Half the battle of being a success in this business is having talent. The other half is having contacts. And those contacts can be developed by constantly networking. Very few of us will have the luxury of succeeding in this business because of nepotism, so we have to use whatever tools and skills we have to make it. Networking is one of the strongest of those tools. In fact, it may be the most important tool. If you have the right attitude about networking and learn how to do it successfully, you’ll create more opportunities for yourself than any of your colleagues.
Networking is the art of using contacts to help you get what you want. For example, a Creative Producer may have a screenplay that he (or she) believes is exactly what a Creative Executive (CE) at a particular company is looking for, but he may not know the CE personally. So he starts networking, asking his friends if any of them know the CE. But he strikes out. Then he goes to a party where he is introduced to a young woman whose brother is a film distribution executive. The brother also happens to be a good friend of the CE that the Creative Producer is interested in meeting. Instantly, the creative producer pitches his project to the young woman, who likes the idea. The Creative Producer asks her for an introduction to her brother, the film distribution executive, which she sets up. The Creative Producer then meets the brother and pitches the story to him. The brother likes it. The Creative Producer tells the brother that he thinks the project is right up the alley of the CE and asks the brother for an introduction. The brother sets it up, the Creative Producer pitches to the CE who loves the story, and a sale is made. Yes, I agree it is an overly simplistic story of networking success, but it demonstrates my point.
The same technique, in varying forms, can be used by actors, writers, directors, virtually anyone in the film business who has something to sell – themselves! Networking is the key to success. As they say, “it’s who you know.” I’d build on that and say “it’s now only who you know, but who knows you.” So now that you know you must network to succeed, let’s talk about a few things you can do to start the networking ball rolling.
As you start working on your career, you’re bound to meet many others out there trying to do the same thing. Why not pool your resources together and help one another by creating Coaching Groups? Gather a group of five to ten individuals seeking employment in the industry and, together, establish a weekly or bi-weekly meeting where you will all convene faithfully, without missing one session, where you can begin a networking group. Each member of the group should have his or her own goal: to appear in feature film, to sell a screenplay, to be offered an editing job on a television show, etc. The goals should be realistic and attainable. For example, a man who has never taken an acting class, never been in a play, never acted in his life, should not make as his initial goal “to star in a feature motion picture.” The chances of that happening are one in a million. Be realistic.
The idea behind a coaching group is to be accountable to one another for each other’s success. Jim is accountable to Bob for Bob’s success. Bob is accountable to Jim for Jim’s success. Jim is also accountable to Sue for Sue’s success, and so on. You’re all in this together to get what you want and to help the others get what they want. Throw out selfishness: be just as committed to the success of the other group members as you are to your own.
Each week, members of the group should take a few minutes to describe what they accomplished that week towards reaching their goal. After each person is done talking, everyone else in the group should begin to throw out ideas about what to do next that the individual may not have considered. Don’t hold back your ideas even if you think they’re silly. I’ve seen the most ridiculous ideas work! You’ll find that people in the group will know people you haven’t contacted yet and may help provide an introduction for you.
Continue this every week, faithfully, until each person in the group has reached their goal. Somewhere along the line, a member of the group may decide his goal may not be realistic and wish to change to another goal. That’s okay. Just keep working to move forward. The idea is not only to succeed at the immediate task, but to keep building a larger and stronger network so that, if you accomplish your first goal, the next goal will have a larger network available to it.
Have you ever notice people who, upon meeting someone for the first time, someone they think can benefit their career, they’re a little too pushy and quick to talk about the business, their careers, their resumes? Or maybe that same person says they have a project that would be “perfect” for this individual? Some of these kinds of people even try to hand their new acquaintance their resume or script just seconds after meeting the person. This method of “getting ahead” rarely works. It’s much more important to get to know someone first, find out what you have in common, and start building a relationship.
Typically, these kinds of people rarely look you in the eye for longer than 2 seconds, but instead, would rather scour the room with their eyes to see if there’s a “bigger name” or more important person present that they need to set their sites on. These are the people that I like to call “The Schmoozers.” There’s plenty of these people in entertainment. Not the best choice of people to invest in when it comes to developing a relationship, as they’re only looking at you as a means to an end.
Then there are the other, more genuine people working in entertainment that when you greet them, they look you in the face, they take the time to find out what’s going on in your life, they follow up with great questions that are directly related to what you’ve shared, they’re seeking out “common ground” on which to either build a new relationship or maintain and strengthen an existing one. These kinds of people are the ones with whom you want relationship. You want them as a part of your network of colleagues and friends.
The reality is we all tend to help/hire our friends, people we like before going to a pile of resumes. If people we know and like aren’t available, we ask our friends for recommendations. It’s all about building connections and relationships that start once you find common ground.
HAVING STRONG INDUSTRY RELATIONSHIPS IS THE MOST VALUABLE ASSET YOU CAN HAVE!!!
The key is to find common ground. That may sound difficult, but it’s actually quite easy!
So how do you that? Well, you start by creating your Personal Pitch.
THE PERSONAL PITCH
In a typical interview situation, it’s not unusual for an interviewer to say to you, “Tell me about yourself.” Most people usually respond by sharing verbally most of what’s already written on their resume. Meaning, they talk about their employment history. But that’s not what the interview asked. He wants to know about YOU! Who are you, what makes you tick, what excites you, etc. And this is where you have the opportunity to shine, to express your uniqueness, to be memorable, by sharing your Personal Pitch.
A Personal Pitch is your way of letting others know who you are, what you’re passionate about and what makes you unique. You’ll be pitching yourself at interviews, parties, networking events – in several different situations. Others will want to know what you’re all about, and you’re going to want them to remember you.
Think of it this way: you’re the CEO of your company and the product you’re selling is YOU! Your goal is to stand out among all the other people competing for the same jobs and for the same connections. Whether you’ve ever been in the entertainment business or not, you have to make a memorable impression and convey a sense of who you are, why you’re special and what you have to offer. EVERYONE has something interesting to convey about him or herself and everyone has something to offer. When an employer interviews ten people in one day – YOU WANT TO BE THE ONE WHO STANDS OUT IN HIS OR HER MIND!
When developing your Personal Pitch, it may be helpful to know what employers in the entertainment industry are looking for in candidates for hire. They want to meet someone in whom they see the following:
- a sense of purpose
- passion, drive & enthusiasm
- accomplishments & skills (not necessarily industry-related)
- creativity & uniqueness
- a love & knowledge of the industry
- an interesting background
- compatibility — someone they can connect to
- a good personality & sense of humor – someone they’d want to have around their office or set
- a great attitude, energetic, self-starter with a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done
- a team player – someone who will check their ego in at the door & work well with others
- sincerity & integrity
- intelligence, confidence
- a problem-solver
- they’re looking for someone with POTENTIAL!
You need to develop a personal pitch that tells people who you are! Your pitch should encapsulate as many of these characteristics as possible. It’s also a good idea to include qualities you know a potential employer seeks. To help you with creating your Personal Pitch, consider using the Personal Pitch Worksheet found at the end of this blog. Complete the questions keeping in mind some of this may be used in your personal pitch.
After you’ve developed what you think is your effective Personal Pitch, try it out on a friend whose opinion your trust. Have them ask you to tell them about yourself, then launch into your pitch. The pitch should include three unique things about you, that are interesting, maybe humorous, that you’re passionate about, that will make you memorable. You want to have practiced this such that you don’t just start rambling off a list of three things about you. Work these three unique things into a conversation. Let me give you an example.
Charlie, the interviewer, says to the candidate, Peter, “So, Peter, tell me a little about yourself.”
“Thanks for asking, Charlie. I’m originally from the Midwest where I was born at McDonald’s. That’s right, I was so anxious to get into this world that I started pushing my way out of the womb! My father didn’t get to the hospital in time, so he pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant and I was born in the back seat of the car in that lot!
I was your typical kid, ran around, had friends, played sports, but I noticed pretty young that I was seeing things fuzzy which I mentioned to my mother and father. So they took me to an Ophthalmologist who told me that I needed glass or contact lenses. We opted for the lenses and I become the youngest person in the state of Pennsylvania to wear contact lenses, starting at the age of 5! It was not an easy proposition for my folks because as you get older, your eyeball gets bigger and that means the lenses don’t fit as well. I popped lenses out everywhere; in the movie theater, on the baseball diamond, you name it! Between 5 and 14, I lost thirteen contact lenses! It was crazy!
But I always knew as a kid that the entertainment industry was the business I wanted to work in. I’m creative, I tell great stories, and I LOVE films and TV programs. I also enjoyed creating characters and playing parts, so I thought I wanted to be an actor. It helped that I had a really good ear for dialects. So good, that nine times out of ten I could tell someone what state they were from (sometimes even the city) just by listening to their accent. It really came in handy when I studied acting. Eventually, I discovered production and naturally gravitated to producing, and that’s what’s led me to your door!”
In this example, Peter shared three unique and memorable things about himself: 1) he was born in the backseat of the car at a local McDonald’s, 2) he wore contact lenses starting at age 5 and lost a ton of them over the years as his eye continued to grow, and 3) he has a great ear for dialects. Those are three interesting and memorable anecdotes and certainly unique to Peter! These topics could open the door for interesting and enjoyable follow up conversation between Charlie and Peter. It might also create opportunities for both of the men to find “common ground.”
So again, once you have a rough draft of your pitch, practice it on a friend or colleague whose opinion your trust. Have them ask you to tell them about yourself, then launch into your pitch. Get feedback from the listener about your delivery, what they found interesting, memorable, boring, etc. Don’t take the construction criticism personally – recognize that what they hear and respond to is what the interview will hear and respond to. Take the notes, see if they make sense to you. If they do, make the necessary changes, polish the pitch, and once you’ve practiced it some more, share it with your colleague again. Once they give you the “thumbs up” on your pitch, try pitching the new improved pitch to another colleague and get their input. If you are part of a Coaching Group, you can tr out your pitch on the group and get their feedback. Doing this a few times will provide you with unique perspectives from more than one listener and should help to make your Personal Pitch a winner.
In the next Blog posting, I’ll share with you how to use this technique when attending parties, events, mixers, etc. We’ll also talk about how to change you from being a shy “wallflower” into a confident engager of people.
PERSONAL PITCH WORKSHEET
#1: List your three top goals.
#2: List three unique things about yourself that most other people don’t know.
#3: List three of your biggest accomplishments (personal or professional).
#4: List three special skills –things you’re good at. (i.e., organization, problem-solving, other languages, getting along with difficult people, leadership, team-building).
#5: List three things that excite you and make you want to jump out of bed in the morning.
#6: List three hobbies or interests.
#7: List three of your strongest qualities (i.e., patience, creativity, sense of humor).