Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Relationship Management 201: Expanding the Web

It's Tuesday and school is back in session. That's right, time to talk about relationship management again.

Back in July and August I posted what I have learned about developing relationships through my career in a completely different field. The lessons I've learned are easily applied to networking in Hollywood and I decided to share those realizations. The articles were well received -- I got a lot of positive comments and e-mails about them but I didn't feel I had enough to say to warrant another post. Time passes, and I've learned a little more in these last few months. Hopefully it will be of some use to you.

I do recommend reading the other posts first if you haven't already, simply to have an understanding of what I've covered in the past. I called this '201' because I do feel like this is about taking it to the next level. Once you start practicing the advice I've already given, you'll be ready to 'expand the web'.

Okay, so first, let me tell you about what I've been up to the last few months in regard to relationship management. I have my 'finger file', basically a Word document where I keep information about all of my screenwriting related contacts. I recently reviewed my entire file and updated it with new fields of information. It started to get a little more robust, so I decided to move it to Excel (if it gets too much larger I'll have to create an Access database!) What information am I collecting? I know it sounds weird, but you tend to forget things about people. If a computer file seems too complicated, get a recipe box and index cards -- it serves the same purpose. On each card (or in each row of your excel document) put the following basic information:

  • Contact's Name
  • Contact's address or e-mail address (I try to use both if I have them)
  • Contact's phone number(s)
Those are the basics. No matter what else you do, you need to list the contact and how to get in touch with them. Here are some of the other pieces of info I collect, if I can:
  • Contact's profession
  • Contact's agent or manager or boss (if it is an assistant)
  • Contact's birthday
  • Contact's family names (spouse and kids, if applicable)
I'll tell you why I collect those last two items in a minute. You may notice that I haven't put any projects related to these contacts in my file. This information is readily available on IMDB if they are a working writer, producer, etc. If the contact is NOT yet a professional (meaning paid for their work) I may note that information on the card, along with the names of any projects they are working on. I try to keep this miscellaneous info to a minimum, unless I cannot find it easily by searching on the web.

The birthday and family names information is someting I learned to do in college. I'm pretty good at putting faces to names, but I don't always remember who is married, who has kids, etc. I have 6 cousins and they all have 2+ kids each. Every year I have to learn the names of all these kids running around when I go home for the holidays and it is exhausting to remember them all. Imagine trying to do that with all of the contacts you have! You want to have things other than screenwriting to talk with your contact about. When you engage them in conversation you want to ask about his/her spouse ("How is Kathy?") or kids. If you want to be really good at this, I recommend starting to log information like hobbies, the school the person went to, the kids' ages, and anything significant about that contact ("Been golfing lately, I know you love to go to Pebble Beach.") For people you know very well, you may not need the file, but for those contacts you don't have a really close relationship with, it can mean the difference in how you build rapport with someone. If you are up for a job along with other candidates, who do you think the person is going to feel more comfortable with, the person who just answers questions or the person who engages in conversation, asks questions which get the contact talking about his or her activities and life? Yes, this works in ANY profession.

So, how much is too much? Don't be a stalker. You don't need to know everything. Again, each contact is different, collect the information you feel is valuable.

For example, I recently visited a new colleague (day job again) and had never met this person before. I was looking for something to talk about with him and scanned his office for clues (this is something that is critical in job interviews and meetings with people in their offices). I noticed that this colleague had a large photo of a sports stadium on the wall. When I looked closer, I recognized it as the football field of my alma mater! Instantly I had a connection with this person. I mentioned the school to him and that I had also attended and we were able to strike up a good 5-10 minute conversation just about the school. If I hadn't attended the school, I could have asked him about football, since he had a picture of the field and must like sports. Either way, it was something I could note about this person and use to break the ice and build rapport with him.

Clues to look for in an office: pictures of family and/or pets, trophies and awards, anything related to hobbies, etc.

What if you aren't in an office? How else can you collect information? Well, the obvious answer is to LISTEN to the person. Do they mention a wife? Ask a follow up question about her (what's her name, what does she do, etc). Does the contact have an assistant? Talk to the assistant (always) and learn their name. When you visit your contact or call, make sure to take time to converse with the assistant too -- this person is the gatekeeper to your 'key' contacts and you want them on your side, maybe even mentioning you or talking about you to their boss (in a good way). Besides, that assistant may someday be a creative exec. Wouldn't it be nice to have a good relationship with that person already?

Okay, so you have your finger file. Now what?

Now you build the web.

Some people may be able to do this on a computer, but I actually do this one the old fashioned way -- on paper. Visio would be the best tool for this exercise.

The purpose of the web is to show connections between yourself and your contacts. Sometimes you meet people through associations with existing contacts. Other times you will realize that you know two contacts through different means, but those contacts know each other. The best way to see these connections is to make a map, or a web. You may want to keep IMDB or Google handy for this exercise, but typically the web grows over time -- as you learn more about your contacts!

Let's start simple. You know a working writer. Let's say he's a writer on a TV show named Ned. You start with yourself in the center of the web. I usually box or circle the names on my web. Draw a line, like a spoke, from the circle around your name to Ned's name on the web. Leave lots of white space around it like this:

By the way, these should be first/last names, but for the purpose of this demo, I've just used first names. So, now you have a connection to Ned in your web. Now, let's say that Ned knows another contact of yours, Joel, but they do not work together (this is important). Send a dotted line from Ned to Joel's circle, like this:

If they work together in some capacity, use a solid line. Now, here's the fun part of expanding the web. Let's say there's someone you want to know in the future through that contact, someone they know well or work with. You add that person on another level of the web with a blue line:

You continue to build your web like so. You can create your own legend, color coding, etc to read it, but you want to include your contacts, their relationships to each other and to people you want to know. Sometimes your web can start looking like this:

That's okay if it does look a little confusing -- it's just a visual representation of the connections between people. I use it as a map to see who is well connected and who may provide me with a way to meet other people. This is targeted relationship building. Most of the people you meet may be quite random, this is a tool to help you control how you build relationships a little better. I have been able to use it to some success this year and hope to improve my methods in the next few months.

This is pretty long, so I'll follow up with some additional information in another post. Until then, start your finger file and your web!


chris soth said...

yes, we're all in orbit around Shawna!


MaryAn Batchellor said...

Don't be a stalker? What kind of relationship doesn't involve stalking? OH! Gotta go. His lights just came on.

Fun Joel said...

LOL MaryAn!

Good stuff Shawna, and just for the record, I DO NOT know Ned! ;-)

The Awful Writer said...

>I have my 'finger file',
>basically a Word document

Hi all,

If Words, not your thing, here's a link to a bunch of shareware contact management apps:

Contact Management Software

Ken Levine said...

Good advice, Shawna,

Build relationships on a personal basis and see where it goes. Stalking is not a good idea. On my blog today I've written the flip side of this -- what not to do. Together we can teach a Learning Annex class. :)


Warren said...

I'd pay good money to attend that Learning Annex class.

Great post, as always, Shawna.