Building Relationships & Networking

Researching Contacts
Networking is simply about building and maintaining a network of relationships with people who can help you professionally.

Here are some tips for finding out who you need to know:

  • Do your research and find out which organisations (venues, arts centres, festivals etc) have programmes your work might fit into. Find out what their programming policy and cycle is, and who the programmer is. A list of suggested East, South East and London organisations is provided at the end.

  • Check whether organisations are in the Arts Council England National Portfolio (you can do this on the Arts Council website). If they are it means they have year-round funding, a ‘talent development programme’ and a remit to support diversity, which is likely to mean they offer opportunities for emerging artists.

  • Check also who are your key contacts among public funders – Arts Council representatives and Local Authority arts officers (NB. not all local authorities fund the arts).

  • Check also private funders - representatives of Trusts & Foundations in particular. You can research these online.

Keeping in Touch
Once you have a list of names, contact details and more information about their organisational policies and planning cycles, you can construct your own networks database and devise a plan of action for keeping them updated with your projects. You could put together a periodic e-newsletter (using a free programme such as Mail Chimp) which could include details of your productions and projects, video links, photos, and other news. You should also send personalised invitations to key individuals when you have a scratch performance or tour coming up and would like them to see your work. 

Make sure you subscribe to the mailing lists of all relevant organisations (venues, festivals, industry & artform bodies, funders) so that you receive information about any opportunities they are offering for artists such as callouts for platforms, funding, commissions. It’s also useful to familiarise yourself with their performance programme. If and when you meet someone from that organisation face to face, you’ll know enough about them to have an intelligent conversation and show that you have done your research, which will help you get off to a good start.

Meeting Face to Face
The ‘Routes In’ document linked to at the end of this article has invaluable advice about how to build relationships with venue & festival programmers over time, and information on how programming decisions are made. Of course it’s useful to keep these people updated with newsletters, videos of your work and so on, but it’s also invaluable to get to know them personally.

Here are some tips for finding and attending events where you can do some networking in person:

  • Post-show – you’ll often find directors and programmers in the bar before or after the show, and at post-show talks. Try to get to see work in the venues / festivals you want to get your work into, and see if you can arrange an informal meeting with the programmer or director before or after the show.

  • Local networks – look for local Meetups (on the internet) relevant to your practice, Cambridge also has networking groups such as Cambridge Arts Network, and of course events here at Cambridge Junction such as the season launch nights & Troop workshops and socials.

  • Industry meetings - many industry organisations hold open meetings, AGMs, conferences & symposia where you will find a room full of useful and important people. (There’s a list of suggested organisations at the end.) For example, the Independent Street Arts Network (ISAN) holds quarterly members meetings, and these usually end with drinks in a local pub. Dance UK has an AGM which all members are invited to, and includes a social element.

  • Festivals – if you’re showing your work in a festival make sure you get an invitation to the opening or closing parties and any relevant VIP events such as premieres. These are excellent opportunities for networking.

  • Workshops, courses and other professional development events can be great for networking, as can pitching & scratch events and showcases for new work (such as Caravan, House, Pulse Fringe, Xtrax).

Top Tips for face to face networking

  • If you’re going to an event that might be good for networking, try to find out beforehand who might be there and establish a target list of people you need to meet as well as what you’d like to discuss with them.

  • Don’t be put off by the idea of plunging into a crowded room and finding strangers to talk to – in a professional context everybody potentially needs everybody else at some point, and most people find these situations a bit un-nerving, so you are not alone.

  • Identifying people: Some events helpfully include photos of delegates in the programme or on a display board. However, peering at name badges is sometimes a necessary evil!

  • Make use of your existing contacts & friends – ask if they can introduce you to the people on your hit list. Return the favour whenever you can.

  • Be warm and polite to everybody you meet even if they are not on your current ‘hit list’ – they may be in the future, or they may be good friends with someone who is.

  • Have a few prepared questions / conversation points to hand in case you can’t think of anything to say at first, and let the person know you wanted to meet them and why.

  • Look for non-verbal signals – should you interrupt someone’s conversation or does it look private? Don’t monopolise someone’s time if you can see there are other people wanting to talk to them.

  • Make sure you exchange business cards (you can get free ones on the internet). Write on the back of the other person’s card how and when you met, and anything you agreed to follow-up on.

  • Follow up any key meetings with a brief, friendly email a few days later saying how much you enjoyed meeting them and following up on any points raised / questions asked, eg. if they asked if you have a promotional video, send them the link to it.

  • Don’t pester for a reply.

Further Information:

  • This is an invaluable insight into building relationships with programmers, and also a good list of key venues in the North of England: click here

  • House is a network of venues in the East & South East. The website is an invaluable source of information for artists & companies: click here

  • Click here for useful contacts for the East, South East & London