A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Charlotte, NC for a networking trip with Scripps PRSSA. After weeks of obnoxiously frigid weather here in Ohio, I was more than eager to get away to the sunny south for a weekend. More importantly, though, I knew i was going to make great connections with professionals in the industry – an absolute must at this crucial time in my young career.
We got into town on a Thursday, went out to dinner, and crowded into one hotel room to stay up late and chat. On Friday, we visited four Charlotte-area agencies: Taylor Strategy, Fleishman Hillard, LGA, and Spark Strategic Ideas. Overall, the weekend was a perfect mix of bonding with my chapter, exploring Southern culture, and making professional connections. And because it was my first major networking trip, I took away several important lessons from the experience.
- Be patient and flexible. Trying to coordinate and make plans with 14 people, by nature, is going to be difficult and requires some patience. On the Friday after we visited agencies, we originally planned to meet up for dinner sometime between 7 and 7:30 p.m. …we walked into the restaurant at 9:45. Plan accordingly and allow yourself some extra time when making plans that involve a large group of people, because chances are not everyone is going to be on the same page.
- Research companies. At the very least, know a little bit about their clients and their general strategic approach. That way, you can ask informed questions and really stand out. If you decide to apply for jobs or internships at one of the companies later, there’s a good chance that the employees who met with your group will be able to put in a good word for you. All it takes is the ability to speak up.
- Enjoy yourself. There will inevitably be some bumps in the road, and you’ll find yourself feeling frustrated or defeated. I got two internship rejection emails within four hours of each other while I was having such a great time in Charlotte, which definitely put a damper on things. Thankfully, I had amazing roommates who offered me words of advice and made me feel a lot better about the situation. They showed me that I shouldn’t let a few frustrating setbacks keep me from enjoying my time in Charlotte with one of the best PRSSA chapters in the country, and I’m glad I listened to them.
- Appreciate the local culture. We went out for lunch one afternoon at an authentic southern barbecue joint. I’m still dreaming about that Carolina BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Enough said.
- Treat yourself! On our last night in town, our group went out to eat at Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar to celebrate a successful trip. It was a pretty upscale restaurant (as having “Wolfgang Puck” in the name might suggest) and was a little more expensive than other places we’d eaten, but definitely still affordable and within our college-student budgets. This gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy a nice meal together and be the classy PR girls we are.
- Follow up. When meeting with employees at agencies, take their business cards (or get their contact information in another way) so you can send them a thank you note upon returning home. Even if it’s just a quick email, they’ll appreciate that you showed gratitude to them for taking time out of their day to meet with you. Not to mention it’ll keep your name fresh in their minds when it comes to applying for internships and jobs!
Networking trips are a perfect opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, see a new city, make great professional connections, and grow closer with your chapter along the way. As an aspiring professional, what more could you want?