LMNOP April Workshop
NETWORKING FOR SUCCESS
for Architects, Designers, and other Professional Service Providers
Contribution from Colette Taber
“Never sell to a stranger,” is just one piece of sage advice from the “Father of Advertising” David Ogilvy. Another goodie: “Rigidity and salesmanship do not combine.” The famed advertising executive of the Mad Men era is credited with revolutionizing how to connect with a consumer in a memorable way. Gunlocke was the host location for the LMNOP April 21st workshop on networking, which was led by Peggy Kennedy, a leading expert in presentation skills for executives, focused a lot on how people interact and ultimately connect. The idea of preparing in advance and setting a positive tone for dialogue figures heavily in her approach. Kennedy, who has worked in the advertising world, including as a SVP for Ogilvy & Mather and for DraftFCB, as well as with creatives in the architectural and design industry, emphasized that often the key to becoming a better networker is learning how to make a memorable connection.
LMNOP NYC epitomizes this mindset, as an organization founded in 2009 by a small community of architecture and design professionals, during the doldrums of the recent economic downturn. In a challenging market, sustaining key relationships typically yields more benefits over time than one-off transactions. Successful networking becomes less about selling your company’s attributes and more about forging strong bonds within a community, which LMNOP NYC has always maintained is to the benefit of the entire A&D industry. “Our goal from the beginning was to help each other,” said Stephanie Chiuminatto Wolfson, a LMNOP NYC co-founder. “In 2009, we had the immediate need of keeping talented individuals from leaving the industry, but the long-term objective was to create a strong network of people with complementary strengths. Networking was about sharing lessons learned and mentoring each other.”
At the start of the April workshop, Jennifer Graham, President and founder of LMNOP NYC, said, “This is a close, comfortable environment, a place where one has the opportunity to practice and perfect networking skills within a safe space.” Graham served as moderator for the intimate, two-hour event, which featured much audience interaction, including networking “exercises.” Gunlocke’s newly renovated New York Showroom provided an exquisite backdrop for the event.
Networking, an “important component of a business plan”
Kennedy referenced her personal experience with the “three A’s.” She has worked as an actor, and she has worked in advertising and in the architectural business, equipping her with deep knowledge and empathy for people in workplaces that are “all about the work.” However, for networking to be successful, it needs to be an integral part of your plan for securing new work, which is similar to how other forms of communication, like advertising, PR, social media, digital marketing, etc., can (and should) be integrated into an overall business development strategy. Much thought should be given, in advance, to attendance at conferences, meetings, and industry events, including who is the best person to attend. Rather than thinking about networking as “nice to have,” see these time and resource investments as the “must have” necessities that they are; networking represents “important opportunities to directly interface with clients and prospects,” said Kennedy.
Number one on Kennedy’s list of things to do: be prepared. Know who will be attending a networking event and know something about their company, preferably, real world experience. (Visit the store, the campus, etc.) Similarly, develop an understanding of relevant industry issues. “You should be able to talk about what is pertinent to their business.” Note, this is where David Ogilvy’s advice comes in about never selling to a stranger, which Kennedy referenced in the context of setting a positive tone for networking. If possible, she advised, you want to contact key individuals about potentially meeting-up in advance of an event. At the very least, you want to position yourself “top of mind.”
And, like every good business plan, every good networking strategy is successfully implemented only after some practice. “Rehearse your elevator pitch,” Kennedy counsels. You should be ready with a short, informal, yet distinctive, explanation of who you are, what you do, and how you could benefit that person.
Polite Corporate Stalking and other Proven Networking Tactics
When describing LMNOP NYC’s early days, Wolfson often references the group’s goal of elevating the individual—increasing their professional skills, their knowledge base, their buying power—within an organization. The idea is that a community, a company, an industry is stronger for having invested in its components. This is achieved best when those components are working together in optimal ways to improve effectiveness and to increase innovation. “The talent drain in the A&D industry during the recession was very unnerving,” said Wolfson. Another long-time LMNOP NYC member Jack Weisberg agreed, “We needed the professional skills and the proven networking tactics and the forum to help individuals succeed, whether they were currently working for a company or not. Our community needed strengthening from the inside out. Still does.”
According to Kennedy, this is where “polite corporate stalking” comes into play. At the center of this strategy is the idea that (almost) every interaction has the potential for all involved to benefit from making a human connection. This necessitates a mindset and an approach that is non-threatening and polite, as well as inherently optimistic: sort of a glass-is-half-full approach to networking and business development. If I can demonstrate my value to you, help you grow your network, well, then, there’s potential for our devising a way to be successful together.
In Kennedy’s toolbox of tactics, she recommends arriving at a networking event early and making a friend. Breaking the seemingly impenetrable “circle” that is keeping you from engaging directly with a prospect can be as easy as introducing yourself to one person; most likely, this person will let you into the circle. You should also come with a few icebreaker conversational starters at the ready. Kennedy advises that your opener should be topical and, ideally, complimentary: “This looks like a dynamic group of people.”
“Polite corporate stalking” begins with the pleasantries but is sustained through demonstrating genuine interest and respect for what a prospect says and does. “Be strategic about where you plant yourself [at the table, within a group, etc.],” said Kennedy, “but nothing is off limits. I’ve had very successful meetings in elevator lobbies, at the airport, and even in the ladies room!” It helps, too, to bring someone with you to an event. That way, you have someone to talk with as you “hover” near a prospect. Wait for the inevitable lull in the conversation and then immediately jump in, but in a gracious manner, of course. A classic blocking and tackling maneuver.
Never Stop Networking
Back to our favorite soothsayer David Ogilvy. Rigidity and salesmanship do not combine, and one of the best ways to grease the wheels for more effective mixing is to lay a solid foundation for developing long-term relationships. “Never stop networking,” said Graham. “You have to remember to keep networking in the good times, too.”