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What is Networking, Actually?

What do you think of when you think of networking? Do you think of formal events and someone trying to sell you something? Do you think of collecting business cards and the person who thinks they’re the most important person in the room? Are you immediately terrified and intimidated?

But what if networking was just meeting people?

Phil Cooke, founder and CEO of Cooke Media Group, says that this is the secret to a long career.

In the past, networking has gotten a bad rap and has had negative connotations. Networking was about finding what other people could do for you—always taking, never giving. But the kind of networking that leads to long careers is the kind of networking that holds mutually beneficial relationships at its core. That’s really what networking is—building two-way relationships; looking for ways to encourage, mentor, or serve the people around you; and saying “thank you” to the people who are coming alongside you.

“The truth is, the more people you know, the more possibilities and options you have,” Cooke said.

That’s why networking is so important. In a world full of talented people, it’s people who give you opportunities, and it’s people who help your dreams become reality. As you meet people and get to know people, be willing to invest in the relationship even if that person isn’t opening up a new door of possibility for you or presenting you with new options and opportunities. You never know what role that relationship will play in your story and your career later down the road.

“If you have a resource, if you have a networking partner, if you have a friend—somebody you know you can contact and act on, it makes a difference,” Cooke said.

Beginning to build your network of mutually beneficial relationships can feel overwhelming and intimidating for young professionals. The good news is that if you’re a Christian communicator who wants to network, you’re already in the right spot. As an association of Christian communicators, NRB is a great place to begin building relationships with other Christian communicators.

“That’s why I’m a big believer in organizations like the National Religious Broadcasters,” Cooke said. “I come to the conference every year because I want to meet people smarter than me. I want to surround myself with a network of people.”

There’s a joke in Hollywood that Cooke knows everyone in town. How did Cooke earn that reputation? Largely by taking it seriously and being very intentional about meeting people and building relationships with them. Cooke didn’t accidentally find himself in a place one day where he knew everyone. It took time, energy, and effort. He invested in relationships—not simply seeing how much he could get out of the people around him—over time, and each of those relationships have played a role making him a key leader in the industry.

“Here’s the secret: go; be intentional; meet people; go out; network; connect,” Cooke said. “It will make the single greatest and dramatic impact on your career.”

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