounds obvious, but think about it: perhaps journalists tell us not to call them so often because they hear too many mediocre ideas via phone pitches. We have all had that moment when we have to pick up the phone to push an idea or product that a client thinks is amazing, but really is not news or features material. My advice is, whatever form of networking you use, make sure you have something great to tell them. If your pitch is strong it almost does not matter which form of communication you use because your brilliance will shine through.”
Networking for business
When it comes to getting new business, Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, says it is vital to meet face to face: “You can't really build up any meaningful business relationships unless you have actually met prospective suppliers or clients in person, in my opinion."
“Online networking sites, such as LinkedIn, appear to be fantastic, but I have not had one penny of business from this forum. Such sites may well reinforce your company's credentials and your business skills, but when it comes to generating new business it still comes down to meeting real people.”
One way to meet people to build business is through industry networking events, and Kourtney Shaw, consultant at agency Calacus Public Relations, is a fan of these: “I particularly enjoy speed-networking events which are usually good fun. You have to master your elevator pitch, but it means that you and your partner get to the point quickly and can ascertain whether there is any immediate synergy.”
“Whatever networking option you decide, though, the most important thing is to develop a rapport with who you meet. In this day and age it’s all about who you know, so never undervalue the importance of talking to new people, rekindling old friendships and sharing information about your business. PR is fundamentally all about relationships, old and new.”