I am terrible at "networking". It requires conversations more intricate than “Yes, I’d like guacamole on the side”, which I try to avoid. Unfortunately, I work in an industry where the concept of “storytelling” is a tactic used to sell yourself as much as a product. If you can’t spin good yarn, you’re not going anywhere.
Like most Americans, I hate my job. Networking is something I’m going to have to learn to like if I want to change that. To train myself, I’ve been going to Digital DUMBO events whenever I can. The Brooklyn-based organization works to bring together people in tech and advertising with startups that are producing groundbreaking work. They have showcases about once a month where companies and agencies present “big ideas” they’ve produced that “changed the landscape” of their industries (look, marketing lingo! I’m learning). You have to pay to attend some events, but most are free if you register early enough. And they usually have open bars and free food. So like, obviously I’m there.
I recently went to Digital DUMBO’s “Generation Connect” in SoHo at the Samsung Galaxy Studio. The small space was packed to the brim with creative talent, cool gadgets, and yes, “big ideas”. Also, alcohol. Allow me to elaborate:
6:00 PM: I arrive 30 minutes ahead of time and I pat myself on the back for this. I’m also pleased I didn’t trip over a one-foot solid cement block and bust my lip open, like I did before the last one of these things I attended. I am both early and not bleeding. This is a good start.
6:15 PM: My friends arrive, and I no longer have to stalk my own Instagram account for amusement.
6:40 PM: They finally let us into the studio. It’s bright and glossy and washed in friendly colors, which is exactly how advertising looks to people that don’t work in it. I’m not fooled. There are also Samsung products to play with everywhere. This is a nice sales strategy, but maybe not ideal in this situation given that everyone here is about to get drunk and rowdy.
6:42 PM: We walk to the bar in the center of the room – there’s Brooklyn Lager and three kinds of wine available; I get a Solo cup of Chianti. The bartender pours with a heavy hand. This pleases all parties.
6:43-7:00 PM: After several people ask us if we are on line to get food, we decide to actually get on line to get food. Only one person cuts in front of us; this is truly a civilized function. The food is great. It’s pretty much an antipasto bar, but I can’t remember the last time I went to a free event and was given Camembert and stuffed dates. Probably because it’s never happened.
7:00-8:00: During the “networking” portion of the event, my friends and I linger halfway between the bar and a table with Insomnia cookies. I notice a guy in the crowd who looks suspiciously like someone I’ve "dated" (read that however you want). I decide that it’s just the four cups of Chianti playing tricks on me.
8:00-9:00: Three representatives from the sponsoring companies begin to give their presentations. The level of drunk in the crowd made it difficult for them, but I give them a lot of credit for doing as well as they did.
The first speaker is Tricia Clark-Stone, the CEO and co-founder of Narrative_. Her creative agency has been responsible for some of the most innovative marketing campaigns the industry has seen in recent years, like this one for Samsung and Milk Music. While she discusses the steps that went into creating it, I geek out and attempt to push through the crowd to get up front. I’ve decided to network the shit out of her after this, so I want her to remember my shining face.
The second presentation comes from the Digital Marketing Director of RCA Records, Monee Perry-Chaney. She discusses how she creates brand strategies for the label’s artists by building them around buyers’ digital footprints. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this one; I’m still bitter that I applied for a job in marketing at RCA like a year ago and didn’t get a second interview. We use this time to get more wine.
The third presenter is David Larkin, Creative Director of experiential agency Fake Love. He came prepared for the belligerence that the crowd was by this point exhibiting. Rather than talk, he played videos for us. Specifically, he played videos of a campaign they did for Levi’s where they redesigned cameras and typewriters and gave them the functionality to post to Instagram and Twitter. They put the exhibit on a train and got artists to hop aboard and update their social channels using the re-purposed equipment. It looked pretty cool, but I am distracted by the fact that I just saw that familiar-looking guy again and am now 80% sure that I have in fact dated him.
9:00-9:05: In a whirlwind of emotion, I knock my friend’s cup of Chianti from her hand and spill it all over myself and the floor. We stare at it for a couple of seconds before a woman taps me on the shoulder and says, “Quick, get out of here before anyone realizes it was you guys.” We flee.
9:06: As I am blotting wine out of my dress, someone taps me on the shoulder again. It’s the guy I am now certain I have dated, who subsequently wins the “Perfect Timing” award for the evening.
9:07-9:15: I exchange incredibly painful small talk for what feels like two hours. I look to my left and see that my friends have abandoned me. I pretend that I’m going to look for them, but actually walk around to the other side of the bar and get a beer (they ran out of wine).
9:16: I exchange incredibly awkward glances with the guy I dated across the bar, because it’s a circle and this room has a completely open floor plan.
9:17: I find my friends waiting on line for the bathroom. While I’m in the middle of berating them, Tricia Clark-Stone walks out. I stop talking and stare at her open-mouthed. She looks concerned. I wipe drool off my chin and say, “Sorry, I didn’t want to like, attack you since you just peed or whatever but um… great presentation. So impressive. Much marketing. Very yes. I want to go to there.” She replies with something polite that I can’t process because I’m too busy thinking about what a goddamn idiot I am.
9:18: This is a clean bathroom, for a Samsung store.
9:20-9:25: We decide to look at all the phones that have been (carelessly, IMO) left on display. I use a stylus to write something vulgar on a Galaxy S6’s notepad app, and crack myself up.
Amidst this, the guy I dated comes over to say goodbye.
“Did he just grab your ass when he hugged you?” my friend asks.
“Yes, yes he did,” I reply.
9:26-9:28: We notice a booth with a weird mask on a stool, and I find out from the man next to it that it’s a virtual reality headset. He lets me put it on, and all of a sudden I’m floating down the Dubai Creek with the city surrounding me on all sides. This is probably the coolest piece of tech I’ve ever used in my life. I understand the appeal of that Oculus thing now.
9:29: I get kicked out of virtual reality because they’re trying to shut down the event. We decide to help by finishing some of their alcohol.
9:30: They have run out of alcohol.
9:30:30: …But they have not run out of Insomnia cookies.
I learned a lot from my experience at “Generation Connect”. Firstly, that I really am terrible at networking. Secondly, that I need to expand my dating pool. And thirdly, that I look ridiculous with a virtual reality headset on:
To find out about more Digital DUMBO events in New York or a city near you, visit www.digitaldumbo.com