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Digital devices have made it possible to conduct business without ever leaving your desk. But something is just plain old wrong with that, writes Al Topin.
Maybe you’ve seen the old United Airlines commercial where the business owner gathers his staff and delivers the news that their oldest customer fired them that morning because they have lost touch with his business. He then proceeds to hand out airline tickets and tells his staff to get moving and visit each of their customers, while he visits his old friend.
Phone and fax machines were the culprit in the United commercial. Today, with e-mail, voicemail, texting, Skyping, Face Time, conference calling, tweeting, and more, we have multiple opportunities to avoid personal contact. We are now in touch with our business 24/7 but often grow out of touch with the people that make up that business, whether they’re a client or a colleague down the hall.
We’ve heard the reasons:
o There’s not enough time in the day
o Travel budgets have been cut
o Travel is a pain
o Clients need stuff now
o The brand team is in 15 different global locations
o Texting is easier and faster
o We can see them at the annual congress.
The problem is rampant, even in our own office. Arranging a meeting between four people takes hours of e-mail meeting requests bouncing back and forth. Using e-mail instead of conversation sometimes confuses client direction or is vulnerable to misinterpretation. One day I’d had enough. I stood up in a staff meeting and wrote the letters G-O-Y-A on the whiteboard, and I waited. Eventually someone figured it out, which prompted a group conversation about the value of walking down the hall and popping into someone’s office to book a meeting or relay a client’s request. (I’ll let you figure it out as well. Hint: it isn’t the name of a 19th century Spanish artist).
I admit it, I’m not from the generation that instinctively texts, tweets, likes, or friends. But I do know how to use iPads, iPods, and iPhones, and I know how to link them to my car’s sound system. And frankly I still see enormous value in investing in the time and effort to travel cross-country to see a client or prospect face- to-face in a meeting or over lunch. And I think that putting two or three people in the same room with a whiteboard and marker beats Face Time calls and direction exchanged via e-mail any time.
It’s not that people have gotten lazy, but our dependency on devices seems to reward quantity of communication over quality and makes multitasking a badge of honor. And personal relationships have taken the hit.
Admittedly, neither agencies nor clients can spend every day on a plane or face-to-face with their teams. Learning to leverage the productivity of digital devices is a critical survival skill with the pace of business today being what it is. But one-on-one relationships are still vital to building trust, making decisions, and maintaining long-term business relationships.
So how do you break the digital habit and GOYA (got it, yet?)? Here are a few guidelines for starters.
Set specific face-to-face goals. Such as an agency team visiting a client once a month, or a brand manager working in the field once a quarter.
Rotate meeting venues. Even status meetings are important, so move them around. Schedule one on the phone, the next at the client, and the next at the agency.
Meet halfway. If distance is a problem, find a city in the middle and split the difference. Bring the global team to London or New York or–God forbid–New Jersey. We actually dragged the entire global team into Newark to develop and approve a creative brief over a period of 36 hours. Difficult for all, but the meeting probably saved a month of e-mails, conference calls, side phone discussions, and frustration.
Wander the halls. GOYA works internally at our respective companies or agencies as well. Drop into someone’s office versus calling. Arrange a meeting verbally, then send the meeting notice to confirm. It avoids a ton of back-and-forth e-mail traffic.
Pick up the phone. Ironically, a phone call is often the quickest way to discuss, decide, or approve. Try that first, then go to e-mail.
Make sure the important meetings are in person. Presenting a new marketing plan, unveiling new creative, or even going over a tactical budget are key points in our process. Do those face-to-face, and save WebEx for down-the-line changes and modifications.
Go the extra mile (literally). When you plan to ride with a rep, meet with a local thought leader or view market research, don’t always choose LA, Miami, or San Francisco (San Diego or Palm Beach, either). Sure, everyone wants to head for the sunny market in the middle of an East Coast winter. But there’s no more obvious way to show your commitment to the brand (no matter if you’re client or agency) than by showing up in Des Moines in a snowstorm.
We are all time challenged, and our to-do lists have become overwhelming. Digital meetings, quick texts, and e-mails solve real problems. But they also create other issues. In-person meetings are more work to schedule, plan, and prepare for. And unless you have access to a private plane, travel just gets more difficult all the time. I promise you it’s worth it.
Take a look at the United Airlines commercial I mentioned at the start. It’s a bit dated, but it makes the point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU2rpcAABbA.
Now Get Off Your A**!