Schmoozing in PR, and why it is good for PR professionals
When I told people that I was going into PR, aside from their complete and utter lack of knowledge as to what PR is and what exactly PR agencies do (which even now remains a debate within the industry itself), they all said one thing: “well, you are already quite good at drinking, so that’s half the battle won.”
We have the image in our heads of PR and advertising pros having boozy lunches, and even boozier parties. Mad Men’s Don Draper is rarely without glass in hand, Malcolm Tucker probably downs scotch by the gallon, and Les Hommes de l’Ombre/Spin’s Simon Kapita loves a red wine. There is however, strategy behind this.
So without further ado, I raise my glass-hand, and share with you the four things I’ve learnt about schmoozing.
You don’t actually need to drink alcohol whilst schmoozing
I know this may be a bit of a shocker for a lot of people in the PR world, but some of the more entertaining and ideas-driven conversations I’ve had have been over lunch at the PRCA whilst in training sessions. Yes, even a training session can be a great opportunity to network and schmooze for PR agencies. These events present a forum for pure, unrefined discussion about all things PR. Ideas for your own campaigns come from the most unlikely of places, and these sessions can provide great food for thought. If anyone wants a lunch partner at the next PRCA all-day training session, let me know!
Contrary to popular belief, sometimes a lunch or dinner is not the best way to get to know someone professionally
Whilst the above lunches are good fun, they do tend to last around 45 minutes, which could only be considered a semi-schmooze. For a good ol’ fashioned schmooze, say at an industry event or trade show, a standard hour to hour and a half is required. These, of course, aren’t sit down meals, but less formal and more mobile affairs. Canapés abound, and verrrry small glasses of wine (generally shiraz or tempranillo), and many people to talk, errr, schmooze with. These are almost the speed-dating of schmoozing, and can be excellent. Many a deal has been cut at these get-togethers, and undoubtedly many more deals will be made in such environments in the future. In fact, just a few weeks ago, our PR agency hosted its annual Roof Party in London – a capital schmooze if I do say so, which had exactly this type of vibe. Just bear in mind that, in some instances, those verrrry small glasses of wine will be swapped with margaritas halfway through the evening.
You can talk shop, just not too much
The background to most schmoozes is invariably work-related. But let’s be honest: no one wants to talk about work. By all means, sometimes you must, and it is very definitely worth doing, but talking shop for the entire time will do you no good. Boredom will set in, and the schmooze will turn into the worst kind of schmooze – the chore. The same type of schmooze that you now as an adult feel obliged to attend because the neighbours once lent you their hose. Schmoozing is about building rapport, and whilst discussing work will help your professional relationship, it’s worth diverging on topics to build your personal one too. Work is important, but it isn’t the be all and end all. Which leads nicely to…
Everyone is a person
Yes, I know it is hard to believe. But that journalist who won’t give you the time of day because they’re constantly busy, or the fabled names whispered down the hallowed halls of your office still put their trousers on one leg at a time, and still dislike the tube at rush hour. The sooner you can realise this, the sooner the nervousness dissipates when having to talk to them in a professional manner. They might like the triathlon, so why not start a call (the intention of which is a discussion on endpoint protection in the enterprise) by asking their opinion on Jan Frodeno pulling out of this year’s Kona? Do they like wine? Have you told them about the natural/organic/biodynamic wine joint down the road? Well that’s an excuse for another schmooze! Journalists have interests outside of work, as do we all, and we would all do well to remember that.
The fact is that schmoozing is an integral part of PR. It may not affect your work directly on a day to day basis, but when it does, it can all be traced back to that one glass that sparked a conversation about something inconsequential. It’s the butterfly effect, but significantly less weird than the film. Anyone care for a glass?
Ben Cole, Campaign Manager and Schmooze Baron, Babel PR