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Networking for success.


With fear of recession lurking around the comer and business tightening corporate belts around the globe, the 1990s may belong to the networker. A network of good contacts will be essential to moving up, out and around professionally.

Networking can be the business communicator's lifeline in tough times. Good networks can provide business communicators with story sources, job leads and support systems, as well as lifelong friends and surprising personal benefits.

In linguistic terms, the word networking" may already be floating somewhere between jargon and cliche. After all, the concept received concrete recognition in John Naisbitt's landmark book "Megatrends" and that was more years back than most of us would like to recall. The reality of today's business environment, though, is that the process of networking is more important than ever, regardless of how the word itself is perceived.

"I always hark back to what I read about networking in Naisbitt, who said that networks are people talking to each other, sharing information," said IABC member and networker extraordinaire Marilyn Mirabelli, founder of Excellence in/en Communication, a bilingual strategic planning and consulting firm in Toronto, Ont. "Networking exists to help us promote ourselves and each other."

Mirabelli has found jobs, consulting projects, sources and good friends through her networking activities, particularly through the IABC network, she said. The benefits go further than personal success, though. "I see networking as a productive exchange, she noted. "I look to networking for constructive criticism from my peers. In fact, if you know how to network successfully, you can change society."

Success Stories

Mirabelli's successes in networking are many. Upon moving back to Toronto after working in Ottawa with Canada's federal government, she contacted a number of old colleagues and IABC members to renew her professional contacts. "I rely on IABC members as my associates," she said.

One successful link in her network was someone who also had left Ottawa for Toronto, to work for Texaco Canada, which was being merged into Imperial Oil. "I wasn't soliciting work per se, but I let her know that I had skills that might he appropriate to that activity," Mirabelli said. "The upshot was that I was at the top of her consciousness as a choice when the need arose for outside consulting. I did an assignment for her and now have done other work for the new company as a result."

As a result of chatting with former IABC Chairman Chris Bunting after a workshop at the 1989 IABC international conference in Vancouver, Mirabelli netted a lead for a bilingual project back in Toronto. "I didn't get that particular project, but it led to others for the same entity," she said. "All it took was a few minutes of personal contact to remind him of my skills and specialty."

At the 1988 IABC conference in New Orleans, Mirabelli ran into a woman from Montreal who also owns her own communication business. "We seek each other's advice," she said.

One IABC/Washington member found out that networking can lead to not only a new job but also a new home: Jareer G. Elass found a job in the Washington, D.C. area through the IABC job service and a condominium through a chapter board member who also sells real estate. Determination, perseverance and sharply honed networking skills prevailed" for Elass, according to an article in Update, the chapter newsletter.

Elass returned to Washington recently after spending several years in Saudi Arabia working as a technical writer for Aramco Oil Corp. He lived with his parents in a Washington suburb while job- and home-hunting. Chapter president Marjina Kaplan referred him to Ted Pile, chapter vice-president of membership and communication manager with Lafarge Corp., a French-owned company with its North American headquarters in the area. Pile, a true believer in the value of the IABC network because he found his job through the US national jobline, promptly hired Elass as an editorial writer.

The personal bonus came later, when Elass mentioned his interest in buying a home near his new job. On Pile's advice, he called Kaplan again and spent a day condo-shopping with her. In August, Elass became the owner of a two-bedroom condo five minutes from his office; Kaplan provided help in negotiating the sales contract and locating financing and a settlement attorney.

What to Do

Effective networking involves a strong combination of skill and luck; a willingness to take the occasional risk to forge good contacts; energy; openness to other people and their needs; and constant awareness of the opportunity for give and take in every setting.

"Essentially, anyone in business for him or herself cannot survive without networking with someone," said Ellen McKoy, head of EMK Marketing in Baltimore, Md. "Networking is vital to getting leads for stories as well as new clients. In a full-time job, networking can be an important and effective way of getting publicity items placed as well."

McKoy's best results, she said, have come from "talking to people in my industry and from people who call me after seeing things I've written." She writes for several magazines and newspapers in the auto trim specialty field and makes a point of attending annual trade conferences to meet potential sources and clients.

There is little magic involved in the process itself, according to Mirabelli: "Basically, networking is just talking to each other. It is the sincerest and most effective method of promotion, whether of yourself, your business or a friend whom you mentor. You get immediate feedback because it's a one-to-one process or involves small groups. It can be very physical because you can read the other person's body language."

Mirabelli takes the "give and take" aspect of networking seriously. Her method of returning the networking favor is to provide services both to individuals who help her and to IABC as an organization. For example, I have a colleague in Ottawa whom I call frequently for her advice on proposals and materials. She also reviewed my portfolio for me when I began the IABC accreditation process. In return, I help her with organizing media coverage when she has an event going on," she said.

"On the organizational level, I made a point of introducing myself at a chapter meeting last December, when I returned to Toronto, she recalled. "I mentioned that I do speechwriting and training. A couple days later, I had a phone call from the chapter program vice president, asking me to give a workshop in that area. That has exposed me to a whole new link in my network. It didn't pay-but it was an investment for me, as well as a service to the chapter."

Creating a communication network means taking a professional approach to the process, expert networkers agree. Step one is joining at least one professional organization-and being active and visible in it. It is not enough to write a check and read the membership literature each month-you have to attend meetings, join committees and contribute to the organization. Organization colleagues and professional peers will not remember the roster of organization members; they will remember the people who visibly enrich the organization.

Few professional communicators can handle both full-time job responsibilities and multiple organizational involvement. To keep one from affecting the other poorly, expert networkers recommend keeping the organizational affiliations limited to a few so those few can be of most use to all concerned-join only as many (or as few) as allow for genuine participation. A laundry list of affiliations may look good on a resume, but does no good when trying to turn the linkage into a new job if membership has not meant personal involvement. Being active only in IABC is far better than being a card-carrying but invisible member of IABC, Public Relations Society of America, Women in Communications Inc., and the Society for Technical Communications.

What Not to Do

Networking means giving as well as taking. The process is much like maintaining good friendships-there is a fine line between networking with people and using them; try not to cross it. That means letting contacts know about opportunities from which they might benefit and volunteering to help out with organizational activities.

Willingness to give back to the profession is vital. "Because the information you receive from networking is offered free and is shared, you must be prepared to do something free in exchange for it," Mirabelli said.

The key is not to let networks get cold. Stay in touch. Stay active. Stay visible. If a colleague provides a lead to a new job, if an IABC member provides advice on handling a new project-keep those people in mind and communicate with them regularly. After all, we are communicators. If IABC members cannot keep their networks fresh and functional, who can?

"My best advice is to treat networking as a two-way process," Mirabelli said. "That takes time and effort, but it must be done. Networking leads to friendships and friendships are like an `open sesame' to professional opportunities, but I look at my contacts as friends and keep in touch constantly. If I see something of use to one of my contacts, I let them know. That's the only way to get the benefit of the process. My golden rule is to continually massage my network-or else you're just a flash in the pan. If I get a job, I'm delighted; but even if I don't, I gain friendships from the process."

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a Washington, D. C. -and Baltimore, Md. -based free-lance writer/editor.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Thaler-Carter, Ruth E.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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