When I were a lad, back in the 1980s, selling building products in South East England, face-to-face interactions were the norm. In fact, with the exception of a bit of phone work to set up appointments and deal with customer enquiries (no LinkedIn or social networking in 1983), face time with customers was the norm. Send out quotes by post (yes, post), then arrange an appointment to discuss a job; meet on site to progress the project; meet over lunch at the Newbury Beefeater; and drop in when passing to maintain profile. It was all about building and nurturing relationships.
Some say you can run a creative project with Skype and email alone
Now I see copywriters in distant parts of the country proclaiming that you don’t need to meet your copywriter to run a writing project. Do it all with Skype and video conferencing and email and IM they say as they try to persuade Gloucestershire businesses that you don’t have to use a local copywriter when you are based in Cheltenham, Stroud, Worcester or Cirencester.
And, if the truth be known, you don’t always need to. But from my freelancing experience since 2006, it sure helps. I’ve worked remotely on occasions and done a damn good job without meeting the client. But it isn’t as easy as people make out and they were uncomplicated jobs. And at the end of the project, despite connecting on LinkedIn and phone chats and email dialogue, and despite a happy client, I often feel the relationship hasn’t developed as well as it could have.
Many of my clients disagree…
I’m not alone in thinking this and many of my clients agree with me. Just as I was told that people buy from people back in the 1980s, so I hear it from my regulars in 2014. Am I a Luddite? Absolutely not. I love technology and I love using it as much as the next copywriter, but have you ever tried to look at, handle and discuss a desk full of hard copy source material over Skype? Exactly. Which is why I was heartened to run into two references from the heartland of tech this week that support my assertion that face-to-face communication is by now means dead.
I was browsing a recent issue of PC PRO
The first reference was in the July 2014 issue of PC PRO, on page 064 to be exact, in the depths of an RWC feature titled ‘Doing business in a social era‘. Imagine my delight (and relief) when I read the following and felt the warm surge of validation:
In the 20th century we had face-to-face, supported by letters, then telephone then email. In the 21st century, relationships and friendships are online, which supports face-to-face meetings, often using the mobile phone. People still want to meet face to face, but a lot of the mechanics of getting there is done online. Social technologies just change the dynamics of the way you can work and amplify what you can do face to face
The last person you’d imagine enthusing about face-to-face meetings
The second reference concerns none other than the late Steve Jobs of Apple – the one and only, the very same Steve Jobs who was wrestling with the disastrous Lisa PC while I was selling concrete and mortar in Berkshire. Goodness knows how it has taken me so long to get to Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s excellent and highly-rated 2011 biography of Jobs, but it has, Anyway, there I was immersed in a chapter about the design and construction of a then-new Pixar headquarters building when I came across this:
Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Thank you Steve Jobs
Thank you Mr Jobs, the visionary creator of tools that enable us to communicate so seamlessly anywhere and anytime. How true and how marvellous to read this within 24 hours of spotting the comment in PC PRO.
Need I say more? I think not. Whether you call it face-to-face contact, face time, a well-run meeting, dropping in for a chat or just running into a client out of hours, the role of face-to-face interaction is most certainly not dead. In my book it’s vital; like so many ‘old school’ values that are quickly dismissed by the demographic cohort known as Millennials or Generation Y .
Something to think about
That’s something to remember next time you look for a specialist supplier in London, up North or down in the depths of Cornwall. On balance, and everything else being equal, having someone just down the road who can call in to take a brief or discuss the project and won’t need to charge an arm and a leg to do so, is rather attractive.