This week I was teaching students all about networks. From our pre-pandemic memories we could all tell stories of attending formal networking meet ups. From the ones which we’d vowed never to attend again, to those we didn’t want to leave. Good or bad they provided a learning experience. An opportunity for self-reflection. A chance to meet new people, on both a personal and business level, and expand our own network. Pre-pandemic, most networking we'd thought of as in-person, where we lived or worked.
Taking networking online is not easy. Replicating face to face networking online is hard - you can’t have a casual 1-2-1 chat, the incidental comment whilst getting your coffee, to lingering around at the end to make contact with a certain individual. It’s not possible. I’ve tried it just doesn’t work the same.
This doesn’t mean that online events haven’t been good. I’ve attended many throughout 2020 by speaking at some, being on a panel at others and a passive viewer at others. There are some great online communities on social media platforms. All offering many learning opportunities but not so much networking or opportunities for relationship building.
So how do we replace the support and guidance from others with similar experiences we used to seek from networking events? We create new ones that work for us as individuals.
I hadn’t realised it until speaking to my students this week when I started to talk about The PR Inn, that it is my number one networking activity at the moment. (Plus a bit of #TimsTwitterListeningParty - but that is a whole new conversation).
The PR Inn - what is it?
The PR Inn is a small, evolving, group of PR practitioners from different nations, sectors and areas of practice, but who chat over Zoom on a Friday night.
This weekend was the 33rd PR Inn - that means for 33 weeks of working from home, limited physical contact and no face to face meetings there have been friendly faces on a screen, who were not people I taught or worked with, for or managed, but still understood all of the challenges that had faced me as PR Practitioner, but also as a person, that week.
Some are parents, some are not. Some are single, some are not. We span a couple of decades and have different backgrounds. At one time or another we have all been in different tiers and under different COVID restrictions. What do we all have in common? We care, we are supportive and are accepting.
Over the weeks around ten people have been part of PR Inn. Some regulars, some less frequent - it doesn’t matter just like in any community space. It’s evolved organically. Some have been there from the start - it began as a one-off zoom chat that we found helpful and wanted to repeat. Some involved have decided it wasn’t for them or clashed with other online or offline activities. Others have seen comments on Twitter, asked more and joined in. It’s private but not exclusive - just like making conversations with neighbours in the pub - sometimes they develop, sometimes not.
I equate it to meeting your mates in a pub on Friday night (although those days seem so long ago) except now I don’t need a babysitter and those mates can be miles away.
Yes, there is often alcohol involved but not all attendees do drink, although on occasion we may have drunk too much. Nothing better though then the realisation you can be in bed in less than two minutes after closing time.
If you need or want to talk you can, or you can just listen. Just like going to your local you don’t have to get dressed up. No-one cares whether you are glammed you or in your dressing gown. You might be eating, doing your laundry, catching up on emails or just chilling out - it doesn’t matter. What makes the difference to everyone else on the video call, is that you are there.
Convesrations with friends
What do we talk about? There is no schedule, agenda or forced fun. Again think those pub conversations or a chat over coffee - what have you been up to this week? how’s work? home? kids? can you suggest a ...? has anyone been here ...? sharing of our life stories, we've seen each other’s pets, used Google maps to see where we all grew up (yes, that exciting), showed photos of what we looked like in our younger days, and discussed kayaking. The things that are currently missing from so many lives at the moment. And of course as PR professionals what’s happened in the news that week. And this year there has been plenty of that.
Is The PR Inn for everyone? No.
Should everyone have their own version of PR Inn? Yes.
This may have been the year of self-isolation and social distancing but for me it has also been the year of friendship and support and relationship building that will last long beyond Covid.
Indie kid & mum to 2 boys. PR, Uni lecturer & blogger at My Boys Club. Love music, sport, media, travel & politics.