Our relationships and understanding will be more layered
This article was first published in Adweek.
Hello, we’re the agency next door. A mere 2,000 miles away.
Who would have thought that a single piece of technology would change the way an entire industry works? And yet, like the advances brought by the fax machine, overnight delivery and email before it, the video conference has suddenly altered how we conduct the business of marketing.
It’s worth noting that video conferencing capabilities have been around for decades. But as recently as 12 months ago, video conferencing was the exception, not the rule. We would struggle to get through Uber calls, or use some other form of sketchy, audio-only communication. The thought of having an important strategic discussion or negotiating an annual contract, or heaven forbid, presenting campaign ideas over the phone, was untenable. No way.
An out-of-town agency’s worst nightmare
We’d don our (slightly less casual) business-casual attire, hop in a cab and meet with our client partners down the street. The goal of being able to hold those meetings frequently and in-person are why so many client RFPs included the dreaded line: local agency preferred.
This was an out-of-town agency’s worst nightmare. It doesn’t take too many second-place finishes to local competitors to learn: you’re either local or you’re not.
Cut to 2020. It’s mind-blowing to take stock of everything that has changed since March. We stopped sharing conference rooms, white boards, even cups of coffee with our client partners. Yet, in many ways, we feel as close as we’ve ever been. Because we finally learned how to make video conferencing work. Our partnerships have flourished despite a complete lack of physical presence.
Getting used to business life in the bubble
We’re now comfortable inviting one another into our personal bubbles. We converse, react and gauge non-verbal communications. We sense excitement for an idea, or the need to take a moment to frame a response. It’s more convenient to conduct stakeholder interviews, on-boarding sessions, and status meetings among constituents scattered across the country. We’ve even figured out how to present creative concepts and conduct ideation sessions. In many ways, we’re able to see more of one another, and we do it more often.
There is an intimacy to a Zoom call. Frequently, you’re peering inside someone’s home, meeting their kids and pets. We can see how people decorate, what books they’re reading and what they choose to wear. It used to take years to learn as much about one another’s personal lives as we have in the past nine months. Relationships are built on familiarity and trust. Knowing what your partners’ lives look like outside of the office is a way to fast-track to that goal.
Suddenly, it’s easier to bring the voice of our target audiences into the discussion. Zoom interviews with recruited respondents are an inexpensive and quick way to probe for insight, or gauge reaction to ideas. Hit the record button, and you have ready-made presentation support for a strategic set up or a new creative platform. It makes you wonder how we ever got by waiting for the big research proposal to be approved, or venturing out to conduct mall-intercept interviews.
All business is local now
Zoom does not have a geographic footprint, and Teams does not care if you are calling in from several time zones away. This year, we enjoyed a strong run of new business wins among clients we’ve never met in person: clients who live nowhere near where we live, some in other states, some in other countries. We pitched and won, on-boarded and immersed. We took distance out of the equation for success.
We long for the time that we can work together across the table rather than across a grid. But, we will assuredly supplement those face-to-face meetings with the collaboration and spontaneity afforded by video technology. Our relationships and understanding will be more layered. Time zones and airports will no longer represent a barrier to successful partnering. Because, really—we’re all local now.