Here’s a nice aphorism for what p.r. is really all about and some good networking pointers (I warn you I’m going to go rather far afield here, but we’ll come home in the end). If you don’t want to read all the way through, here is the takeaway: You Are Your Own Business Card.
I work with some incredibly brilliant people. Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Harvard Law grads and people with as many as four degrees (and we are talking M.B.A., M.A., and LL.M. here). So today when one colleague of mine, an extremely high-tech lawyer and widely regarded as a top tech lawyer in NY, called and asked, “I have to go to a networking event tonight, but forgot my business cards, what do I do?” I had to laugh at their overlooking some rather obvious solutions.
Now, in the person’s defense I think they were expecting me to come up with a high-tech solution to this rather common problem. After all we are constantly exchanging recommendations about ‘this app’ or ‘that app’ as solutions to life’s regular challenges. The challenge there, however, is even with most high-tech solutions, iPhone apps, etc., one must still engage in the common refrain “what’s your contact information?”, which after all was what he was shy to ask because he had left his business cards at the office.
So I gave him these ‘tricks’ that I have found very practical in the networking arena:
1. A HANDWRITTEN SUBSTITUTE:
Go to the venue early, grab the business card of the restaurant or hotel where the networking activity is being held, and write your information on the back. Presto! Instant business cards.
Next lead with a joke, “I’m not a salesman for the Four Seasons, but I’m fresh out of business cards. My information is here on the back. I hope you don’t mind.”
Then the important part, if you can hack it, along with your hand-written contact information pen a brief note right then and there pertinent to your conversation. Believe it or not, in a very low key way, you now stand out from the pack; which is also the point isn’t it.
2. THE FAKE OUT:
Carry on as if you do have your business cards with you. Then at the moment of the exchange, reach for your wallet and use the old, “Oh, gee, I just ran out of business cards.” If you time your delivery right the other person should already be in the act of taking out their business card and by then they are committed to the exchange.
Look I agree, it’s not the best approach and is even a bit sneaky, but when in a pinch it works .
Besides, the point here is not to exchange business cards for the sake of exchanging business cards, but to undertake a valuable exchange of information and make an actual new contact.
So as long as one of you goes away with a means of contacting the other: mission accomplished. If there has been a genuine connection the person will be pleased to hear from you – and receive YOUR contact information – at a later time.
(P.S. Don’t do this often. Only in emergencies. Being spotted doing this multiple times, or in a group of people could be a little embarrassing, and if that happens you’ll just have to roll with the punches, but to me it’s better than not going to an event because you don’t have business cards)
3. USE YOUR PHONE!
Calling Captain obvious. Instead of reaching for a wallet empty with business cards, reach for your phone and suggest that they just provide you a business e-mail right then and there so that you can e-mail them your contact information.
To me this was all a no-brainer, but to the attorney I helped I think he laughed and thought what a simple solution.
In the end I just had to remind this rather intelligent person that just because exchanging business cards is the ritual that does not mean it is the only solution. Just pick a solution and go for it.
The p.r. point to be made:
Really, I had a good laugh about this problem, but then it dawned on me, how many people have gone to a networking event and used “not having business cards on them” as an excuse not to network. I think this happens more often than many care to admit. And here comes my overarching p.r. tie-in…if you’ve got a good message just go for it.
Stated another way, what this humorous exchange reminded me was what Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, cold-calling, press release, YouTube, press conference and business cards all have in common. In the end, they are just a vehicle for information, but you are your own best messenger.
The day belongs to the people who make the calls, say hello and show up. So if your message is right, stop stalling and tell your story…you can always follow up with a business card later.
(DISCLAIMER: None of this is to say don’t be prepared, just don’t lose the message in the trees…or something like that.)