Networking parties at Christmas often lead to nothing more than sore heads and empty wallets. John Cowell explains how to avoid the pitfalls of the Port and Stilton evenings.

It’s that time again. Christmas is lurking around the corner and invites to festive breakfasts; lunches, receptions and parties lie thicker than snowflakes. The season of Good Networking is here.

Networking. The word dominates business articles on marketing. How to ‘work the room’, the importance of ‘body language’, what to say and how to say it. But is there anything sadder than 400 people at 7.30 am desperately drinking coffee, distributing business cards and searching over shoulders for someone in the room who might possibly do them some good?

The only people who truly get anything out of these events are the professional organisers. They usually obtain the money and kudos and have access to the attendees and consequent database. True, they provide the promise of a chance meeting that turns up trumps, but mostly they offer the opportunity to wear a ‘marketing hat’ for those burdened with the task. Box ticked.

It is not difficult to organise something that really does pay dividends in the form of new contacts and bonding with existing clients. Rather than rely on another organisation’s initiative, it is better to make the organisation of networking events an integral part of your own Marketing Plan. This will provide you with all of the benefits - including a reputation for being an organisation that is well connected and pro-active. In other words, “someone to seek out”.

Attract the key players. Such is the proliferation of networking clubs and other mass-organised events that most of the industry bigwigs are in constant demand. As one said to me recently, he has had so many invitations to fly the London Eye with a Chinese banquet to follow, he could do it every day for a month! Time is precious and only an event that is either of real interest or prestige will attract the right attendees. Hence the success of Little Britain and MIPIM.

Listen out for information about successful events and take note when you attend one. The recent event staged by designers, BDGWorkfutures at The National Portrait Gallery’s Cecil Beaton exhibition was one such. You couldn’t move without bumping into the industry’s real movers and shakers. That event proved that many in the business are interested in more than just sport and booze – although the latter was in abundance.

One key player said to me recently, he has had so many invitations to fly the London Eye with a Chinese banquet to follow, that he could do it every day for a month!

Use your imagination. Ask yourself what you would really like to attend. Chances are that you will find many others among your targets in the industry that likes the same thing. Organise something around this yourself or employ a consultant who will do it for you. Become a leader rather than a follower of fashion.

If you are targeting a particular sector, look for events that are actually attended by clients in that sector. Most have functions that offer prospective suppliers and partners opportunities to meet key players. They are usually expensive, but then the free stuff usually isn’t worth having.

Networking is an essential weapon in the fight to secure work. That said, people only want to work with people they like and respect. Someone picked up over a drink may not fulfil either criteria – in this, as in all things.

Happy Christmas.