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Building an authentic network


How I’ve leaned on and learned from other women


On International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about the leaders, mentors and peers who have supported me and helped shape my career. (There have been a ton of gentlemen in that group, but today is for the ladies.) Specifically, I’m grateful for the women who have helped me tackle something I once feared—but that I know is essential—networking. It’s somewhat of a dirty word or a scary topic, but it’s critical to do often, to be skilled at it, and to find your personal style.

Here are three key things I’ve learned from some of the most influential women in my career about the importance of successful and authentic networking:

Make others feel comfortable—it will make you feel less awkward. 

“Networking” often has a negative connotation that took me a long time to get over. Years ago, I learned a trick that has helped—if you act like it’s your event or party, and it’s your job to make others feel comfortable, it instantly makes the experience better for you. By taking a journalistic approach and genuinely trying to get to know people and asking questions—whether it’s about the space we’re in, how they were invited to the event, how they know the organization, etc., the interactions will be less contrived. The best way to avoid that “icky networking fake feeling” is to find ways to truly connect. I find when I’m genuinely curious and trying to put others at ease, I enjoy the event and walk away with more meaningful connections.

One of the people I know who has absolutely perfected this is Dorri McWhorter, CEO YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. Dorri has this ability to make everyone in the room feel comfortable and connected with her. She believes that everyone has value and looks for the win-win in every situation. As a result, she creates much deeper partnerships and engagements.

It’s not just about what you get, it’s also what you have to give. 

Going into any networking situation with a set agenda that is only about what you want or need is rarely successful. When I’ve reframed my mindset to what I can offer or do to help, it changes the dynamic. Approaching people in a salesy way (even though I’m technically in sales), has never felt right for me. If I believe our firm can authentically help with a business or branding challenge, things flow much better and I’m more comfortable in my own skin.

I’ve known Sejal Shah Gulati, General Manager and Vice President, Global Commercial Services, AmericanExpress, for over 20 years and watched her do this beautifully. She asks people for coffee or breakfast and is genuinely curious about who they are and what they need. She asks about what they’re doing and where she can provide value. No matter how senior she’s been, that’s been her approach and it’s proven to be very successful.

Collaborate with the competition.

This might seem crazy or counter intuitive, but often the best partnerships come from those who are technically competitors in your space. When you help others by referring business or connecting them with someone they should know, it pays dividends. Some of the times when I’ve struggled most or tried to solve a sticky problem, my friends in other agencies have been the most helpful. There are few who know what you’re encountering more than those in similar companies. Most industries are pretty small and you never know when you’re going to need that specialized skill set, team or relationship. I’ve found that If you stop keeping score, you win more.

Amy Cheronis, Chief Integration Officer of MSLGroup U.S., and I partnered together years ago but we still look out for each other, share war stories and send leads the other’s way. As companies, we do have overlapping capabilities but more often that not, one of our organizations is more right for an opportunity.


Heather Torreggiani is Chief Marketing Officer at VSA Partners. She leads growth efforts across VSA, including business development, marketing, public relations, brand leadership and content creation. During her time at VSA, Heather has helped to secure partnerships with clients like YWCA, Marvin Windows and Doors, McDonald’s, Native Shoes, among others. Her 20 years of experience in marketing and agency leadership, account management and strategic planning, include roles at some of the world’s top agencies including DDB and BBDO in Chicago, New York and Sydney. Before joining VSA, she led business development initiatives as Leo Burnett’s EVP, Director of Growth, and was part of the creation of Farmhouse, the company’s innovation brand.