Q: I work in the consumer practice of a mid-size agency and was recently promoted. As part of my new job, I am expected to attend a lot of industry conferences and other events, like PRSA meetings, media relations conferences, etc.
I have done a lot of trade shows for clients, but I have never really had much experience networking at PR industry functions. I don't have much practice in situations where I am not hiding behind my clients. Frankly, I don't know what to do. My friends tell me they make their best contacts at these meetings, but I usually find it difficult to ever talk to anyone.
Even when I do begin chatting, I find myself stuck with the most junior, boring person in the room because I'm too intimidated to strike up a conversation with anyone else.
What should I be doing at these events, and how can I make more effective use of the opportunities?
Mr. D, Seattle
A: You are not alone. Many people have a hard time networking, even the famously gregarious PR animal. Like any skill, it takes practice. Think of yourself and your agency as the client, and advance your agenda as aggressively as you would for any other company. The more preparation you do in advance, the easier it will be.
A few weeks before any conference, look at the list of speakers and panels and make a list of any worth targeting. Write down one or two questions or comments relating to each one, and then approach them after their presentations.
Typically, you will find they are surrounded by a clutch of other eager PR people. Be patient and wait your turn. Remember that presenters are also looking to network. Don't be afraid to take a few minutes of their time, just be prepared to make a quick impression.
Find out who else is attending the event before you go. Ask around your office or call some of your key contacts. Then try to schedule as many informal appointments as you can in conjunction with the meeting schedule. There is usually quite a bit of time between sessions and at lunch when you can connect.
Finally, ask everyone you talk to if they have met anyone interesting at the conference. Nothing wrong with benefiting from the networking skills of others.
Q: My CEO recently sat down for an interview with a regional business journal. Our company has been struggling in the past few months over issues relating to revenue declines and executive remuneration.
Overall, I thought the interview went pretty well. Even though the reporter asked a lot of really tough questions, I felt my CEO handled it pretty well. But when I called the reporter for a follow-up, she said she wasn't going to do a story because she believes the CEO was not being frank with her and was feeding her a line. She also said my CEO comes across like a "sleazebag."
I was really shocked. Now I don't know what to tell my CEO. He thinks everything was OK, but they just spiked the story for no reason. I feel like I'll really hurt his feelings by telling him what the reporter said.
What should I do?
Ms. K, Cincinnati
A: Would you rather your CEO hear it from you, or read it in a newspaper?
You are not helping him by protecting him from this reporter's negative opinion. In fact, you are hurting him by not giving him a chance to prepare for the worst. Tell him the truth, and then suggest that you get some good media training from an outside expert who can help him get his message across more effectively.
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