Guest PRSA Post: your pr career…10 Steps for Successful New PR Professional Networking

As a student studying communications, public relations, marketing or advertising it’s critical that you buckle down not only on your studies – but your networking skills – to get ahead and land your dream job after graduation. If you’ve graduated and landed your first full-time gig, networking is a crucial component for advancing in your career.

Headed to a networking event or not sure how to follow up with pros you’ve met at a PRSA meeting? This guide will give you tips to get and keep pros’ attention, helping you stay top-of-mind for them as you pursue internships and job opportunities with them after graduation.

1. Attend events. Get to as many as you can, as soon as you can. Along with PRSSA or other student clubs, get out to association meetings of the American Marketing Association (AMA), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Advertising Federation of America (AdFed).

2. Dress smart. Business casual means no jeans or flip flops, and ladies, make sure you’re covered up. It’s a creative industry, so personality is important in how you dress. Be comfortable – it shows if you’re uncomfortable because you can’t breathe in that high-waisted skirt or necktie.

3. Have a wingman – but don’t cling to them. When you’re starting out, it helps to have one other person to work the room with. However, you’re there to meet as many people as you can and have good conversations. You can’t do that if you’re sitting with your best friend from your freshman dorm in the back of the room, discussing the last episode of The Office.

4. Bring business cards. It’s crucial to have a business card, even if you produce them yourself or order cheap ones (VistaPrint.com offers your first 250 cards for free, you just pay for shipping). Make it an expression of your personal brand. Include your name, address, phone number, professional e-mail, Twitter handle, links to social networking profiles like LinkedIn or Brazen Careerist and your portfolio/web site.

5. Do your homework and bring your A-list. Check the event information to see if there are specific “have-to-meet” people coming to the event, make a list and make it your goal to meet all of them. Remember, it’s not all about star power. The CEO of your dream agency or a presenter who flew in from New York may not be able to do as much for you as a middle-level manager at a big local company who can meet you for coffee and discuss available positions.

6. Be on your game and participate in the conversation. Ask a question of the speaker at the end (but make sure it’s a smart one), engage people at your table about the topic of the day and in general be ready to think on your feet.

Be prepared to discuss a few hot topics and current campaigns you’ve read about in top advertising, marketing and PR industry publications/e-mail newsletters* to which you subscribe. If you’re not already reading or receiving industry news (many publications are free or have free RSS feeds on their Web sites), you should be.

Check out the list at the end of this post for a sample list of publications to start reading now. Reading industry news for just a few minutes a day will make you seem super smart at your next big networking event!

7. Get your questions ready. Create a set of questions you can use as conversation-starters with professionals. It’s your responsibility to get those chats started, not theirs. Especially if you’re the kind of person that gets tongue-tied in stressful situations, do an awesome job of this and you’ll amp up your star qualities and shine in a room of people.

8. Follow up. The most important part of networking at events starts when you leave, with business cards and Twitter handles of more experienced pros. E-mailing is the most professional way to follow up, though if you had a great conversation and feel confident calling or sending a Twitter direct message, pros may admire your proactive approach. You should walk out of every event with at least three people to talk to afterwards.

9. Ask to meet up again. It all depends on what you talked to the person about at the event. It’s always safe to say, “I was so pleased to meet you at X event, and would love to just learn more about what you do at X company. Would you give me a few minutes of your time to meet for coffee or lunch sometime?”

Be interested in pros and they’ll be flattered and willing to give you a little of their precious time. If you’ve had a conversation about you, ask for an informational interview and see if they will review your resume or portfolio in a brief session. That said, don’t pester: if they don’t respond in a week, try again.

10. Be genuinely appreciative. Writing a thank you note within three days of meeting a pro for coffee, lunch or an informational interview is essential. Handwritten and postal mail is a classic, safe way to go. E-mail can be ok if the person is near your age, if your meeting was very casual or you know the person communicates strictly online and never checks their mail at the office.

Thank them for their time, mention something you learned from them and ask for any additional contact or connections. For example, “I hope you’ll think of me if any entry-level positions open up,” or “I’ll watch for you at the next PRSA event, and keep you in the loop about my job search,” or “If you can think of anyone else you think I would benefit from meeting, I’d really appreciate it.”

*PRSA Tactics and The Strategist, Bulldog Reporter, PR Week, Advertising Age, Media Post, Media Bistro, Ragan Communications, Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s WOMMA Word, PR News, all local industry associations like the American Marketing Association(AMA) and International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Columbus Business First, Communication Arts, Creativity Online

CRYSTAL OLIG is the former Phoenix PRSA New Pros Committee Chair and is a current Central Ohio PRSA University Liaison committee member. She is an account manager with Oxiem Marketing Technology. She can be reached at colig[at]oxiem.com or through @sparklegem on Twitter, linkedin.com/in/crystalaolig, or the whY genY blog.

Note: This was a guest post I wrote for the PRSA New Professionals blog. I’m on the executive committee of the board and these are my tips for newbie networkers — some gained through awkward worse-than-blind-date experiences, and others from watching and learning from pro people-people. – Crystal

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