Most of the Time, It Is About Who You Know

I spoke on the phone with Dr. Ruth once. The conversation was short (it was Dr. Ruth after all) and involved no sex talk. At the time, I was working on an idea I had for a photography book and Dr. Ruth was one of several celebrity-ish people I approached about participating. She turned me down, but did so over the phone and only after telling me how much she loved the concept. As rejections go, it wasn’t bad.

I also chatted about my project with Mean Joe Greene, the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler who was known for selling a Coke or two. I don’t think he ever really considered participating, but it was nice that he took the time to hear me out.

And I received the following rejection from Bil Keane, creator of the Family Circus cartoon:

I liked the late Mr. Keane’s “no” so much that I had it framed.

You might be wondering how I was able to get in touch with the above mentioned folks. The answer to that question can be found in Bil Keane’s letter. I had a name; I knew someone. Though, that connection was very limited. In 2002, I photographed former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and his grandson. I was a portrait photographer in Atlanta and Senator Nunn’s daughter came to me via a word-of-mouth referral, which was how I generated all of my business.

I must have done a good job on those photos, because when I told Senator Nunn about my idea and asked if I could feature him in my book–he said yes. Feeling a bit emboldened, I then requested permission to use his name to secure other participants–and again–he agreed. That was the end of the connection. I had use of a name, but not use of a Rolodex. I made all the contacts myself and included a link to my website in every query letter I sent. Examples of my photography, and the concept for the book, were proof that I had ability. But, there is no denying that my entry (even in the instances where my foot never crossed the threshold) into the world of the celebrity-ish was due to the fact that:

I knew somebody.

With the economy being what it is, and the job market tighter than tight, who you know–and who they know–really does matter. The success of LinkedIn, the online site that bills itself as the world’s largest professional network, is proof of that. As is the fact that being social, both online and in person, is easier than ever. You can connect with people on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google +, YouTube–and if you want to go old school–Facebook.

Marty Ingels, husband of Shirley “Partridge Family” Jones, also rang me up. I think his call was to figure out if I was on the up and up. He was funny and his voice reminded me of my dad’s–which I told him. In the end, I must not have passed his smell test. As we neared the conclusion of our conversation, Marty said that he would: “check Shirley’s calendar” and get back to me, but he didn’t.

Had Marty been able to read my Twitter stream, or view my about.me page, I have no doubt that me and Mrs. Jones would have worked together. But alas, at the time our call took place, Zuckerberg was still working on outsmarting the twins Winklevoss. And Twitter was but a glimmer in Jack Dorsey’s eye.

With one child entering college and the other firmly established in high school, I am at a stage in life where I really want to put my creativity and business acumen (I’ve got boat loads of both) front and center. “What I know” definitely remains my strongest selling point, but I am also going to need to get some help from the connections I have made in person and online. “Who I know,” especially in 2012, remains crucially important. In the meantime, I’ll continue to extend my hand to others–because that’s “who I am.” 

Just so you know, not everyone turned me down. In addition to Senator Nunn, famed college football coach Bobby Bowden was, according to his wife, Ann, a go. As was George Clinton, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician who among other things is known for founding P-Funk. His inclusion would have been beyond stellar.

Sadly, my book never came to fruition. An unforeseen opportunity (“Let’s move to California and start a business!”) got in the way. But you can bet that I am still patting myself on the back for securing George Clinton’s yes. And Dr. Ruth, if you are reading this, call me. I have a new idea I’d like to run by you.

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