Call for networking! Because you really don’t know who knows who.


Above, left, an impeller for the engine of an M-1 tank (Dad designed the tooling to mass manufacture that). Above right, the Philip Morris bellhop.

My father, a career tool-and-die maker who never moved far from his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and an advertising icon from Philip Morris, taught me the value of business networking. Their lessons are spurring me on again.

I retired from full-time work recently, and decided to keep myself busy by offering my services as a copy editor and proofreader. (I successfully freelanced from 1991 to 2000.)

One-by-one I am writing to all my LinkedIn connections. Yep, all 2,000 of them. Each person is getting a short email saying (1) what I am now doing, (2) stressing that I am NOT pressuring them for work, and (3) instead, asking if there is anyone they think I should introduce myself to.

Granted, not all my LinkedIn contacts are active. Some don’t know me very well. And I already know some will wonder why I am writing to them. “We’re in the same business,” one freelancer wrote back. “I couldn’t really recommend you to anyone.”

Contacting so many people is a huge undertaking, but I do it for one simple reason: You don’t know who knows who.

When I first left a full-time job to become a freelance advertising copywriter, I was explaining to my father what I’d be doing for a living. My wife and I were expecting our first child and leaving full-time work at that moment didn’t strike Dad as the smartest move.

But after explaining what an advertising copywriter does, Dad offered one suggestion: “Would you like me to introduce you to Johnny Roventini?”

You are probably thinking the same thing I was. “Who is Johnny Roventini?” Turns out he was an advertising icon. Beginning in the 1930s, Roventini worked for the Philip Morris company, appearing in a series of movie house commercials. He’d be dressed as a bellhop, walking through the lobby rhythmically shouting the phrase “Call for Philip Morris!”

This was an exceptionally successful advertising campaign. Roventini appeared in many commercials and in his later years he worked as a good will ambassador for Philip Morris. He was, in effect, the precursor to the Maytag repairman.

He also knew my Dad.

I never personally met Roventini, nor did I do any work for Philip Morris. But after Dad “referred” me to him Roventini did pass my name long to people with the Madison Avenue advertising agencies that worked with Philip Morris, and sooner than I would have thought I had freelance writing assignments from them for consumer electronic products.

So I don’t fret when one of my notes gets a “why are you writing to me?” response. Even that freelancer who wondered why I was writing to her DID suggest a few places I could go and introduce myself (and none of them involved jumping in a lake). You never know who knows who.

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