Networking: Game On! 5 tips for building your professional network

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Let’s face it, there are very few professions where knowing the right people doesn’t prove advantageous in some way.  Don’t think that employers don’t consider your professional networks when selecting candidates – after all, they may be able to benefit from your relationships within your professional and community networks.  This is particularly true in professions such as public relations where communication and relationship-building are essential for doing your job.  Think of your network as a life-long project that you keep building upon as you move through your career.   Here are some tips to not only build your network but also maintain it so that it works for you:

1.  Be genuine with whom you network – Of course we all know that networking is the best way to gain business or client leads, but keep in mind that most folks can tell if you are only interested in getting their business, or if you might truly want to develop a rich professional relationship over time.  And if it is the former (which it is for most new business and sales executives), don’t come out of the gate of your new relationship chomping at the bit – at least build up to the appropriate time and place to discuss business opportunities.  I’ve observed many former colleagues in charge of new business that turned off potential clients who perceived them (many times correctly) as being disingenuous or too aggressive.  Be patient.

2.  Keep the relationship balanced – remember that being in a relationship – any relationship – is about balance.  People want to feel as if they are receiving as much as they are giving.  Lopsided business relationships where you’re always ‘taking’ (asking for favors, wanting information, etc.) typically leave the person on the other end feeling a bit used.  Remember to give and take.  If someone provides you with some industry statistics you wouldn’t normally be able to obtain, make sure you do something in return such as notifying them of a civic or professional luncheon they might be interested in attending or by passing along a business lead.

3.  Use social media, but use it wisely to develop relationships – Social media – particularly LinkedIn – is a great way to connect with people.  A certain etiquette has developed for LinkedIn and it’s typically considered ‘bad professional form’ to send a connection invitation without sending a message.  This is especially important if you have never met the person you are trying to connect with.   Also, when you meet someone in person, make sure you connect with them within 48 hours and always send a message (e.g., great meeting you, etc.) so that they will remember you.

4.  Get involved – There’s no better way to meet people in your industry or civic leaders and influencers who can impact your business than by joining your industry’s professional association as well as local causes or movements.  If your industry doesn’t have a trade association, then try and volunteer for a local non-profit organization that will have you working and mingling with other like-minded individuals for a common good.   And, just don’t choose any cause – try to make it something you are passionate about.  This way, it won’t seem as much like work and you’ll be more motivated to do a great job that might even get you noticed from board members and possibly lead to a great job opportunity for you within that organization.

5.  Attend local professional events – It’s one thing to join a local chapter of an industry organization, but it’s even better to actually be engaged in it. Whenever possible, make sure you attend key luncheons, banquets or lectures so that you’re in front of the champions in your industry.  It can be pricey to attend everything though many organizations offer a discounted member rate for events.  Also, check and see if your company buys tickets or tables for fundraisers and events.  Often, a company buys a table for client event or charity but has trouble filling the seats.  Let whoever is in charge of doling out the tickets know to notify you if any become available.

One last tip – when networking in person and wearing a name badge, be sure to put it on your right lapel so that when someone extends his or her right hand to shake your right hand, they can easily glance right across at your name and organization.

Happy networking!

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Thoughts to Consider When Launching a New Product in a Foreign Market

ImageDuring my career, I’ve handled the publicity and media relations for numerous new product launches in Canada and the U.S. for both domestic and European companies.   Anyone who’s ever launched a product in a new country knows there is a lot of preparation and planning involved, from packaging updates to getting a sales team together to financial due diligence in order to be compliant when selling and shipping internationally.  It also holds true that the communications and publicity needed to introduce a new brand and product should be well-planned and deliberate.  Some considerations I believe to be valuable for companies taking the jump across the pond or border include:

Selecting a communications partner who understands and actually works in the new market

Find a partner that has feet on the ground and truly understands not only the domestic consumer, but also the media who reach that consumer.  This partner should have established relationships with the media – both trade and consumer – covering your industry.  Keep in mind that media relations’ practices do vary from country to country.  My experience shows that the U.S. media has stricter provisions of what they can or cannot accept in terms of gifts and meals (even product samples in some instances), compared to their European counterparts.

Your Public relations partner should understand its domestic consumer behavior better than you or your own domestic agency, since buying patterns typically vary from country to country, depending on the product and industry.  This is even true for regions within a single country.  For example, when I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, we saw that New Englanders bought and used canister vacuum cleaners over uprights because of the prevalence of hardwood floors in that region, so we always made sure we properly targeted that market with messaging and tips geared toward cleaning hardwood floors and canister users.

Having a communications partner on site in the new market can help you better coordinate with your domestic communications agency and ensure that you are targeting the correct regions with the correct messaging. Your new partner will also know the best and most successful translators and will be able to flag any malapropisms when it comes to ensuring that communications and press materials include language that is congruent with the local vernacular (realise vs. realize or tyre vs. tire, etc.).

Make sure the product is available – at least online – in the launch country when you begin promoting it to the public.

In 1997, I helped launch a new automotive aftermarket product from the UK  into the U.S. market. The product was a car security device that fit over a steering wheel to prevent theft.  Of course, my client was eager to get things rolling with the media even though we had no retailers yet committed to sell the product and thus nowhere to direct consumers to buy.

As with any new product launch, there’s always that chicken versus the egg struggle of when to begin the publicity.  Does publicity lead to helping the sales team secure placement at the expense of frustrating consumers who can’t find the product anywhere and become angry and give up?  In many cases, consumers will send nasty-grams and deluge questions of where to buy upon the editors, which renders the latter unhappy as well, and also can go so far as to jeopardize a PR practitioner’s rapport and credibility with that editor.

My mantra is to get some at least some retail traction first and have a separate sales communications strategy that targets retailers directly.  But at the very least, while you are trying to build retail distribution and need to begin publicity, be sure to initially offer the product for purchase online so the above scenario doesn’t occur.  Once you get enough retail distribution and you don’t want to compete with retailers online, you can curb the online availability.

Be Patient and Trust your Communications Partner

In the best scenario, you’ve selected a stellar partner.  We know you have C-Suite folks and possibly shareholders to report your progress to, but be patient in not trying to ram rod your brand and product into the new market.

Establishing awareness for a new brand takes time, so don’t feel you’re behind the 8-ball if you’re not seeing results instantly.  Let your communications partner counsel you on the best approaches with dealing with the domestic media – from determining what trade shows you should attend to whether or not you should consider a media tour or media luncheon to help build awareness and rapport among the media.

I had a few disagreements with my former Scottish client about timing (he wanted to move very fast without any distribution), but I was able to serve as a trusted adviser to him and demonstrated my knowledge of the industry, consumer habits and media interests in that case. We were able to collaborate and ultimately received a great wave of steady media coverage which both increased retailer interest and consumer sales.

Good luck!  Buena suerte! Bonne chance! Viel Glück! Gambatte! 祝你好運   Udachi!