Landing a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn unannounced in the late '60s is the kind of thing that could put you on the wrong end of a shotgun. But for country legend Kris Kristofferson, it’s the stunt that finally made Cash take notice of the songwriter.
Kristofferson had tired of the handing off demo tapes to Cash and his associates to no avail. It wasn’t getting him anywhere because Cash wasn’t even listening to them. (Cash later told Kristofferson he threw the tapes in the lake.)
Instead of giving up, Kristofferson decided to go guerrilla. By thinking big, thinking creatively, and using the resources at hand, the former Army pilot was able to cut through the noise of ho-hum networking and stand out from the crowd of Nashville songwriters hoping the Man in Black would record their songs.
It was a high-risk, high-reward approach—and one that's become near-apocryphal in the details—but that’s what guerrilla networking is about. And as long as the risks are measured, payoff can be big. "I think there’s a big risk in any type of networking or marketing endeavor," says Monroe Mann, co-author of Guerrilla Networking: A Proven Battle Plan to Attract the Very People You Want to Meet. "But if you’re trying to play it safe, you’re probably not going to get noticed."
To break the tedium of traditional networking, Mann advocates that people stop trying to meet as many people as they can. Instead, he says, seriously consider what kind of person other people in your field want to meet—and then be that person. "Networking isn’t about just banging on doors over and over. If you have nothing to offer to other people, it doesn’t matter how persistent you are. Johnny Cash probably said ‘If this guy has the creativity to do this, maybe his music is just as creative.’"
As an actor and filmmaker (with a film out that showed at the Cannes Film Festival recently), Mann has had success using guerrilla networking tactics to navigate a very competitive industry. Here are some tips from his playbook.
Consider Your Audience
Thinking only of what you want to get out of a networking contact is not only self-centered, but anti-productive. You’ll be viewed as a parasite—you want to be viewed as an asset. If you can sit down and figure out what your target wants and needs, you’re more likely to be welcomed in.
The good news is that everybody needs something. "If you want to meet Steven Spielberg, think about who he wants to meet," says Mann. "He wants to meet a guy with an amazing script. He wants to meet somebody that can introduce him to 20 million bucks."
Produce Your Own Projects
As a struggling actor, Mann was blue in the face begging for acting parts. It seemed a waste of energy, so he put his efforts into producing his own films. Soon, his inbox was filling up. "All of a sudden I wasn’t just a stupid actor. Now I was a filmmaker. I was a producer. I had hundreds of people people sending me head shots, I had cast directors saying ‘we can help you.’"
Having a product to show people pulled a lot more weight than trying to convince others he was a good actor. "A world opened up because I had become the kind of person that all these people wanted to meet."
Don’t Rush It
People tend to approach networking as a numbers game, thinking the more at-bats, the more likely they are to get a hit. But Mann suggests people take more time to create a solid strategy before spending time implementing it. "People do traditional networking by just pushing their way in and giving out business cards thinking that’s what’s going to make progress."
Guerrilla networking takes more time and effort but ultimately the results are often superior. "It takes longer because you’ve got to think creatively like Kristofferson did, and it may take resources to put that into play—a helicopter, finding where to land, clearing it with FAA or whatever it may be. That’s a lot more than just trying to put it in the mail."
Several years ago, Mann employed a small but very creative tactic in order to get the attention of agents in Canada: He sent agents checks for a million dollars, writing "void" on the back, but also indicating that that could be their payday if they worked with him. "It was enough for them to remember the name ‘Monroe Mann,’" says Mann, who got 10 or 15 calls back and a couple of agents representing him.
Don’t Fear Rejection
Basically, you have to be willing to fail when it comes to guerrilla networking. But there are some calculations that can be made when determining whether an idea is worth the risk. "Whenever I make these decisions," says Mann, "I’ll often brainstorm what’s the worst that can happen if I do this and then write down all the different possible scenarios. You don’t want to cross over the line from persistent to a pest—or god forbid you get a restraining order against you."
[Image: Flickr user Steven Martin]