[The following is part 2 of a series of three guest articles written by Vianka McConville, a recent University of Florida grad with a B.S. in Public Relations. Vianka completed four internships in three years, held various leadership positions and helped create an FPRA award-winning PR campaign during college. She lives for the world of fashion and can be contacted at mcconville.vianka[at]gmail.com]
Networking, while important to all professions, it is vital to PR. Simply put, the success of your public relations career is based on cultivating and sustaining successful and mutually beneficial relationships – surely with the media, but also with other practitioners, affiliates, creatives, the owner of the flower shop down the road, etc.
Successful PR for clients often depends, and is made much easier by, personal connections with key influential people. As a student, take the initiative early to begin developing your network by building professional relationships now. I have made it a goal to learn from other people and establish working friendships which helped me to grow my confidence as I begin my full-time career. The following are my tips on how to make networking work for you!
Join a group
The best way to meet others that share your passions and goals is to join a related group, association or society. If it’s good enough for top designers and the CFDA, then it’s good enough for us. In college, I joined the Public Relations Student Society of America and submitted a campaign to the Florida Public Relations Association completed with my college student-run firm. Joining an industry related association can improve your connections with Alumni and established professionals in every field of PR - take a look. The Public Relations Society of America (mother to PRSSA) attracts THE big-time professionals in PR. The association offers APR accreditation to further establish your skills, a code of ethics to be followed by its members and training for those wanting to be well-versed in different aspects of the industry. Membership for PRSA can be costly but as a student you get all the perks for the year at a deep discount. Professionals represent all aspects of the industry, from fashion and entertainment PR to investor and community relations. Look for a student chapter of the groups at your school.
In addition, participating in a group gives you an opportunity to speak to and learn from like-minded individuals. Once you are in, attend workshops, recruiting sessions, mixers and fundraisers. Conferences and meetings are inevitable as a member, which is networking made easy for you. Take advantage of these freebies and get your foot in the door. Many helpful contacts are waiting to get to know you in these groups.
Don’t be shy! Look people in the eye and remember names. If you forget everything about someone, but remember their name, it can be just as impressive. Something that helps me remember is to quickly say the person’s name, either back to them or by repeating “Hi Jane, nice to meet you.”
Mastering the hand-shake can also be quite impressive. You want to be firm, neither crippling nor limp. I was told of a petite business woman who had a killer hand-shake on purpose. She wanted to make sure that her male colleagues or other individuals knew right-off the bat that she meant business and was not a weak person that could be pushed over. It worked. While I don’t feel that I have an immediate first impression to reverse, I do take it seriously and have been complimented on my “form” a number of times. Getting the hand-shake right makes you seem competent and trustworthy. The rest of your body language should be appropriate to the situation. However, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through!
Find a mentor
Having a mentor, or a few in my case, has boosted my personal growth and professional mentality by offering a wiser perspective to my thoughts. I was lucky enough to practically be handed a mentor while participating in Student Government and he pushed me to accomplish things I did not believe I could. For instances, I became the president of SG without any leadership experience. I just wanted to see if I could win and for some reason people believed in me. My mentor saw my potential and encouraged me to achieve my goals. Today I see myself as capable of anything because I was pushed outside of my comfort zone when I needed to be as others trusted me more than I trusted myself at the time. My initial leading position lead to other areas of leadership by way of a student facilitator teaching leadership to other students, a community service volunteer and a fund-raising director.
The hardest part of working with a mentor is finding one. Perhaps you revere a professor, colleague, business owner or an experienced elder. If you feel that a person holds knowledge that you want access to, ask them to share. Asking someone to be your mentor may be awkward for you, but it is quite flattering on the receiving end. Remember that. Simply ask to speak or email or to communicate in any way with this person regularly. Share your thoughts and tasks that lie ahead of you and ask for specific feedback. Look for nudges or shoves in the right direction. Mentors are a great sources for connections with other people as well.
Hold a leadership position
Responsibility and teamwork puts you in the front seat to meet influential people. Your skills and professionalism are never tested to such an extent until you decide to break from the pack and lead. Success is easy to achieve when you are a follower, but quite impressive when you are a leader. I was thrown into my first leadership position as president of Student Government and never looked back. The experience was surreal. My vision and goals were carried out by others effectively… so crazy. I learned the most from that experience. It shaped my approach towards people, business, teamwork--everything. Excelling from your hard work gets you noticed. Eventually, influential people seek you out.
Networking is just as much about you as it is about others and relationships takes work on both ends. Keep in contact with your key people and look for ways to be of value to them. Your time and effort is valuable, don’t waste it collecting business cards you end up throwing away a week later. It will get you further if you choose a core networking group to align yourself with. And if you don't feel like it is an even share, pack up that purse and move onto a new grou. Do this until you find people that truly want to support you whose work and ideals you feel good about supporting.