The Value of Protocol in Building Networks

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Photo (by Steffan van Gerve): the launch of Managing Authentic Relationships in the Hermitage Amsterdam



The value of protocol is explained at our protocol training programmes as well as in our book Managing Authentic Relationships as a tool to support the networking goals. Protocol management translates the networking goals into high-level meetings with the stakeholders. Chapter 2 of the book describes this vision and Chapter 13 explains how to use protocol when managing high-level networking meetings.

To understand the value of protocol in building networks, is to understand the two sides of protocol:

  1. The symbolic value of protocol.
  2. Protocol to manage time.

Learn more about the value of protocol and follow our Three-day Masterclass in Modern Protocol in Brussels

The symbolic value of protocol is about the creation of a shared narrative, so the people attending an event can relate to it. It is the binding force between the participants of different backgrounds who at that moment step into a shared experience. In Managing Authentic Relationships the author Monica Bakker illustrates this with the following example:

The graduation ceremony at a university for example, is something we have seen many times in movies when we were young. When we later participate in our own ceremony it already feels kind of familiar. Comparatively, when someone else tells you later about his or her graduation ceremony, you can easily relate and understand. This will even more be the case when you have both graduated at the same university with its own specific protocol.

Leiden University in the Netherlands already for many ages has the symbolic tradition for students to write their signature in the same small room where the first Royal of the Netherlands, William of Orange, but also the current head of state, King Willem-Alexander, have written theirs after they have graduated. Being part of these specific traditions creates a feeling of belonging which lowers the threshold to real connection.”

Protocol to manage time is about the rules of protocol. “The rules of protocol provide clarity and safety when it comes to ‘how things are done’. Protocol allows space for us to focus on the content of the meeting as well as on the interaction with others instead of constantly anticipating the unexpected.”

Alexandra Messervy, Founder and Chief Executive of The English Manner, a leading etiquette, protocol and household management consultant based in the United Kingdom agrees. In an interview with the authors she said: Networking is a good point of view for protocol and it can be a real tool for effectively organizing networking events. The rules of protocol offer predictability, so everyone knows what to do and how to do it. Predictability takes the pressure of, so everyone can concentrate on doing business and talking to the clients. People thrive on routine, it is a way to put everyone at ease.”

The value of protocol is to make cooperations work and provide a sense of safety, clarity and direction so we can focus on the interaction with others and the content of the meeting. As paradoxal it may sound at first, the framework of protocol actually doesn’t limit space, it creates it.

Protocol actually doesn’t limit space, it creates it.

The same power that comes from following the protocol, can come from breaking the rules of protocol. In the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ the chief editor of the renowned fashion magazine ‘Runway’, played by Merel Streep, hosted a reception at the Paris Fashion Week. At the reception she is assisted by two PA’s, who whisper the names and titles of the guests approaching her. This video shows how difficult that can be, but this video also is an example of the rules of protocol being broken. The ambassador is the most important of the two and should be welcomed first, yet Miranda starts with the mistress of the ambassador, Rebecca. By not following the protocol, the relationship is strenghtened; by giving all the attention to Rebecca, the ambassador feels respected.

Chapter 13 of the book Managing Authentic Relationships explains the value of protocol when managing high-level networking meetings. This chapter describes the most important elements of a networking meeting as seen in Figure 13.3.

The six elements of an effective networking event or meeting

1. Guest list

A guest list for a networking event can be seen as followed:

  • Current stakeholders.
  • Potential stakeholders.
  • Beautiful people (people who support the networking function of the event).

In the book the following example of an event with current and potential stakeholders and beautiful people is given: “A regional bank (Europe) organized a golf tournament for smaller and average seized business directors. Instead of inviting only current clients, they also invited potentials and beautiful people. Examples of beautiful people are the city’s alderman in charge of economy, the regional chairman of the chamber of commerce and the chairman of the local school of economics. Beautiful people have a positive effect on the profile of the event and contribute to the networking function; beautiful people make it easier to attract other people. The guest list of this event resulted for the tournament to be the number one network for smaller and average seized businesses in the region. The attendance increased considerably over the years and the bank profited from the success of the networking event.”

2. Design

The organization of a good networking meeting starts with designing the networking moments; When will people meet? “There are many examples of networking events that do not offer the opportunity for people to meet; lengthy programs, long dinners, crowded rooms or loud music. Most of the budget for networking events is often spend on catering, speakers or entertainment. Events often lack the structure needed to support the networking function.”

3. The invitation process

The main purpose of a good invitation is to attract the right and the right amount of people. Therefore the following is important:

  • The more personal the better – people are more inclined to attend if the invitation is personal.
  • Who else will attend – if it is clear there will be other interesting people, the attendance will be higher.
  • The completer the better – invitations that lack the necessary basic information have a negative influence on the attendance.
  • How much time will it cost me to attend – lengthy programs attract less people.

4. Networkers support 

Even the best organised networking events are not successful without professional networkers. It depends on their charm, social capabilities and networking skills to make this happen. The networker should however be supported in the development of networking skills as described in the Chapters 10 and 12 of the book, but also with event specific support.

5. Staging encounters

A good example of staging encounters can be seen in above video of the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Other examples are to seat guests or to make introductions. The book describes how to do so: “Upon arrival guests could be escorted first to the main host and then to one of the other hosts (networkers). This way it is possible to stage specific encounters and determine in advance which meetings will take place. This approach requires a certain preparation. It must be determined who should meet who and this information will have to be included in the guest list and registration. Upon arrival, the guests are escorted to the main host and other hosts (networkers) by ushers, who are able to perform this task in a professional and informal manner and are preferably able to inform the guest and host(s) of each other’s name and function. In advance, the hosts (networkers) will have to be informed about this procedure or maybe even trained. And the networkers will have to be strategically placed in the reception area, so ushers are able to find them. This approach increases the meaningful encounters considerably. Where people are normally able to meet around four to five people they already met, this approach arranges ten to twelve meetings with people who never met before. The Protocolbureau in The Hague is one of the experts in arranging meetings this way, they are called upon for assistance at many networking events.”

6. Results

After the event has finished, it is important to find out the outcome of the event. What are the results? What has been achieved? How did individual networkers perform? To what extent have they shown the desired behavior and used the expected skills?

“A networking event is nothing more than a snapshot. The effectiveness of it hinges very much on a good preparation but also a good follow-up. Many organizations fail to measure results and ask their employees: ‘Who did you meet and what was discussed?’ Experience, however, has proven that most events, when staged and evaluated appropriately, are very effective and bring a lot of useful results.”



The book Managing Authentic Relationships; Facing New Challenges in a Changing Context about networking and relationship management is written by Jean Paul Wijers, Monica Bakker, Robert Collignon and Gerty Smit, with contributions by among others Prof. René Foqué, Paul Mosterd, Paul Managing Authentic Relationships; Facing New Challenges in a Changing Context. This book about relationship management focuses on building and managing a strong network and reciprocal relationships for the entire organisation by implementing a professional relationship management approach at strategic, tactical and operational level.Spies and Tom Verbelen. The book focuses on building and managing a strong network and reciprocal relationships for the entire organisation by implementing a professional relationship management approach at strategic, tactical and operational level. The book is written for those who have the responsibility within an organisation for the management of a professional business network.

Managing Authentic Relationships; Facing New Challenges in a Changing Context is for sale at Amsterdam University Press, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and

The book is the basis of our postgraduate programme ‘Strategic Relationship Management’; find more information here. To learn more about the value of protocol, follow our Three-day Masterclass in Modern Protocol in Brussels.