Although I am by nature an introvert, I don’t let that stop me from being brave. I have made a career out of connecting people via executive search for board opportunities, and I often need to approach people who are seemingly inaccessible. Through that process, I have learned that you can network with anyone you choose, particularly if you have an overwhelming interest, a burning curiosity, and a genuine desire to connect.
Early in my career, I worked as a secretary for a law firm in San Francisco. I persuaded the firm to let me work four days a week so that I could have time to pursue my dream of breaking into the music business. On Thursdays, I worked a volunteer internship with IRS/Nettwerk Records, and I also represented an LBGT singer/songwriter for whom I wanted to find a record deal. I hoped to find work someday as an artist and repertoire (A&R) manager.
I took a trip to Italy and Austria for vacation and decided to use the opportunity to make a music connection. I found an A&R guy at BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group) in Austria and scheduled a time to meet. I was hoping for a job for myself or a record deal for my singer/songwriter, but alas, I left empty-handed.
On the Luxembourg to Reykjavik leg of my flight home, I started a conversation with the man sitting next to me. He said he was Turkish, so I asked if he knew Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary Turkish-born music executive who founded Atlantic Records and signed Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, among many other famous artists. He said, "He is my cousin." Wow!
That nugget of information simmered inside my head until I got home. I decided to write to Ahmet in New York City and tell him about meeting his cousin. I asked for a meeting so I could promote my singer/songwriter. Not long after mailing my letter, I was sitting at my desk at the law firm when my phone rang. It was Ahmet himself. I had a billion butterflies in my stomach and a massive smile on my face. He said he received my letter and was curious about the man I met, because he didn’t have such a cousin. How embarrassing! Yet Ahmet was completely gracious and apparently impressed with my bravado, for he agreed to meet with me.
I planned a trip to New York and booked a lunch with Ahmet in his office. We sat down to talk over sandwiches. We were briefly interrupted by Doug Morris, who was co-chairman and co-CEO of Atlantic Records at the time and today is CEO of Sony Music Entertainment. Ahmet and I talked about the music business and my San Francisco artist. He talked about one-hit wonders; he had had high hopes for Mark Cohn, who never had success beyond his smash, "Walking in Memphis." He felt my artist might be a one-hit wonder and was not willing at that moment to sign her. He gave me some advice and we parted ways.
While the meeting did not result in accomplishing my initial goal, I am so grateful I mustered up the bravado to have my meetings in Austria and New York; if I hadn’t, I would always regret it. I learned many valuable lessons from the experience, the main one being to take those seemingly small, fleeting moments when there is a connection and run with them, immediately, without hesitation. I apply these lessons in my work today and help my clients incorporate them in their networking activities.
After a couple other internships and a rejected job offer for a record label, I never made that segue to professional work in the music business. I actively pursue my passions in that regard via songwriting, singing, and guitar and harmonica playing. A meeting with another record label executive may still be in my future to sign my own record deal!
Is there someone seemingly inaccessible you would like to meet? If so, you need to:
1) Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. What is the key motivator to meeting this person? What is the desired outcome?
2) Research the hell out of the individual and find what emotionally connects you to them. Maybe you can find common ground. For example, did you graduate from the same university?
3) Use your initiative and make a connection. Start with people you know, and comb your online networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Use anything to build momentum towards your goal. Snail mail is rare and still works. A nice letterpress notecard can make someone’s day – I use Paperwheel.
Now dig deep into that emotional connection you found –– that is your differentiator –– and use your tenacity to make that meeting happen!
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O'Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps technology companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.