Many years ago, I represented Marriott Hotels & Resorts, during which time I got to interact a little with Richard Marriott, CEO of the global chain and its “chief brand ambassador.” It was 1993, right around the time of the first World Trade Center bombing. One of the residual effects of that event was that Americans stopped traveling beyond the confines of home and work. Long anticipated vacations were canceled, business trips gave way to conference calls, and hotels, resorts and airlines who relied on Americans’ travel dollars rang with empty echoes.
It was with Dick, during this dark time for his business, that I learned a crucial lesson that’s remained with me for the past two-plus decades.
As a travel industry leader, Dick took to the road, meeting with travel agency leaders, airline and hotel CEOs, and others whose companies’ survival relied on the reemergence of a healthy travel industry. His objective: show would-be business and pleasure travelers that it was perfectly safe to continue with their travel plans.
When asked why he was taking so much time on the road meeting with travel industry leaders, Dick answered, “Because you can’t shake hands with a fax machine.” His point was that in-person meetings have a value well beyond any message that could be conveyed via fax, phone, or in writing. (In that era, the fax machine was pretty much at the top of the communications food chain.)
Today it’s practically effortless to stay in contact using communications advances that have made us more efficient, more responsive and part of what Mark Anderson, chief of the Strategic News Service, termed “AORTA,” — Always On Real Time Access.
This hyper-connectivity notwithstanding, the law of unintended consequences has raised its ugly head, with people less frequently taking action on Dick Marriott’s sage advice.
Communications professionals have a responsibility to keep open the lines of communication with clients, prospects, journalists and employees in other offices. In our personal lives, we have the same responsibility to family and friends, but it’s incumbent upon us to do so, in as much as it’s possible, in person.
- Make “House Calls” – Plan to see your clients in-person monthly, quarterly at the very least. Out of sight may not necessarily be out of mind, but it’s a quick trip to a bad place if your face-to-face meetings are relegated to keeping the business from slipping through your fingers
- Schmooze or Lose – Not every conversation requires business-speak. Maintaining relationships requires the gift of the gab, so fill your repertoire with interesting facts, funny anecdotes, and news of the day.
- Cross Boundaries, Carefully – Clients are people, too. Without crossing boundaries, try and get to know them as individuals separate from the brands they represent. Show interest in their families, their kids’ accomplishments, or where they’re vacationing. Importantly, use your “spidey sense” to make sure your clients are okay with this approach; not all of them will be. If you feel they’re uncomfortable, pull back.
- Don’t Hate on Ma Bell and Snail Mail – Email exchanges are little more than what used to be phone conversations broken up into a series of electronic submissions. Clearly, email has upped the efficiency quotient for most of us, but it’s also driven the personal element out of communications. Every now and then, use the phone to supplement your emailing. And, if you really want to get something noticed, use the post office to send it. Email has become so ubiquitous that receiving something worthwhile in the mail will make a strong impression.