Networking vs. the Hard Sell

by SaskMusic

August 6, 2009 in Miscellaneous

When Have You Crossed The Line?

Artists want to know, “How do we make the most of the Junos being in Saskatoon?” The truth is, the Junos are a 'different beast'. As a musician or industry professional from Saskatchewan, you want to get as much business done as you possibly can during the Junos, because all the heavy-hitters from across Canada are going to be there. But is that really the purpose of the Junos? The short answer is no. The Juno Awards are a time of celebration of past achievements, and for catching up with old friends. Not business.

When we were at the Junos in Winnipeg, I was all geared up to network and meet as many people as I could. I quickly discovered that no one wants to do business there, and they have really no interest in networking. Being involved in the Junos means using the established contacts you already have…not about new business.

The more I start thinking about the Junos and the way things work there, the more I start thinking about the delicate area of networking vs. 'making the pitch' and the sell. There is a fine line between the two, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll blow it before you even know it. This advice extends to any networking situation you are in. Often people are so anxious to get the deal done, they forget that all the business done in this industry is among friends. So, I ask you…what’s the rush?

Here’s a few pointers on networking:

1. If you're in one of those large opening reception/group situations, try to attend with someone else – a colleague, bandmate, friend or spouse. This is important for anyone who feels shy and awkward in these situations. It’s tough to stand in a room full of strangers (who all seem to know each other) by yourself.

2. Regardless of whether you are there alone or with someone, scan the room, look for someone that you do know (even if it was through a basic introduction), grab yourself a drink or some food, and then approach them. Make sure to read the situation, so you aren’t intruding on a private or important conversation. If it does seem exclusive and you absolutely need to make that connection, make it, apologize to all parties, and don’t hold up the conversation. Say what you need to say and make plans to connect later.

3. Okay – let’s assume that it’s not an exclusive conversation in progress. You want to blend into the conversation…not try and make yourself the center of attention. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the people you are talking to. This is where a good memory or notes can help – ask them about their interests, hobbies, and passions, or recall any past conversations you and they have had. Focusing on their business can be a dicey proposition. If they want to talk about it, great! But if they seem hesitant or bored, move onto something else. If you don’t know anything about them personally, small talk is good, but stay away from controversial topics. Eventually, they will match your behaviour and ask you about yourself. And, that’s when you have your stories ready to go.

4. The stories. They should be a nice combination of personal and professional stories. Not too long or drawn out, and not offensive. You want to hold people’s attention without scaring them off or offending them. It all comes down to the conversation at the moment...if it’s mostly focused on personal stories, then stay with that. If it’s mostly focused on business, then focus on business. I find that most times, it’s a balance of both.

5. Making a pitch. This is an interesting art on which we hope to present a workshop in the future. There are some key things to keep in mind: Research the person you are pitching to. You should know, from a business perspective, the information that is most important to them. For example, a Canadian tour agent is going to want to know your touring history, size of Canadian fanbase, album supporting the tour, previous sales, and future tour goals. The key is to construct good 30-second, 3-minute, and 10-minute pitches. Practice these, and yet make sure they sound natural. There is nothing worse than listening to someone who sounds as if they are reading a memorized speech. Allow yourself time to breathe and allow them time to ask questions. Reading body language is very important in these types of situations. You will gain a better understanding when people are interested in something you have said, not interested in a current thread you're on, or want more information. The key is to not waste anyone’s time.

6. Let’s step back a few steps though. What if it’s your first time in a room and you know absolutely no one? is like telemarketing on the ground; otherwise, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the only person you’ll be talking to is yourself. I recommend looking around the room for a single person or a smaller group of people, and then you will have to do the cold-call introductions. Honesty is probably the best policy. Let them know that it’s your first time there and you are out to meet new people. It can be difficult the first couple of times, but as you get the hang of it, it gets easier. Of course, before entering the reception (in the lobby or elevator), you may want to scope around and see if you can’t strike up a makes the larger room less daunting.

7. A good chunk of it all is wrapped up in being able to show confidence, and be comfortable in these kinds of situations. People are naturally drawn to individuals who show confidence because they generally make those around them feel comfortable.

8. So what about taking press kits and demos? Well, let me ask this: Do you want to be bombarded with material when you are out at a social event? Maybe some of you do…the majority of industry professionals do not. At conferences, they will honestly admit that they often leave it behind in their hotel room. Take some business cards with you, as they will ask for them (or how they can get a hold of you). If they don’t happen to ask, then you can often just ask for theirs, or, offer yours.

9. A point from the karmic side of things…be open to others joining your conversation. I have seen it happen many times: An artist is finally engaged with a key industry professional, and the artist consciously or unconsciously tries to discourage anyone else from approaching them. People will remember that the next time the artist tries to join THEIR conversation. You want to make as many connections as possible – and that requires a “give and take” mentality. This can be key if you are talking to someone…and it clicks in your brain that they would be a really good connection for “so and so.”

Your goal should be to create meaningful, lasting friendships. It’s not about getting a press kit into the hands of “so-and-so”. If you have created a relationship where the individual will take your call personally, and you have their direct phone number or email address, you have something you can build on. Remember that not everyone is going to be a good fit (for friendship, business, or either), but you never want to burn a bridge entirely. It is okay that not everyone will 'connect' with you. It may take years of staying in contact and building a relationship before you see any business results. But, those contacts are worth the time and energy you put into them.

See you at the Junos!


By Julie Desjarlais for SaskMusic. Originally published Spring 2007.


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