A communicator’s guide to media networking and sizing up journalists
Knocking back Pabst Blue Ribbon is guaranteed to get you more attention than sipping a hazelnut martini.
That was just one thing I observed during my first media networking adventure. Since I’ve written advice articles about networking—I figured I should do it myself. As I walked into the dimly lit Chicago bar, I went through my mental checklist: make a grand entrance, wear your nametag on the right-hand side, prepare a firm handshake, then go work the room. And oh, yeah, don’t get too drunk.
I soon realized: It’s a lot easier writing about networking than actually doing it.
Spotting all the journalists, engaged in interesting and titillating conversation, laughing loudly as they threw their heads back in delight, I wish I would’ve listened to at least one “This American Life” episode before I walked in the bar. I found a spot against the wall and wondered how I was going to hobnob with media folk.
Strike one against my future in networking came within the first 20 seconds. I was asked for my business card, which I had forgotten to bring. When I explained this, the networker extraordinaire responded: “Well, what kind of an adult are you?”
Apparently, not a very good one.
Dreams of adulthood crushed, I stood by the wall, wondering what to do with myself. I took note of the wood-paneled walls, the clinking of cocktail glasses, the buzz of the room—until it finally came to me: I should be writing a story about this! (The reporter’s notebook handily doubles as a shield.)
I realized that not every PR flak or corporate communicator knows the ins and outs of journalism junkies. If you want to go beyond the standard pitch, you’ve got to know whom you’re talking to—or, in my case, not talking to.
The next time you’re at a media event, here are the denizens you’ll meet:
Blogger (a.k.a. ‘Social media junkie ’)
Instead of saying hello, this person comes up to you and asks: “What are you doing?” Once you spell your first and last name for them, you simultaneously become their Facebook friend, MySpace buddy and a LinkedIn connection.
Attached to their iPhone, they update their Twitter account about the event every four minutes. Their Facebook status changes throughout the night, varying among “Single,” “In a Relationship,” and “It’s Complicated,” depending on how their night is going.
Pitch: Be sure you’ve boiled your press release down to a 140-character blast.
Let’s face it—journalists love networking at bars because it’s their second home. A few shots of third-tier vodka blur the lines between your PR career and the soon-to-be homeless newspaper editors. You’ll toast Edward L. Bernays; they’ll revel in Edward R. Murrow.
Pitch: Be a straight-shooter. They might get fooled by some Eastern European distiller’s marketing, but they know absolute BS when it’s up close and personal.
Ron Burgundy redux
Some journalists just can’t get enough of Anchorman. That’s too bad. But at least this guy knows his lines. When he introduces himself to a lady, he coolly says: “I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”
Of course, that never goes over well, so he mutters, “You are a smelly pirate hooker.” Next up, he drags himself to the bar with the J-Drunks and proclaims, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…”
Pitch: Stroke R. Burgundy’s ego. Find some of his previous work and dole out a few compliments before you start to woo.
Freelancer (a.k.a. “Living off food stamps writer”)
Expect this person to come up to you at least seven different times and ask if your company is hiring.
Pitch: Hungry for material (and in general), keep throwing story ideas their way. They’re just happy that someone is talking to them.
Woodward and Bernstein
Veteran networkers know there’s safety in numbers. Best buddies know the system—if one gets stuck in a bad conversation, the other will intervene politely with a code word: Zell, Tweet, or buyout.
Pitch: Hard-hitting journalists love a scandal or the thrill of an investigation. If you’ve got something juicy, tell them you’ll meet in the parking lot after cocktails. Very Mark Felt.
We all know how much journalists love a good buffet line or stale cookie fragments at a city commission meeting. Watch their faces light up with glee as servers bring forth platters of hors d’oeuvres. Seeing two grown men fight for the last “krab puff” reminds you how glad you are that you followed the standard networking rule: Eat dinner beforehand.
Pitch: Bribe them. Start with a fruit basket. Or a slab of beef jerky.
The cranky curmudgeon
He’s a young cuss who can’t stop crying about the shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News and the future of the industry. His dreams of having a real reporting job deferred, his only real joy in life comes when he yanks out his AP Stylebook and grammatically corrects fellow bumbling drunken media types. He’s got potential to develop G.O.D. Complex.
Pitch: Actually, give this guy your business card. Your last press release had a lot of typos. Maybe he could help.