Whom Do You Know?

In a tight market, your network is more important than ever

When Tom Bedecarré and his executive team at AKQA decided in January that they needed creatives for a new Nike Web assignment, they didn’t look through the pile of résumés and phone messages they—like most agencies—have been getting lately. Instead, they tapped contacts made through networking.

Art director Satoko Furuta and copywriter Shira Friedman had worked together at the San Francisco digital shop during the dot-com heyday and stayed in touch after they left. Furuta ran into AKQA chief exec Bedecarré several times at startups Careguide.com, where he was a director, and the Lilia Guide, founded by one of his friends. Friedman frequently visited the shop to see friends, and when AKQA execs were planning for the Nike assignment, Bedecarré nabbed her in the hallway. Both creatives were seen as professional and positive, says Bedecarré, and when it came time to hire, the shop’s execs remembered.

Everybody says that networking is one of the best ways to get a good position when times are tight, but the best networking happens before you ever need a job. Indeed, wise networkers are weathering today’s rough job market with the strong personal contacts they made when jobs were abundant.

Janice Snook handled corporate communications for J. Walter Thompson in San Francisco until she left in 1997 to become a public relations consultant. Her first and largest client was McCann-Erickson, San Francisco. In 2000, former McCann exec Ron Benza hired Snook for a choice assignment for his new employer Kintana, a Sunnyvale, Calif., software company.

“Referrals come from the quality of your work and from staying in touch with good people that you’ve met in the course of your job. Good people go good places,” even when the job market is hurting, Snook says.

Smart networking was often forgotten when shops were scrambling to fill new positions, say employers. “There was a tremendous arrogance during the boom,” says Suzan Briganti, strategic director of Amazon Advertising, San Francisco, whose clients include Procter & Gamble. “Twenty-three-year-olds would have this attitude. What they didn’t realize is the economy goes in cycles and everyone you meet is important.”

Real networking isn’t just smiling and dialing when you need a job, Briganti says. “It comes from being generous and doing favors even when you have plenty of opportunities.”

Allan Steinmetz, CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting in Boston, learned his networking skills 20 years ago from mentors at Detroit agencies McCann-Erickson and Young & Rubicam. A former Y&R boss, Chuck Riley, became a partner at Steinmetz’s consultancy in 1999 after nearly a decade of phone calls, e-mails and occasional visits. Steinmetz says he keeps his business and career alive with a “robust database of people I respect, and I embellish those contacts with steady news about what I’m doing.”

Nancy Hill got a job last month based on a contact she made two years ago. In 2001, when she was president of the San Francisco office of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, she met with BBDO president Bill Katz. Though she turned down an offer from the agency then, both sides were impressed with each other. Last February she ran into Katz in New York, and they renewed their connection over breakfast. When a position opened up for an evp and managing director at BBDO, New York, she was top of mind.

“I am always honest with my employers and potential employers about my intentions and personal situation,” says Hill. Like other pros, she knows that today’s talented subordinate or client could be an influential colleague someday. Along with staying in touch, she says, “you should try to help them in their careers.” Hill also mentors ad students and serves on the boards of ad schools.

A few of her other networking habits are sending congratulatory messages when she hears of a friend’s accomplishment, and wine or another token if she misses an appointment. She also sends occasional e-mails that share something funny and don’t ask for anything.

Genuine personal relationships are not a luxury in this business, insist Hill and many other successful networkers. Without them your career will always be at the mercy of the economic winds. —JOAN VOIGHT