5 Tips for Strategically Building Relationships

May 2021
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Relationships are important in every industry, but especially so in public relations — “relations” is literally in the job title! 

While connecting with people may be easier today than ever before — thank you, social media — there’s a lot more that goes into building real relationships than simply clicking “Connect” on LinkedIn. 

These days, it’s easy to find and communicate with other professionals. That’s both a good thing and a potential problem. 

We could spend all day, every day, having coffees, lunches and happy hours with new business acquaintances, sending connection requests through social media, or attending events. In order to make those networking hours count, the key is to meet the right people and properly nurture meaningful connections. 

So, how do we initiate, build and maintain relationships that will ultimately benefit both parties? Below are five tips for taking a strategic approach to professional relationships. 

1. Identify the types of relationships you want to develop.

First things first: Clearly identify the types of relationships you want to build. What kinds of people would you benefit from knowing and would benefit from knowing you?

More often than not, you’ll want to develop relationships that can advance your career in some way. This may include relationships with employers or prospective employers, co-workers, industry peers and journalists. For independent practitioners and agency leaders, relationships with clients and prospective clients, referral sources from targeted industries and vendors may also make the list. 

Be as specific as possible with this list, so you can be hyper-focused on who you want to meet and make the most of your available networking time.

2. Go deep instead of wide.

Once you know which types of people you’d like to meet, it’s time to find them. But not all connection opportunities are created equal.

Online platforms like LinkedIn could be one avenue; however, it’s difficult to build a relationship if it exists solely online. And there are plenty of activities and events where you can meet a lot of people at once but don’t necessarily spend much time with any of them. In my experience, this surface-level networking rarely pans out into meaningful relationships. 

Instead — or in addition — look for opportunities where you can get to know people on a deeper level. Volunteering for a community organization, taking a professional development course or pursuing a business leadership certification are a few ideas. Working toward a common goal with others tends to create bonding opportunities that turn into real, lasting relationships.

3. Understand what each person brings to the relationship.

As you meet individuals you want to get to know better, have a sense of what each of you brings to the table. 

Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, needs, desires and abilities. Knowing what these are for both yourself and the other person can help build a productive, reciprocal relationship.

For example, let’s say you’re an independent PR practitioner who’s trying to drum up business in the health care sector, and you want to build a relationship with the head of an organization for medical professionals. In this relationship, the president of the group may be able to offer you insights on working in this market or introduce you to prospective clients. Meanwhile, you can be the president’s go-to source for questions about promoting the organization or improving member communications.

4. Be generous.

As is the case with personal relationships, professional relationships need to be nurtured if you want them to last well into the future. Being generous with your time, energy and willingness to help the other party will encourage them to do the same for you.

That doesn’t mean you have to invest a ton of time into every relationship. But check in periodically. Offer congratulations and celebrate their successes. Ask them about things you know are important to them. Express gratitude when they do you a favor, and follow through if you offer to do one for them.

Whatever you do, don’t be the person who only calls when they need something. 

5. Maintain boundaries.

I must offer a caveat to the previous tip, which is to be generous within reason. You can be generous without having to give away intellectual capital you usually charge for, or devoting an inordinate amount of time to someone, or doing something that is outside your ethical parameters.

Sometimes people ask for inappropriate or unrealistic favors. Sometimes people end up not being who we thought they were. Sometimes people don’t have the time or desire to reciprocate in a relationship.

If a professional relationship isn’t working for you or the other person for whatever reason, then let it go. Then refocus your energy on engagements that benefit both parties and enjoy the rewards of your strategic approach to relationship-building. ϖ

Return to Current Issue Crisis Management: Expecting the Unexpected | May 2021
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