FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
|“What’s in a Name???”||
|By: Ron Brounes||
The other day I attended a “business networking” lunch designed to meet other “successful” businesspeople with hopes of generating some new contacts. You know the ones; you pass out business cards and pretend to listen to other people’s boring stories about their careers, while eagerly waiting for the opportunity to “sell” yourself. Then, with countless cards in hand, you return to your office, chunk them in the circular file, and wait for your phone to ring as one of your new acquaintances calls for some service that only you can provide and they simply can not live without. Conceptually, these events make a lot of sense; practically, however, my phone is still not ringing off the wall. Still I never pass on an opportunity to market myself to potential prospects.
After years of playing this game, I’ve come to realize that my attention span for other people’s careers lasts all of about 15 seconds. Any explanation longer than that, and I’m off to day dreamland. Businesswoman number one opened the festivities. “Well I’m a personal injury attorney, primarily focusing on car accidents that…” Great, you’re an ambulance chaser; say no more. Fifteen minutes passed before business exec number two took center stage. “I’m a tax accountant, though I actually like to think of myself as a financial…” Perfect, a bean counter, what a surprise. Like those 15 pens in your pocket protector didn’t give you away. Finally, Mr. “Casual Dress” was up. “I’m a systems technician with a specialty in networking servers…” OK, you’re a computer nerd; no matter how hard I try, I’ll never begin to understand what it is that you actually do. As I pretended to listen to the long winded self-promotional speeches, I suddenly had a panic attack. I noticed that I was the next “success story.” The pressure was truly mounting as I thought about what to say. What exactly do I do anyway? Am I a public relations exec? a writer? a business consultant?
This is undoubtedly a problem many of us have encountered time and time again. We continue to search long and hard for a way to define ourselves and our companies so that the “average Joe” on the street can understand. In every setting that presents itself, business and/or social, an opportunity to market ourselves is always available. However, that window of opportunity is often very short; thus we need to state our message in a clear cohesive manner and hope to generate some degree of interest from our listening audience. One of my favorite expressions came from an old shampoo commercial, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Wiser words were never spoken. A message that is too detailed and technical leads our audience searching for someone else, anyone else to talk to. A message that is too general leaves our audience in doubt of what we actually do for a living. In each case, business opportunities may fly by, simply because our initial explanation or impression did not deliver our true message, and thus generated no interest or enthusiasm at all.
ALWAYS BE COMMUNICATING (ABC)
Sometimes, the most productive modes of marketing do not come from prepared speeches, presentations, or any business setting at all, but rather simple communications with everyday people. Though it may sound hokey, prepare yourself for just such environments. Identify how you would like to be thought of by others and actually prepare a short description of your job and/or company. Leave out any and all technical jargon and try to save room for questions from any interested parties. Bear in mind, your career is far more interesting to you than it is to anyone else. Generating interest is all in the delivery, and by planning ahead, that delivery will run far more smoothly.
Anticipate these opportunities, but do not force them. For example, always carry a couple of business cards, but leave your resumes and annual reports at the office. Additionally, understand that there is a proper time and place for actually conducting business. A short conversation at a social function or a business networking get-together accompanied by an exchange of business cards can lead to a more formal business meeting down the road.
So just what kind of business am I in? “Public relations” is always the easiest explanation. Certainly it is quite a respectable career, yet I feel that it may be too broad and does not truly reflect my business background or interest in political writings. Likewise, a “writer” lends that certain degree of creativity I try to impress on people (with little luck), though it may also be too general and require a far more detailed explanation than most people are willing to hear. I actually like the title “business consultant,” feeling it denotes intellect and credibility. Then again, consultant can imply just about anything from computer programming to business start-ups to management training, much of which I am not capable of providing.
Finally, I looked up at the lunch table and six eyes were glaring at me (eight if you count the bean counter’s bifocals). “I guess I’m up. OK. I do Business and Political Writing and Strategic Planning.” Perfect. Short. Sweet. And yet very understandable. Nods from everyone. No puzzled looks. Everyone seemed very content with my short answer. “Actually I specialize in public relations and consult on projects that…” All eyes gazed off into the distance. I should have quit when I was ahead.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies (whatever that means). Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. Any sarcastic comments regarding other people’s professions were entirely made in jest by the author and should in no way reflect any discriminatory attitudes by company management.