Networking pays off
I'm old enough to know the usefulness of keeping professional networks intact even if you might not be working immediately in that network any more. If it hadn't been for me keeping in touch with a former colleague in their own post-broadcasting life I wouldn't have taken photographs for the 2019 annual report of the Government Actuary's Department.
The new comms team at the department has been busy relaunching the department's profile but were short of a photographer. The head of communications is a former work colleague of mine and she contacted me. The job was done, as was some networking; cards were swapped and some relationships developed.
I've never been backward at coming forward, which was pretty handy when I went off to college to learn to be a newspaper reporter; I kind of felt, maybe wrongly, that I had a bit of an upper hand because I wasn't shy. And then, of course, 30-odd years at the BBC meant I got to talk to strangers every day, many of whom were worth remembering and keeping in the contacts book. I still do it.
To add to the new contacts that I made at the Actuary's Dept., on the train back I sat with a man who was in my reserved seat when I boarded. We struck up a conversation before the train started moving, and we talked all the way to the Lake District, where he got off. A senior university academic, heavily interest in the arts and we shared many other interests. He, like me, enjoyed engaging with strangers. Then the Small World kicked in and It turned out he had an early life as a BBC engineer and he and I had met in the early 1980s in the newly-built Broadcasting Centre in Middlesbrough.
Sometimes you get to sit next to the person with nothing to say, or at least who isn't interested in saying anything, but it's always worth the try. You never can tell.
At the Format photo festival in Derby, a week previously, I handed out a good number of cards - a repeat one to the photobook publisher Dewi Lewis, on the off chance that he had lost the last one I gave him when I worked in his office on the PR for two of his new books, another card went to the photographer Brian Griffin, whom I met when he came to talk to us last year, and several to strangers, including the young Italian photog Mariano Doronzo.
I said to some second year students who were with me when I was passing the cards out, that a) nobody is going to spontaneously go up in flames if you talk to strangers and b) cards are cheap. I have two or three different card designs, so I can tailor them to the type of contact, whether arty, journalistic or commercial. I even leave them on tables in cafes and on bar tops as I'm leaving. You never know.
It's not about ingratiating yourself, it's about doing that human thing and assuaging curiosity about the people who are near us, finding out things about them, letting them know things about us, and it's amazing how that can come together in a moment into something mutually advantageous. At business events/fairs/roadshows etc people are there to network. They probably can do something for you, and you might be able to do something for them...even if it's only to pass on that tiny bit of information that might give you your eureka moment.