When Brian Price spoke at the University of Florida earlier this semester, he discussed with us the many networking opportunities within PRSSA. He shared the strategic approach he uses to maintain contact with those he meets. Intrigued by his approach, I asked the former PRSSA National President and current co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA to share some advice and recommendations in this month’s Q&A style edition of Intern Talk.
Q: As an underclassman, I remember looking at my graduating friends and was so impressed with the networks they had built. I was also pretty overwhelmed at knowing I was expected to build a similar network. What advice can you give to the students who are looking to start building their networks? Are there any particular resources— either in or outside PRSSA—you recommend they look to when starting?
A: You can start building your network through PRSSA two ways, but it starts with this: show up. When you consistently attend events your Chapter holds, you not only get to know your peers better, but you make yourself available to meet special guests. A natural way to expand your network is to turn a handshake introduction into an opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship afterward through emails (Wait, How Do I Write This Email is a great book filled with templates to help networkers). As far as PRSSA resources go, you can’t beat the Champions for PRSSA, a group of professionals who have signed up to help students. Find the right person for your questions and reach out. You can start communication by saying you found their information in the Champions directory.
Q: As a professional, what are some things students do when making the initial connection or following up that stand out to you?
A: Students can make a quality introduction by being concise and respectful. That means listening much more than speaking, and asking questions tailored to what a professional is qualified to speak on. Follow ups should be done within 24 hours, remind the person of the conversation and ask a follow-up question that can be answered quickly or with a hyperlink, not a time-consuming response (build your way up to those questions). You can really stand out by checking in with a purpose three to six weeks later and continuing to do so.
Q: I think one of the biggest issues students face is that they make connections at PRSSA and other networking events but have a hard time keeping those connections real and personal. How do you recommend students, for a lack of a better phrase, keep the spark alive with the pros they meet?
A: You have to view it as a relationship, because it is one. The longer and better you know someone, the more leeway you have for staying in touch. With a new relationship, you want to tread lightly in terms of respectfulness and your level of professionalism, and you shouldn’t disappear for a few months only to later show up out of nowhere asking for favors or counsel. Get an email address and follow up through email (the template book I mention above will help tremendously). Think to yourself, when/how will this person be helpful? When the right situations arise in the future to ask questions or seek advice, reach out. Keep in mind the status of your relationship—have you built up enough cache to ask questions that require several paragraphs for an email response? It’s usually better to start small (e.g. recommended resources to learn more about a topic the two of you discussed) and build your way up.
Q: How do these recommendations differ if the professionals you’re networking with are local or out-of-towners?
A: I don’t think it differs that much. Obviously when they’re in town you can meet for coffee prior to work or other options after work. I still rely on email to touch base with my Chicago connections from time to time, and I rely on in-person meetings with people from out of town when they visit or I’m in their city. If you’re respectful and willing to build up a relationship with someone, the amount of miles between you won’t matter.
Q: I’ve always believed that the network PRSSA offers on a student-to-student level is just as valuable as its student-to-professional network. What are your thoughts on making and keeping connections with other students?
A: This is incredibly important and should never be underestimated. The value is so immense it’s almost hard to know where to start. In college, you go through so many of the same experiences—gaining qualifications, finding resources, seeking mentorship, figuring out class assignments, looking for a summer internship. I learned about a million things from my peers, many from other schools I met through PRSSA. We shared advice for networking, interview do’s/don’ts, successes, failures, tips and tricks. Two years later I know many young professionals spread across the country whom I tap into for advice about the challenges of being a new professional. And think about the jobs your peers could have 10 or 20 years in the future—now that’s a great network!
Q: I’m honestly so impressed by your strategic approach to maintaining your network. When you spoke at my university, you specifically mentioned a spreadsheet. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
A: I consider networking to be important so I wanted to organize my communication. For me, it’s a basic spreadsheet with names and contact info of people I consider to be in my network. I track the last time we spoke and a few short notes on the topic. This is helpful so I don’t repeat a topic, but more so it’s an asset because I can quickly run through my list and see who I’m due to check in with. To further an earlier point, I have two columns, one for those more senior than me and another for peers. With other young pros, a check-in could be as informal as exchanging a few texts; with those more senior I start with a formal email, then adjust to a little more casual writing style if the other person reciprocates in that way.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: Looking for a way to immediately start growing your network? Start mentoring. As an upperclassman, if you work with a freshman or sophomore to expand their skills and knowledge, you will gain a strong addition to your network. Take an interest in those you can teach, because you can help them grow strong enough to assist you in the future. The deeper your network is, the more support and resources you have so always take time to help others.
What are some ways you’ve kept in touch with the members of your network? Share it with us in the comments below or on social media.
Brian Price is an assistant account executive at Edelman’s Chicago office working as a social media community manager. He served as the PRSSA 2013–2014 National President and is active in PRSA as the chair-elect of the New Professionals Section, co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA, PRSSA liaison to PRSA Chicago and member of the PRSA 2017–2019 Strategic Planning Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BrianDPrice.