Another Night, Another Networking Event or “Why go? I’m sure they’re on Facebook…”

Contributed by Crai S. Bower

I’m prepping for the Media Bistro December party, deciding whether I have time to print the guest nametags or leave it in the capable hands of “My Anti 9-to-5 Life” author, Michelle Goodman, who usually takes care of this task as part of our co-hosting “arrangement.” I like hosting the Media Bistro parties, which we throw about six times a year, though I haven’t quite learned not to take the attendance numbers personally.

Years ago, I met one of my main editors (i.e. steady, well paying employers) at a MB event, one of the most important connections I’ve made. Because I’m host, it’s unlikely I’ll feel too tired to muster the energy required to pull my boots on and head to Kate’s Pub for a couple of hours of chitchat, pints of Guinness and perhaps even an editor score.

But the whole process has me thinking, with everyone tweeting, slathering Facebook with promotional materials and connecting on LinkedIn, what’s the point of face-to-face networking anyway? If I can attend virtual meetings with Skype video, why depart my house (and family) for yet another “event,” especially as someone who travels for a living.

Crai S. Bower (center) at another networking event.

I put this question to Laura Serena, Immedia Inc. partner and chief cat of MediaKitty.com, one of the travel journalism’s most popular go-to networking sites. Over brunch this past weekend, Laura was exuding the virtues of Übertwitter, the new Twitter-centric app designed specifically for the Blackberry, definitely great news for the Canadian publicist.

A visionary in the social media sphere, Serena’s PR company also reps several of Vancouver’s hottest restaurants, including Coast, the “see-and-be-seen” seafood palace, frequented by Vancouver’s networking elite. As a social media maven who also commits many nights to being out and about at promotional functions, she seemed a perfect judge of the online vs face-to-face networking bout?

“With the continued growth of such networking platforms as Skype video, I think you really have to evaluate the value of attending each specific networking event,” explains Serena who with Heather Kirk, her Toronto-based partner, also operates NewsBureau.ca, a networking source for business journalism.

“And remember,” Serena advises, “Tweeting from an event not only raises visibility of the event, it elevates your exposure as well.”

Like most publicists, Serena says she ultimately favors live interactions. To prove her point, she told me she recently attended a networking function where she made three unexpected connections. She met a publisher who was launching a new magazine, discussed potential collaborations with a colleague she hadn’t seen in years and was introduced to a journalist she had always wanted to meet.

Personally, my insane, nonstop “building a brand/business” networking evenings are behind me. Gone are the days of 4-5 nights out a week, elevator pitch rehearsals and cold-call conversations. (I started writing for Forbes.com because of my literal elevator pitch to former editor Valaer Murray, conducted between the 7th floor and lobby of Vancouver’s Metropolitan Hotel.)

Yet, the importance of heading out remains crisp as an Alberta winter. Two weeks ago, while in Calgary to research the burgeoning culinary scene for AAAJourney.com and American Forces Radio, I received an invitation to hook up in the evening with an editor I’d met fortuitously that afternoon at a group luncheon held at Catch, Calgary’s premier fish restaurant, a repast I’d unfortunately had to leave early.

That night, I didn’t hear from said editor until after I’d returned from the Calgary Flames hockey game to the cozy Hotel Le Germain. Fryes off and tethered to my keyboard, I declined the opportunity when the text came in to pull on my boots, wrap my scarf, and jump in a cab for the trendy Inglewood neighborhood.

Unlike the frigid, -40 degrees (Celsius) air that night in Cowtown, the editor’s responses to my attempts to engage later in email conversation have been tepid, at best.

Of course all is not lost. The reason I left that Catch lunch early? To meet with the fabulous Deb Cummings, my new editor at Up! Magazine.

Still, that I didn’t rally to join up with folks in Inglewood eats at my freelance soul though, I’ll admit, tweeting and blogging about it has helped.

A little.

Award winning travel and lifestyle writer Crai S Bower contributed over 100 articles in 2010 for more than 20 publications and online sources. He is the travel commentator for NPR-affiliate KUOW and American Forces Radio and was featured in “Seattle 100: Portrait of a City.”  www.FlowingStreamWriting.net www.twitter.com/craisbower

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