It’s hard to believe a time before COVID existed. How did people network in the olden days when you had to swap details?
by Teela Clayton
I am standing in front of the bar, patiently waiting for the young lad serving to notice me among the heaving throng. Next to me, balled tenner-filled-fists shake expectantly. Cheap cologne and the top notes of what I like to call ‘drip-tray juice’ jostle with the piquant smell of mulled wine and cinnamon. It blossoms in the heat, in every corner of the room and runs through the steam on the windows. It’s the Christmas before COVID and hugging is still permitted. Hugging is ubiquitous. There are arms, hands, everywhere and they sway, undulate, clap along to the music. Fingers graze fingers as pints are handed over. Palms greet palms with notes and coins. Hands touch the small of my back, or my shoulder, or my elbow to gently ease their owners past me. Whatever worries persist in the outside world, they are forgotten, washed away to some distant Monday, far from this euphoria-drenched night. For tonight, it is the Fairytale of New York and we embrace and sing.
We are in some market-place pub in some former mining town on Mad Friday. In this moment – and actually right now, sitting with the flames of nostalgia leaping from my laptop – there is no place I’d rather be. Me being here is no coincidence, and as I finally grab my spoils from the bar – three drinks nestled between awkward fingers – I spot my mark and head over.
“Teela Clayton,” I say, thrusting a firm handshake upon him and meeting his stare dead on.
But this isn’t some hastily arranged Tinder hook-up. Sidenote: who shakes hands with a date? In these times? It is the Head of Marketing and Communications and I have done my due diligence on Ian Morton. Fifteen minutes – and two pints later – we agree to chat further over a coffee.
“Give me your business card and I’ll call you,” he says.
Back to February 2021 reader and it’s hard to contemplate that we were once allowed to drink in a pub, never mind hand over a germy piece of card marked with our contact deats. Nevertheless, Ian Morton deemed it a necessary tool in my arsenal for my budding PR career. The internet seemed to agree with him. His reasoning was that you simply never knew where you might happen upon someone who would be a valuable contact. He suggested that it was an organic call to action following a friendly conversation, and in 2019, he wasn’t wrong. Two months after meeting Ian, I attended a PRCA event – my first professional networking opportunity outside of grotty old man pubs – and kicked myself for not following his advice and getting a hundred cards knocked up.
But a month after that, the UK went into lockdown.
Networking has wholesale moved online and business cards are irrelevant, just another card gathering dust in a wallet. If anything, I think it’s made the game easier. People are more open to being contacted over social media. There’s certainly less pressure sliding into DMs than there is being shunned face-face. You don’t have to sound like a creep, like you’re propositioning people when you ask for their digits. And really, there is no limit to the new connections you can build. As long as you don’t open by hoping they’re well, because you know, it REALLY offends some people checking in on their wellbeing.
If you think the development of this blog is for me to tell you how to network, I’m afraid – like the diminutive man at the bar who asked to buy me a drink – you are going to be left disappointed. Maybe that is the natural progression, but you know I don’t play by the rules. The point is this: Ian Morton thought networking required business cards. And at that time he was probably right. But change is the only constant and you have to find what works for you in that moment. Maybe that’s waiting until the real world opens up again.
Right now, I am making the most of existing in the virtual world. I’m dipping into conversations, liking posts, following people. So if you fancy a chat, let me know. Let’s get something booked in. Slip into my DMs. Send me an email. Heck enough time’s elapsed since my last Zoom quiz so let’s do it! But don’t be surprised if I float design ideas for my business card past you.
Because as soon as that market-place pub in that former mining town opens up, I’ll be there, jostling for space at the bar with my IPA on order. And you can never know when an opportunity might arise where a business card would come in handy.
Even if it’s as a makeshift beermat.
Teela Clayton MCIPR is an account executive at Intent Health. You can say hello on Twiiter at @TeeClayts
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Image via UBC Library Digitisation Centre