Make a fabulous introduction

Everyone knows that networking is the way to get ahead in the world. This truth only gets more true in our increasingly connected, but also unequal, world.

Everyone also knows that networking, for most of us, kind of sucks.

There is a ton of great advice out there about how to network without networking. It’s worth seeking out. But one tactic that has worked for me is making fabulous introductions.

So let’s start with a basic principle: connecting begets connections. When you connect two people for their mutual benefit you become known as the connector. People will often return the favor, either when asked or even unprompted. Also, connecting people you know actually expands your network in all kinds of interesting ways.

That’s the why. Let’s now move to the how. Because let’s face it, anyone can send an email that says “Jen, please meet Jason. Jason, please meet Jennifer” and maybe include a few lines about how you think each will benefit the other.

I take a different approach that both ensures that both people want to meet each other and that both people are super happy they know me.

My introductions go something like this:

“Jen, please meet Jason who is one of the most fabulously talented designers I’ve ever met. He and I worked on a research study together and the way he used graphics to help tell our story was compelling, understandable and beautiful.

Jason, please meet Jen who is a diva of event management. Jen and I were colleagues at Acme, Corp. and she put on a customer symposium that absolutely wowed our biggest clients. She’s looking for some new designs for her next great event and I immediately thought of you.”

I think you can probably see, instantly, why this works. Who wouldn’t want to be introduced this way? It’s specific, it’s actionable (I know why I’m meeting this person), it’s true (it goes without saying, but I’ll say it, that bullshit gets you nowhere in this world). And you’ve left a fabulous impression on both of the people you are introducing – of each other and of you!

By the way, if you are reading this and thinking “No way can I pull that off, I would sound fake” let me assure you that the adjectives are optional. This is my style – it fits me and people who know me well know I only say it when I mean it. I’ve actually decided this is part of my personal brand – I can’t worry about people who will read it wrong because I am focused on people who love this about me. I’m a little over the top, but I don’t lie.

But the fact is the same type of introduction could work, even toned down to match a more reserved style. The point is to focus on exactly what you think makes these two people want to meet – what do you like about each of them and what do you think they bring to the table? Write that – clearly and specifically – and you will make a great impression, whatever your style.

Maddie has a loose tooth

She is not very patient when it comes to things like this and has often reached into her mouth and pulled out wayward teeth. Second, Tami Monahan Forman is traveling this week and when she is away we often have a special treat, usually pizza and Greek salad, one night (yes, I can cook). This week I suggested we go out for tacos.

Conversation 1: “I have a plan about tacos. If I still have a loose tooth, I’ll have soft tacos. If I lose the tooth, it will be hard tacos.”

Conversation 2: “I think the Tooth Fairy knows that I pull teeth out sometimes. It hurts,” she said.

“Well, she has been in business for many years,” I said.

“Yeah, she knows what happens,” she said.

Maddie pulled the tooth out before brushing her teeth and going to bed. “I just couldn’t deal with this anymore.”

I run, therefore I am a runner

I have a very long, strange and convoluted history with running. To fully appreciate it, you have to understand that as a kid I hated all athletics. I really hated team sports, but I wasn’t much of a fan of things like running either.

Post-college I joined a gym because that seemed like something you should do. And like most women I was obsessed with my weight. I started running a bit, but I hated it. I walked instead which I never found really compelling. My relationship with all things athletic moved from hate-hate to love-hate, but also became very on-again, off-again.

Then in my  late 20s I lost a bunch of weight. About 20 pounds. The first time I got on the treadmill after that I was amazed. Running felt AWESOME. Suddenly I realized the most obvious truth — running is for skinny people. (Cue irony.)

The on-again, off-again relationship with running continued into my very early 30s. About 7 years ago I started running outside (previously I’d almost exclusively run on treadmills) and I began to think that maybe I was a runner, as opposed to someone who occasionally runs.

Then came the fertility carousel — trying to get pregnant, REALLY trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, being post-partum and nursing, trying to get pregnant again, being pregnant again, being post-partum and nursing again, being a working mom with two kids under three. Gah. I’m exhausted just typing that. Buh-bye 30s! Was nice knowing you.

Then, last spring the stars started to align. I got back out on the road. And it all just CLICKED. Running didn’t feel good — it felt great. I was finding weird slices of time to squeeze in runs. (My personal favorite remains 7pm — if Preston is home to handle bedtime I hit the road after dinner, get back by 8, take a quick shower then get onto my computer to catch up on work for a few hours. It works only in the spring and summer and very early fall until I lose the light.) Running wasn’t something I was tolerating for the sake of some theoretical health principle. I wanted to run. I am not particularly good at it. At my best I can do about 4 miles in a little under 45 minutes. But I love it. It clears my mind, makes my body feel good and soothes my soul.

Life was good. Until it wasn’t.

Over the summer my foot started to hurt. At first a little, then a lot. I thought maybe it was plantar fasciitis. Fortunately not, just bad feet. I’ve been wearing orthotics for about a week. Today I went on my first run in a few months. My foot felt great. The rest of me — let’s just say I think I’m going to pay for this in the morning. I only eked out about 2.5 miles. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully can get back on the road soon.

It certainly has been a long, strange trip.

iVillage: A Eulogy

Mediabistro reported today that iVillage will be shut down as a standalone site and will be folded into Today.com, and NBC property.

It seems odd now, and maybe even a bit quaint, the idea that you needed a special place on the internet for women. But in 1995 it was Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans who seemed odd to nearly everyone working in Silicon Alley at the time. Wait, you want to build a website for women?

The idea seemed crazy because no women were on the internet. I don’t remember the numbers and it doesn’t matter, but suffice to say they were low.

But Candice and Nancy had a theory. The theory was simple: women don’t go on the internet because there is nothing there for them. If we build it, they will come.

And come they did. By the thousands and eventually by the millions. Women who wanted to get pregnant, get promoted, get laid, get dinner on the table. The reasons were as varied as their lives, but they found on iVillage things that made it worth the trouble to log on — content, community, commerce. These are still the things that make the internet go ’round. It’s just that they are now available in so many places, in so many varieties. And we now have an entire cohort of girls and women who don’t even remember a time when women didn’t go on the internet.

As a former iVillager (I was there from 1999 until about 2002) I am definitely sad. But can I be a little weirdly happy, too? Happy, at least, that it’s no longer odd that women would want to be on the internet. Happy that we don’t need a “special” place. We’ve taken over the whole damn place. There are still too few of women running the show (cue Sheryl Sandberg), but the influence of women on the internet is unquestioned. If you are building a website today and you aren’t expecting women to visit you are likely building single-shooter games or porn. And maybe not even then.

I was only at iVillage for two years — it will amount to a blip on my CV by the end of my career. But in those crazy go-go years a lot happened, and that job likely changed the trajectory of my career in ways that led, somewhat indirectly, to what I do today. I worked with amazing women (and a few amazing men, too). And through message boards and email I “met” and got to know even more amazing women. They were the true pioneers of the internet — the women who came and shared their lives, their secrets, their longings. Way before everyone shared everything with everyone, these women found a way to truly connect through the computer in ways that never failed to take my breath away.

So good-bye, iVillage. Those of us who knew you, and helped build you, will never forget what you did for us and for so many more. And we can’t help but thank you for the part you played in creating a world that made you obsolete.

The relationship between offline and online

Two recent articles that are related, at least in my head, around the theme of offline and online interactions.

First, David Carr (NYT media reporter) wrote on Monday about how Amazon “needs” Barnes & Noble. The theory is that while people love e-books and/or books delivered to their door (cheaper/easier) they “discover” content in the physical book store. Interesting note that Amazon sales dipped when Borders went off of business. If books fall out of sight they fall out of mind as well. Part of why I think this is interesting is because it runs a little counter to the theory in “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, which, in a nutshell, suggests that online is better for helping content find small audiences since the online shelf space is infinite. Obviously these are two very different kinds of discovering, but opens the question of what the retail world looks like if B&N, and other retailers, fall by the wayside.

Second, from Ad Age: Meredith is going to turn AllRecipes.com into a print publication. For those who aren’t familiar, AllRecipes has been around since the original dotcom boom and is a wildly popular site for, well, recipes. That Meredith is turning this into a print pub is beyond fascinating. It’s just within the last 12-18 mos that both Gourmet and Everyday Food (MSL pub) got shuttered. I still think there is a market for print, it just gets smaller and more niche. Not sure that AllRecipes fits the bill, but will be interesting to watch how they try to make the leap.

Mother’s Day, 2013

Can we believe how big these kids are?

We had a good day. I got to do my Sunday kickboxing class, and then it was off to Cheeburger! Cheeburger! for lunch. (It is, according to Maddie, my favorite restaurant. I can assure you, it is not.) Then it was just hanging out at home with a nice dinner cooked by Daddy.

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Wise beyond her years

Sam just started walking. It’s very exciting, for him and for us. Everyone is very proud of him, including Maddie.

There’s a kid on the first floor of our building who’s just about a year. As we came off the elevator on our way to the bus the other morning we saw him in the hallway, walking. As we walked on Maddie said to me “Some little babies walk.”

I said, “Yes, that’s right, Maddie. Some little babies walk.”

She then said “And sometimes it takes longer. Like with Sam.”

I agreed that was true.

“But it’s not a race.”

“You are right Maddie, it’s not a race.”

There are parents that could learn this lesson.

Look Out The Window: Write the Press Release First

Talk about a great way to look out the window! According to this article from Wired, the way to pitch an idea to Jeff Bezos at Amazon was to write a press release. (You only need to read the first three grafs of the Wired piece — the rest is about Amazon’s foray into cloud computing.)

What a brilliant idea this is. Not because press releases are so important (they aren’t, and sometimes aren’t even needed at all.) It’s that the exercise of writing the press release first is the epitome of looking out — rather than in — when evaluating a new idea. It forces you to answer the question: Is this interesting to anyone but us?

I’d love to try this.

Look Out The Window

I believe one of the key roles that any marketing and communications professional needs to play is representing the view from outside the four walls of the company. I think people on the agency side fulfill this role rather naturally, but it’s also an crucial role for those of us on the client side.

What do I mean, exactly? My former colleague Leah Holzman had a great expression for this idea that I use to this day — you need to “look out the window.” If you only focus on what your business needs, you will have a much harder time moving your message into the marketplace. That’s because the people you need to leverage to spread the word — journalists, clients, conference organizers — don’t care about your business. They care about their audiences and their business objectives.

Some of this is about business empathy — the ability to think about the needs and wants of the people you interact with instead of only focusing on your own needs and wants. But it’s also about a few specific habits that can help you fulfill your role to look out the window:

1. Read a lot. You need to read as much as you can within your industry, but get beyond that, too. My regular media diet includes the NYT, the WSJ, the New Yorker, AVC, Feld Thoughts, and Seth Godin. I also pick stuff up from my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds.

2. Share what you learn. Part of your role of “looking out the window” is to point out the view to others in your organization. When you see a story on a trend that is related to your business, but in a slightly off-beat way, send that around. I’m not talking about the really obvious stuff — people should pick that up on their own. But, for example, I recently shared two stories — one from Morning Edition and another from AdAge — about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as the new place where marketers learn about consumer trends. This isn’t directly related to our business — we sell email intelligence solutions to marketers. But it’s indirectly related and gives a sense of what some of our clients and prospects are thinking about.

3. GOOTO (Get Out Of The Office). If you spend all your time talking to people inside your organization it’s hard to figure out what matters to people outside your organization. If you are in PR you should have a natural role in speaking with media, a great source of outside information. But anyone in marketing should be talking to clients, prospects, partners and prominent people within your industry.

What your your tricks for “looking out the window”?