Networking 101

I’ve recently gone to a few networking events and launch parties – both professional and otherwise – and I was surprised (although not surprised at the same time) at how some of the events compared to one another. Particularly when it came to matters of actually socializing and networking…on both a personal and brand level. While I’m fully aware that not everyone is born a people-person, if you’re going to try and launch your product or promote your brand (or yourself) there’s a few things you should probably brush up on before you throw yourself out there if you want the night to be a resounding success.

I’m a huge fan of the RedEye. Seriously. Every morning I pick one up on my way to the train. 45 minutes later I have an interesting random bit of knowledge to share at the office, most commonly to my Mexican friend Party – otherwise known as Fiesta in her native language. From learning about some random topic or world happening (in some cases both birds are killed with one stone/story) to where a launch party is going on for some new brand or product, the RedEye is an amazing resource. 

We recently went to a launch party for a new local startup called Reelagram. For those of you who may have forgotten (or didn’t read about my love of free shit) here’s the Reader’s Digest version as a refresher. They’re relaunching the class ViewMaster toy and allowing you to make your own slide reels with your own Instagram pictures. The launch party was co-hosted by InstaThis, another company that’s banking off Instagram’s success and letting you print your photos to wood or acrylic (for a pretty penny, but a cool concept nevertheless – a great gift idea at the least).

So anyways, you’d think at a party hosted at a coffee shop that doesn’t typically advertise where the restrooms are since there’s only one and it’s in the back you’d mention where it was or have a sign. That’d just make too much sense though. Why not just announce it an hour and a half into the two hour launch party? So much more logical, right? Especially when you have two kegs and a table of serve-yourself wine. It’d also make sense to let people know there’s water too. Some people (not me or Fiesta though) might want a glass of it.

Most importantly, however, you’d be wise to mix and mingle with the people at your launch party. I mean, hello…do you want your company to be successful or not? Granted, we were the second and third people through the door (partially because we formed our own line and told people we were in it so we could score some free stuff by being some of the first ones inside) and started asking questions about the brands being launched. Had we not networked our way around the room, we would have known nothing of InstaThis since the RedEye article focused mainly on Reelagram with a slight mention of InstaThis at the end. Case in point though, with the exception of stopping at the InstaThis table when we first walked in never once saw or talked to a brand ambassador from either company that night.

Where were these people all night? Surrounded by their friends who’d come to the party for the free drinks. Now don’t get me wrong, Fiesta and I were all about the free drinks, but we were really interested in getting to know more about these brands. Since both of us remembered the ViewMasters and had every intention of possibly getting a slide reel or two made (I think it’d be an awesome way to showcase some of the trips from my upcoming trip to Mexico on the coffee table afterward). While it’s great that your friends came to support you, chances are they already know about your brand. You should probably network your asses off and talk to the people you don’t recognize. Although some are probably just there for the free booze, others are generally interested in your product and will tell others about it if you make an impression – be it a good or bad one.

But perhaps it was just us. Maybe we seemed unapproachable with our bottle of wine and clique of two new friends. It would have been smart to network with us though being as our not-so-intimidating clique of four included two people who work in the advertising and PR industry who were also shocked at your lack of networking skills. Fail.

Also, if you’re going to draw tickets for prizes, don’t wait until the end of the two-hour event to do so…especially if there’s nothing going on the rest of the evening except for you schmoozing with your friends. Do some periodic drawings through the evening with the bigger things saved for the end of the night. Build a buzz and make people want to stick around. Oh, and on that note, put the tickets in something bigger than a cup so they can be mixed up and you can draw someone other than your friends.

All in all, am I knocking your company? No. I’m simply pointing out that you seem to have a great product but a lack of social skills.

This was made all the more apparent last night when I went to store opening for the new Chicago location of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, an Ohio-based company, whose opening I also learned about via a friend’s Facebook post and later a quick nod in the RedEye. It even scored an article on the Huffington Post. Talk about building a buzz. Then again…if there’s free ice cream involved I’m not sure who wouldn’t be interested.

Cue the three-block-long line. You’d think it was Black Friday.

After a two-hour wait (yes, my friends and I waited two hours to get a free ice cream cone), we were finally inside. I cannot tell you when the last time was that I was so blown away by great service, friendly employees who couldn’t be more excited to tell you about the company and their ice cream flavors, and a CEO who mixed and mingled like no other. Have I had better ice cream? Perhaps. But did this live up to the hype? Was this worth the wait? Yes.

There’s a big difference between launching a new brand and opening a new location. There’s a common thread, however. Market yourself well, and your product will essentially market itself. Make a lasting impression (for the right reasons) on a personal level. You are an extension of your brand and vice versa.

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