The fear of face-to-face

This is an article by Gabriela Balcerzak.
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Gabriela Balcerzak

While face-to-face meetings are thought to be the best way of networking, not everyone is willing to leave their comfort zone and take full advantage of the possibilities.

Many students and young professionals do not realise that relevant contacts can lead to many opportunities and help make them successful.

And besides, human beings can not normally function without interpersonal interactions. Families, friends, friends of friends and business relationships are part of everyday life. We cannot run away from them.

With no connections, young PR professionals are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Contacts with the right people can help them succeed in the industry.

But to find these people, students need to investigate, grab chances offered by universities and interact with those who want and are part of the public relations and media environments.

Universities or local companies often organise PR events and meetings with companies’ representatives which are equally beneficial. Companies can spot talent and promote themselves while visitors use the chance to make their presence felt. Very often, meetings not only allow students to network with industry people, participate in competitions but also to learn about their experience, mistakes and disappointments.

Shona Hendry, an account director from the Big Partnership, one of Scotland’s most successful PR agencies, says that attendance as a student at, for example, events run by the Grampian PR Group, is remembered by employers. Ms. Hendry believes that it looks promising when young practitioners go to industry events that are not especially designed for students.

Public relations is about… relationships

Lack of relationships with people within the business often leaves postgraduates alienated and lacking in confidence in the public relations world. For many of them it is like being sent to a desert island and asked to run a campaign for a client whose expectations are always high. And of course the campaign could not be successful if there is no interaction with media and other publics.

In addition, being well known in the environment increases prospects of finding a dream job much quicker as employers like providing work for individuals whose presence is long-lasting.

Students and young PR enthusiasts who are thinking of applying for a PR job in a successful agency should be aware that their potential bosses will look at their experience and consider whether they can or cannot bring new ideas to their team. If they can provide a full book of contacts, it is a bonus for them.

“Potential employers will be impressed to see students making contacts and attending industry events before they are in the job market”, says Shona Hendry.

“If you make a contact, note their details down and remember something about them – use this information when you subsequently approach them for a job or in your line of work.”

‘Difficult and uncomfortable’

However, many students and young practitioners find networking with industry people extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, it can be very valuable and a key to successful career in Public Relations.

“It would be easier for me to use Facebook and Twitter to network with employers, but when it comes to being face to face with them I would find it hard”, says Matthew Buchan, 21, a former Media with Public Relations student.

But amongst these students, there are those who do not have any problems with talking openly with potential employers. But do they always do it right? Some of them often go to meetings just to show that they are there. They shake hands, smile and cheer their mentors in everything they say. Then they disappear like stones in the water, giving up the opportunities that they have just been offered.

Relationship rules

As Lisa Rattray, a PR lecturer and former PR adviser for Texaco says, there are some clear rules of networking.

“Don’t hassle people, don’t be rude, and take advantage of every opportunity – even if it’s just making tea. Be keen, be helpful, and be grateful – always write a thank you note”.

The first approach is very important and beginners should not show that they expect something in return. Showing an interest in and respect for the contact is essential. We do not want them to think that the only reason that we are there is because we want a job or their approval.

Another important but often forgotten issue is awareness of personal space. Keeping at least four feet away from the contact will make them feel less intimidated. Furthermore, preparation is key. Make sure that you know information about people you meet and the company that they work for so that it does not seem all you are interested in is making a contact.

“If you are going to an event, it’s a good idea to try to get a delegate list beforehand and identify who would be useful for you to make contact with, then make sure that you seek them out at the event – do some research on the company beforehand so you have something relevant to speak to them or ask them about”, advises Ms Hendry.

The account director of The Big Partnership also adds that one of the don’ts would be being too overtly sales-oriented, pursuing the same agenda every time you speak to someone, talking more about yourself and your products than the other person, not allowing them to speak and not listening to their responses.

Punctuality can affect your image as a professional, too. Being late can negatively impact the first impression. Moreover, expressing appreciation by showing gratitude for their time and effort is an advantage. However, being over nice can be seen as a minus. A thank-you card or message is more than enough.  And finally, finding a reason to get in touch with the person again will help to maintain the contact.

However, is networking just an occasion to find a good professional and contacting influential people? Often professionals pay money to be members of an elite club just to meet successful people like themselves. For that reason, making contacts is also about being likable in the industry amongst people who share the same passion and interest in life. It is not a race for glory but a chance to make friends and achieving professional fulfilment.


  1. I always found it difficult to network being a student. It is that whole out of your comfort zone thing and I always thought of myself as confident and outgoing but when your a student and their professionals it seems worlds apart. I recommend being very active online, particularly using Twitter. That’s how I got my internship that led to a job which gave me a solid platform to start networking from in person.

    Get on Twitter and Get active with anyone but particularly managing directors to get yourself an internship!

  2. Aberdeen college says:

    An interesting article, which discusses the importance of networking in order to be a successful PR professional.

    Do you think it is fair that personal relationships should govern professional work:? It is evident that the industry values its connections, however should it not be governed by a more democratic approach towards decision making that cannot be influenced by personal relationships. For example, is it fair that an established well known company could get a stand at an exposition whereas an up and coming company which lacks the same networking clout, but is equally entitled to be seen, will miss out on this opportunity?

    2) How true is it that personal relationships affect the efficacy of a company’s PR strategy? Is it not also true to an extent that it lies with the entrepreneurial spirit of the PR representative to come up with new and exciting ways of getting the company seen, without relying on the same connections time and time again to provide a similar service again and again. Look at Google and Apple for example. Their entrepreneurial approach is very high as they are market leading companies. Many of their qualities are not shared by other firms in the market. So what good would a network be, when the people in the network are not on a par with the company and its plans and proposals?

    3) The article points to an almost “favor for a favor” approach to PR. These steps dangerously close to potential scenarios of bribery and corruption. With the New UK Bribery Act coming in force in 2010, PR professionals will have to make sure that their approach towards networking does not breach the covenants set out in this new law. How will networking be affected by the new law? Will traditional techniques (going out for lunches, sending gifts to other companies) be eradicated in favor of a safer, legal approach? What do you think this new approach will be? Will personal networks still be as important in situations where any networking is governed by an atmosphere of fear? How will companies change their processes to accommodate this?

  3. Aberdeen college - Archie says:

    ….And also……what i failed to mention in my 3 steps above is,
    as Stephen already mentioned ….. Online networking such as twitter for example is some what inevitable these days if you want to get noticed. Blogging; for example a fantastic way to express your ideas that can actually get you noticed..For student who has problems coming out of their comfort zone, it is the ultimate weapon to prepare oneself for the world of PR. After all ” A quiet man is a man with many thoughts” :))))

  4. Aberdeen- really interesting points there about how far these personal relationships can cross the line when it comes to governing professional work. A journalist/ event representative etc, should of course not favour a company purely on the basis of the relationship they have built with the PR, and on the flip side PR’s should not expect this.

    On the other hand, it’s unlikely that this situation would commonly come up. PR’s and journalists who work in the same sector are far more likely to develop business relationships which in turn (and after a few bevvy’s at the pub on a Friday) may become a friendship/personal relationship. With this in mind, a PR is unlikely to go to a journalist who they know well with information that is irrelevant to them, as this may in turn destroy built up relationships. Put simply, I wouldn’t go to a consumer technology reviews editor with information about enterprise business software company, just because of the relationship we’ve build.

    There’s more integrity in the majority of PR agencies than that ‘do us a favour and publish this’ mentality. If information is relevant to a journalist, etc, they will look forward to hearing from you in future cases and listen to what your clients have to say.

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