A Guide to Networking with Industry

on 31/8/11

Here we take a brief look at professional networking and social skills for entering the professional world, attending an industry event, trade exhibition, opening or press launch. Tips and hints on how to prepare, make the most of your time there and truly shine!

As most industry / trade events are kept closed to students, during your time within education you will not necessary be presented with the opportunity to visit these types of events. However, should the opportunity arise, perhaps via friends/ family already working within the industry, or maybe during industry work experience or whilst on placement, do not turn down any ‘networking’ opportunities to get a real taster and a better understanding of the real world of work. 

Superdry Exhibition Stand, Image Courtesy of Bread & Butter, Berlin 

The corporate term ‘networking’ is something that is applied in all professional industries, and generally the better and more familiar you are to this practice, the better you will become at it. It is an urban myth that you need to be super or uber confident and excel in conversational skills to network successfully, everyone (even the most quietest of wall flowers) can apply and become confident, using basic networking skills. Simply being prepared and knowing how to handle any professional situation will already give an upper hand. Before you know it you can change from looking & behaving like a student to behaving like a professional, & confident designer, event organiser, buyer etc etc.

Even during your time in education, you should start to position yourself at industry focused events, you will not only learn a great deal, but get the chance to ‘mingle’ with potential employers & future colleagues, seeing first hand how the industry really works. Here we have put togther a few professional hints and tips to getting started …

Spring Summer Collection & Catwalk Show by Hugo Boss, Image Courtesy of Copenhagen Fashion Week

Get Yourself on the List

Within any creative industry there will be key trade events, exhibitions and launches that are held through out the year, you will find all event / exhibition information listed on The Trend Boutique and on other on-line sites & within trade publications for your creative sector. Some major events / exhibitions you will be encouraged to visit by your tutors, plus try and attend as many organised trips or excursions as you can. You should also look at attending events / exhibitions independently, widen your horizons as much as possible.

Some events/ exhibitions are open to students or have special student days i.e. Premiere Vision & 100% Design, and you can simply register on-line or contact the exhibition organizers to pre arrange your tickets or passes. 

There are legitimate ways of getting into an exhibition, such as:

  • See whether you can attend as part of any companies you have done work experience with they may welcome you attending on their behalf as long as you de-brief them afterwards.
  • Contact the organisers and explain that you are doing a specific project or piece of research that you would like to do at the show (make sure you have done some background research first
  • Approach some of the companies exhibiting to see if they will 'invite' you in return for you helping them out on the stand, smaller businesses will often really appreciate this help, even if you are just grabbing lunch for them
  • Also approach the event organisers to see if you can do some work experience
  • Online blogs & websites often need event reviews doing - again this can offer you a route in
  • If you write your own blog or magazine, freelance or work on a self-employed basis this may count and you will be able to get in your own right

Respect an event's industry only policy as it can be inappropriate to lie or fake that you are already working for a business if you are not. Many have seperate education days - so research their policies before trying to blag your way in - as you may not need to.

Make sure when you are completing registration documents that you have an e-mail account that has a suitable address to use for all of your professional practice, nothing screams ‘student’ more than an e-mail address like ‘thesexyminx@hotmail.com’.

Exhibition Stand at Heintextil, Frankfurt Image Courtesy of Heimtextil

So, You’re In

Once you have secured your access to an event or exhibition, begin to plan and structure your schedule, to make the most out of your time there! 

Travel arrangements are essential; allow plenty of time to get to and from the event. If you are travelling via train, coach or even out of the UK usually the more advance you book your travel arrangements the cheaper they will be.

Familiarise yourself with the event venue or exhibition hall, plan key areas you want to look around allow yourself plenty of time. Most exhibitions will have on-line floor plans, or maps you can down load to pre plan! If there is a brand, a company or individual you know who will be at the event you would like to meet or speak to, why not investigate prior to your visit if there is anyway you could grab a 5 minute chat or a coffee with them, it always worth a try!

Generally at trade or social events people are in ‘chatty’ or talkative moods, it’s a great opportunity to use this to your advantage, to meet and ‘network’… however do sense and respect if someone is too busy to talk and do not be too pushy, you do nor want to be remembered as annoying or rude! Customers will always come first, so if you see clients coming on the stand, just excuse yourself and leave the stand i.e. 'I can see you are starting to get busy, can I contact you by e-mail / take a business card'.

Exhibition Stand at Heintextil, Frankfurt Image Courtesy of Heimtextil

Look the Part

Within any professional situation always consider your behaviour, basic social skills and to ensure you look and feel the part.

Dress - There will be different levels of dress depending on the creative sector you are working within. Arty or contemporary event / exhibitions will have a much more relaxed dress code to something within high fashion or the corporate sector. Know your industry and dress appropriately. You should feel professional, yet comfortable if you are walking around an exhibition for eight hours, high heels are probably not the best choice of footwear!

Excess Baggage – while you are a creative student you are found lugging many bags of ‘your stuff’ including folders, files and your creative equipment around all of the time, when attending a professional event or exhibition be ensured to travel light! Expect to collate brochures, leaflets and lots of information, a simple tip is to pack a strong stylish re-usable bag with you to use during the event.

Being Prepared

During your own career development, as you begin your progression into industry really begin to see yourself as not just a student or graduate, but as a professional within the creative sector you wish to seek employment. If you want to work within Men’s Fashion Design everything about your professional practice should scream ‘menswear designer’, not 2nd year student!

Business cards are an essential tool to have when attending any event or exhibition, something so simply and use world wide when meeting or greeting anyone new. Within many eastern cultures exchanging of a business card is seen highly and is expected as good, standard professional business practice.

You can create your own professional and cost effective business cards today, this may not be as expensive as you think. The main objective of your card is to clearly display your name and contact details It does not have to do more than that, keep it simply, clear and concise.

For some, at first it you may find it un-easy to present your business card during a professional situation, within time it will become second nature to you, and you will find it a nice tool for opening and concluding conversations.

Remember if you are looking to attend a large industry event or exhibition stock up on business cards, you do not want to be left short! Also, keep your business cards neat and tidy (you can buy professional holders from all major high street stationers) keep within easy access, to hand not stashed at the bottom of your bag so you can hand out when required. On handing out your business card you should expect one in return, and then ensure you put somewhere safe, as you will never know when you may need to contact that person.

At end of year shows or major graduation shows, such as Graduate Fashion Week, New Designers you should have business cards, promotional CV's, and mini portfolios on hand. You should always circulate around the event, talk to other exhibitors and try & engage with visiting industry. The Trend Boutique team have helped many graduates at these types of events, giving them additional contacts, or telling them who is looking for new staff, or even carried out introductions to companies on the day, so you never know there may be someone out there who can help you.

Exhibition Stand at Interfiliere, Paris Image Courtesy of Interfiliere

Contacts are Key!

As you are becoming more aware within any industry many of the best job roles are fore filled through word of mouth, or by person already employed within that organisation, or by someone knowing someone perfect for that role. The more time you spend within the industry, on placement or attending events, the more people you will meet (and hopefully impress!) so that when it comes to seeking employment you have a sound starting point of contacts, and people who are familiar with you and what you are about!

By attending events or exhibitions, you not only get a first hand opportunity to meet your potential employers, but you begin to collate contacts, even by attending a small selection of events you can begin to develop and grow your own industry database of who’s who. Every time you attend an event, and have receive a business card, or collect an exhibitor guide or brochure get into the habit of importing the contacts into a simply date base system or spreadsheet. That way all of your industry contacts are stored in one place, making contacting them easy.

Although most of the hints & tips contained in this guide are fairly straight forward, or even obvious, you will be amazed at the number of students that you see at events in large groups, behaving unprofessionally, or just generally not being aware of their surroundings, hopefully you will not make the same mistakes.


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For further information: 

The Trend Boutique run career & training workshops throughout the year for further information & dates see our events pages, plus have useful guides & links to some of the shows.
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