Networking: The good, the bad, and the inevitably awkward.
The term “networking” makes me cringe a bit and I’m not sure why, especially since I go out and do just that most nights after work. I never put much energy into meeting new people until I became a photo agent. When I began, I realized very quickly that this industry sits on a fragile infrastructure of friendships and personal relationships. I started going to any and every event I could and slowly started to meet people. Once I made a few connections, it no longer felt like I was working and I looked forward to meeting up with this new group of friends. My advice is not see people as a business connection, because that becomes transparent quickly. Instead, think of networking as meeting people within your industry who inevitably share the same interests. These people have the same stresses you do each day and maybe they’ve found solutions you haven’t thought of. For me, knowing other reps has kept me sane on more than one occasion.
For this month’s Q&A, I thought I’d get people’s reactions to networking. We’re not talking about social networking here, but rather the good ol’ fashioned meet and greet. Almost everyone acknowledges the inevitable awkwardness, but also accepts the value of fostering a supportive community. Most of the people below I’ve met at events and, over time, have become good friends of mine.
The images from our Glasshouse Assignment photographers are all a sneak peek of projects to be released soon, to stay tuned for some very exciting updates! As always, thank you so much to everyone who contributed and is helping to move this Q&A series along.
- Jacqueline Bovaird, Glasshouse Assignment
EVAN KAFKA, PHOTOGRAPHER, GLASSHOUSE ASSIGNMENT
Many of the events in your town will be populated by the same people and it becomes sort of like a clique. That can be very helpful in getting work, if you’re lucky. At the bigger events, it can be hard to meet people. I guess perseverance pays off eventually and you may make a meaningful connection. It also depends on your personality. I like parties and I think I am good with people, but I’m not the most extroverted. There are certain people who can really work a party. That is a gift that, if not too obnoxious, can go a long way.
ELISE DAHER, ART BUYER
I am terrible at networking. I’ve always been a bit shy (no one believes me when I say this, but for the record, I am shy!), and I have a really hard time approaching people that I don’t know. I do find that industry parties such as Adhesive, which encourage name-tag wearing (and alcohol consumption) make networking for people such as myself a lot easier.
Ultimately, I do find that face-to-face meet ‘n greets, whether it be meeting with a photographer and looking at portfolios together, or mixers like Adhesive/Resource parties, are invaluable. Putting a face to the name always helps me keep people at top of mind (or have them keep me top of mind) other than the few of you who, for whatever reason, my brain can’t seem to remember. You know who you are and I’m sorry!) And walking into a room where everyone greets you like you’re Norm in “Cheers” is a nice feeling.
JANESSA MARKGRAF, PHOTO AGENT, MARNIE ROSE AGENCY
Personally I love networking. As far as I’m concerned, adding another notch to your metaphorical belt of contacts is never a bad thing. It’s important, if not a key, to a successful career in such a fickle industry. Of course it goes without saying, it is far more beneficial to someone new to the industry and/or looking for work, as opposed to one who already has a successful established career.
In my case it was and continues to be beneficial. Having moved to New York just over two years ago as a photo assistant from Minneapolis with a mere two connections in NYC, if it hadn’t been for me attending industry events like they were going out of style, collecting business cards, following up with new contacts and maintaining those relationships I don’t think I would have accomplished nearly as much as I have in such a short period of time. Although, I do feel being an extrovert with a very charismatic personality is helpful and puts me at an advantage.
As an agent, it is now part of my job to network on behalf of the agency, both promoting the talent we represent and creating awareness of the agency itself. I find people in the industry are very good about sharing information and resources, so although you might not receive a job directly from your networking efforts, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother doing it. You never know when you might exchange information with the right person at the right time. It’s all about timing and who you know right? Or at least that’s what I was always told.
RYAN SCHUDE, PHOTOGRAPHER, GLASSHOUSE ASSIGNMENT
Meeting people is how we interact as humans. It is inevitable and happens naturally most of the time. It becomes awkward and painful, when it is a forced situation like when someone introduces two people and says, “you’re both from Chicago, now talk about it!” Or when I am on the phone with my Dad and in front of my Mother he says, “You wanna talk to your mother?” Well, maybe I did but I now I really have to don’t I? It seems most jobs I get and most jobs other photographers I’ve talk to are from people they know personally.
Other ways to build this relationship is through a local photo community. If one is not available, create one. Here we meet with different groups of photographers a couple of times a month and always try and include other industry people who have interest in looking at photos. Slideluck Potshow has a good model I’ve tried to use on a smaller level as well. Throw a dinner party at home that is super casual where there are photos projected on a wall or bring it to a restaurant or bar. If nothing else you can get inspired by looking at new work with a few friends, but it also opens up the possibility of a less rigid environment than a formal “networking” meeting.
DANIELLA NILVA-CUNNINGHAM, PHOTO EDITOR
I believe networking is extremely important. In this age of electronics, everything is becoming less personal. Gone are the days of face-to-face to meetings. Most of us are far too busy to meet with most of the people we need or want to network with. There are only so many hours in the day. More and more we are being asked to do the jobs of two or more people. It becomes harder and harder to get in front of your clients. We hire people over the phone and more so via email. Sometimes networking is fun and sometimes it’s extremely painful, however, I force myself to do it. In the age of this economy we can no longer count on the fact that our jobs will be here tomorrow, let alone the clients we work with. We need to do our best to keep up with the ever-changing face of media and technology by educating ourselves and networking with our peers
You need to constantly network to meet new clients, learn from others, collaborate and bottom line–survive.
To answer your question about community, first and foremost produce great work. Make the time to network. Get out from behind your blackberries, your iPhones and your computer and go out and meet people. Join organizations, Get involved with your community, get referrals, go to events, lectures, seminars, join a listserve on the topics that interest you. Educate yourself every day and stand out from the crowd, otherwise, you are just another phone call or email in the daily barrage of communications that we all receive every day – all of which is too much to handle as it is.
In summary, I can’t tell you much I have learned, how many great people I have met or the long lasting friendships I have gained out of networking, and the icing on the cake is the jobs I have gotten because of it.
AUDRIE LAWRENCE, PHOTO AGENT, REDUX
I love meeting new people. My interest in the world of photography and being among those in the industry led me to my current job as an agent. The socializing aspect is never really awkward or painful for me though, breaking out and meeting totally new people when I go to events is sometimes a challenge because it’s so easy to stay with in the circle of people I know.
I think networking is very important. It could mean face time with someone that you may want to show your work to that may not be responding to your emails or calls. It’s also a great way to find new, talented people who can become a resource.
In my short time as an agent I have had the pleasure of meeting wonderful people through networking events. Some of these people have become invaluable to my daily dealings and, more importantly, good friends. They are the first people I call when I need an underwater housing, a stylist in Detroit, or advice on a new client. Without these people I would be lost.
I love the sense of community and support that exists. If you love photography, networking with people that have that interest is also fun. Being around your peers, supporting artists new and established is a great way to keep the industry moving forward. Networking events whether it be parties, exhibitions, or trade shows are all good sources of keeping you abreast of what’s happening in the world of photo and hopefully inspire.
MIHA MATEI, PHOTOGRAPHER, GLASSHOUSE ASSIGNMENT
I’ve found that networking is an important part of having a freelance business, especially in the photography world. It’s often who you know that can help your career along. I personally love going out and meeting new people, even if it doesn’t lead to a job. It reminds me that there’s life on the other side of the camera!
I would have never gotten my first cookbook if I hadn’t made calls to restaurant owners to go in and meet with them. You can’t sit back and wait for work to come to you. You have to show passion for the business, otherwise it will not sustain you. It’s also nice for art directors/art buyers to meet who they are going to hire face to face so they can trust and have confidence that they are not just hiring talent, but also a competent and likable person.
As part of my networking, I recently joined Savor The Success, a networking group for women entrepreneurs who meet once a month to discuss how they can improve their businesses. Most of them need lifestyle and product photography for their business, which allows me a great opportunity to meet new clients in a different setting. It’s such a great opportunity to connect with them and, even if we don’t end up working together, it’s great to talk with other strong women and learn different business skills.
TONY GALE, PHOTOGRAPHER
I firmly believe that the more people you know the better, so of course networking is extremely important. We are in an industry that is fundamentally about the relationships you have with other people. You never know who you will meet, or who they might know that can help you or answer a question or even refer you for a job. It is equally important to be forthcoming with information and help as well.
It can be difficult and awkward to network, especially if it feels forced or disingenuous. When you go to an event, everyone is there to have some good conversation and maybe meet some new people, so almost everyone is in the same boat. If you can find someone you know, ask them to introduce you around and it snowballs. The more people you meet the more you will meet at the next event. By the same token if I meet someone new who could benefit from meeting someone else there I know, I will always try and introduce them. It works both ways.
I was initially very intimidated by going to industry events where I felt forced trying to network and meet people. But people are interesting; they all have something to say. Find what is interesting and find the connection with the other person. You can always go up to the person standing alone and talk to them; they are just as intimidated and nervous as you.
A simple shortcut to networking is to get involved with one of the creative trade organizations, (APA, ASMP, SPD, ADC, ASPP etc). They all need volunteers and you will meet a lot of people in a very short time, and maybe even do so good. I joined the ASMPNY steering committee shortly after moving to NYC, and have been on the APANY board for the last several years. The number of people who I have met as a result is staggering.
Facebook is also a tremendously powerful tool. Everyone you meet can be potentially added as a friend on Facebook, then you have one more connection. You will both be much more likely to remember each other the next time, and it builds like crazy.
RYAN PFLUGER, PHOTOGRAPHER, GLASSHOUSE ASSIGNMENT
For me networking has always been a love/hate relationship. I love meeting new people, and I think putting a face to a photographers work is incredibly important. Especially for someone like me, the face-to-face interaction really helps people form a closer bond to my work. Some of the best clients I work with are through cultivated relationships over time. That being said, the initial process can be completely terrifying and stressful. I never have liked the idea of having to try and sell myself to someone. Everyone approaches networking differently, but for me it’s just like making new friends. Sometimes you hit it off, and sometimes you don’t. While it is very important, a lot of times you just have to realize your work speaks for itself. If that’s not enough, maybe it’s not the right client for you. In the end, loving what you do and expressing that to clients is really all you can do. The rest just falls into place how it will.
TOM McWILLIAM, PHOTOGRAPHER
Networking. Without it we don’t exist as a civilization. Imagine what the Island of Manhattan would be like if we didn’t, begrudgingly, talk to each other about what we want to do. What an anthill it would be!
As a visual content provider in a world of continuous flux, networking can reach the decision maker who will give us a national ad campaign. Other worthwhile opportunities and alliances benefit from networking; a gallery show or public service campaign come to mind. In a world where our craft and our means of expression are always plugged in, turned on networking in technical and legal areas is a necessity.
You can of course spend a lot of time accomplishing nothing but feeding the insatiable social beast and its “friends” through networking, but sometimes even social networking moments can be a crystal ball. This type of networking recently saved me pain and embarrassment. The interpersonal skills and professionalism of a person I was thinking about hiring/referring as a team member on an important campaign was recently put to a test at a networking event. As a result of their behavior that day I don’t regret my decision to not invite them on a two-week trip to a far away place where English is the third language and there was only one flight per week to anywhere other than where I/they landed.