Keep It Casual and See Clients Flock to You

Four Pointers to Keeping Networking Informal -- and Successful

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Troy Dunn
Troy Dunn
Traditional networking is a bit out of my comfort zone. As a business owner, I know that networking is critical to business development. I appreciate the value of professional-association meetings, but I don't believe attending such formal settings is the only successful approach to prospecting and obtaining new clients. Personally, I prefer to be less formal. Because I love what I do, this seems to be the purest way of delivering my message, and, as we advise our clients, we have to play to our strengths. So if you're like me, take time to develop your informal networking skills, just as you would to create your 30-second elevator pitch. Learn to treat every occasion -- even a chance encounter -- as an opportunity to meet someone new and to make a lasting impression.

Much of my new business has come from unplanned encounters. During a recent layover from Europe, I recognized a man in the airport whom I'd met five years ago. In ripped jeans and a T-shirt, it's safe to say that I wasn't dressed for success. Still, I took the opportunity to reintroduce myself. He owns a restaurant chain in Florida, and I told him I have a number of clients in that industry, so we got to talking about the state of the restaurant business in Florida. I cited a few examples of how we had addressed promotional challenges -- but I never delivered a formal pitch.

He called me two days later and asked if we could talk about his business challenges. His restaurant chain is now one of our newest clients.

Informal networking works. Here are a few nuggets that may work for you:


Informal conversations about topics you're genuinely interested in show a lot more about you and your marketing approach than any canned speech. Potential clients want to understand your unique perspective and how it could benefit their own business challenges. Developing this type of rapport is not unlike the people who first notice a radio, TV or outdoor ad that your agency produced and love the way you've applied your experience and expertise to sell the brand. As a result, they may want you to help sell their brand.


Like most full-service agencies, we have a roster of client case studies I could easily go on and on about. But most people aren't interested in a list of our capabilities -- especially not during a chance meeting. I try to ask questions that make people think, such as, "Why do you think your competitor has higher sales?"
Troy Dunn is president-creative director of Dunn & Co., Tampa, Fla., whose clients include GE Healthcare and Zubrowka vodka.
I'm interested in their response, both as a business owner and as a marketer. I'll usually have a relevant story that illustrates how we've addressed a similar situation. By openly sharing my experiences, I build trust, which leads to relationships. People will tell you what you need to know if you engage them and then just listen.


High-pressured sales-speak can be spotted a mile away. Fortunately for those of us in advertising, what we do for a living is thought of as glamorous by many, and approachable by almost everyone. We all enjoy creative expression -- why else would so many of us go to Hollywood to become actors and directors? So relax, have fun, and speak to your passions and how they relate to the other person. In my case, how great creative can boost sales is always a hot topic because it leads to a better bottom line.


But there's great value in the power of relationships. Strong bonds stem from commonalities discovered in pure conversation. A sales pitch doesn't have to begin with "hello" -- for me, a from-the-heart delivery is always more effective than a PowerPoint presentation of your agency's capabilities. There will be a time and a place for a more formal presentation. When that time comes, you'll have more than 30 seconds to land the business.
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