It’s become something of a dirty word in the entertainment industry: “networking”. Maybe because it conjures up an image of people sipping martinis and interacting superficially at a trendy restaurant. I like to think of networking as “relationship building”. It is probably the hardest part of the business for a lot of actors. I know it was, and still can be, difficult for me. So much of an actor’s process happens alone: reading scripts, developing characters, writing pitch letters, etc. It’s easy to forget how important it is to just be social. To me, the key to networking is letting go of the agenda and allowing real human-to-human relationships to form.
Yesterday was a perfect example of networking in action, for me. I met up with an old friend I’ve known for the 8 years I’ve lived in L.A. She’s a little older than me and, by anyone’s measure, has had an extremely successful career in the business. Our friendship extends beyond the business, though, and it had been awhile since we’d seen each other so we met for coffee. Just breaking the pattern of my day and agreeing to meet for coffee when I could be hustling, sending emails, researching agents, and making phone calls is a big deal for me. But she called me a few days before and left me a message at a time when I was feeling a bit of despair toward my agent pursuits. Since she’s had a robust career with a lot of work, it seemed like a good idea to be in her company while feeling that way.
As it turns out, my friend is not working as much as she once was and is having her own struggles with moving forward and re-inventing herself, particularly in this age of new media. It turned out to be a great day of, not only catching up personally, but sharing our experiences in a way that helped and encouraged each other. I’ve done a great deal of work in the area of self-marketing and approaching agents and casting directors on my own using new media – Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. My friend finds herself in the position of having to self-market and re-invent herself as she heads into a different age category and feels overwhelmed by the new way the industry communicates. I was able to suggest ways she could promote herself and target specific people in a systematic way that, with her extensive resume and experience working, would surely interest a lot of people. She just needs a little help in grasping the power of the new media.
When I mentioned my experience of the past year pursuing theatrical representation she said, “I know someone you should meet”, and picked up the phone right then and called an agent with whom she used to work but has maintained friendly relations. She recommended me to him and asked him to meet me. To me, this coffee date is “networking” in its purest form. Neither of us came in with the specific agenda of advancing our careers – we were just two friends catching up and sharing our experiences – and, organically, we were each able to help each other.
Another way to think of networking is being of service without expecting anything in return. For me, Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success was the real life-changer in understanding this principle. He talks about the law of giving and receiving in a way that allows for the natural flow of positive energy in the universe. You have to give in order to receive. It’s a great thing for actors to remember when meeting an agent or casting director – we tend to give them so much power. In the grand scheme of it all, it boils down to human-to-human contact.