Whether you're a freelancer holed up in a back bedroom or a studio worker staring at the same old faces day in, day out, it's rarely a good idea to work in a vacuum. Social media can provide a lifeline to the rest of the industry, but it's no substitute for good old-fashioned face-time.
"Sending emails is so easy that people shut off," says Ian Hambleton at Studio Output, who runs self-dubbed 'notworking' event Glug with Made Studio's Nick Clement. "Walk up to me in a bar and ask for five minutes of my time, and you've got my undivided attention."
For many creative types, the 'networking' buzzword will conjure up visions of awkward mingling sessions, squinting at name tags and fumbling for business cards. For Manchester-based freelancer Matt Booth, who runs regular meet-up Northern Digitals and offshoot BLAB, if you find yourself in that position you're probably at the wrong event.
"The key ingredients of a successful creative event are people and drink," he shrugs. "As flippant as this sounds, getting together in familiar surroundings puts everyone in the right frame of mind to speak to people. Stick them in a room with name badges and you probably won't have a next event."
Hambleton agrees that the informal approach is crucial: "We set up Glug as a reaction to all the awful networking events we'd attended in the past," he recalls. "People get out what they put in. If you want to talk to new people that's great, but if you just want to meet friends and see some great work, then that's cool too."
A healthy mix of disciplines helps to keep creative juices flowing: "You broaden your knowledge as well as your network of friends," reflects Booth, and Hambleton agrees: "Glug's a real melting pot, and in an era where projects are more and more multidisciplinary, it's just as important to meet a great animation studio or set designer as it is other designers," he explains.
Individuals and companies invariably get different things out of events like these. "Freelancers are able to meet the enemy - other freelancers - and it also gives them a bigger network of potential collaborators," argues Booth. "Studios use it almost like a company night out, where they can look for new employees and freelancers."
So what are Booth's essential tips for making the most of an event like Northern Digitals or BLAB? "Make a point of meeting at least two new people each time," he suggests. "Seek people out who you want to speak to - contact them before the event, and follow it up afterwards. And chat to the organiser, especially if it's your first time. We want to find out what you expect to get out of being there, and can introduce you to the right people."
"Don't take it too seriously, don't be too pushy and don't expect things to just happen straight away," concludes Hambleton. "The hard sell doesn't really work with the creative community. People buy into people."
Set up your own event
Run by creatives, for creatives, events such as Northern Digitals and Glug fill a gap in the UK creative scene. If you can't find one that suits you, though, with some time and effort you can follow in their footsteps.
"Instead of waiting for someone else to do it, I spent half an hour setting up the first event through Meetup (opens in new tab)," recalls Matt Booth. "Then I just emailed all my friends, and tweeted about it as much as I possibly could."
"We set up Glug because all the other networking events were so formal and frankly awful," says Hambleton. "At first, it was 15 of us in a pub in Shoreditch. It's hard to believe we had 500 at the last event."
For that level of success, it pays to offer more than a chat in a pub. Glug now offers talks from high-profile creatives, and Booth now also runs BLAB: speaker-led events, for which the additional set-up costs are covered by ticket sales. "Stop thinking about it, and do it," is his advice. "What's the worst that can happen? You end up in a bar with two mates. It'll still be a good night."