Schools do a great job of teaching theoretical concepts and rote facts, but some principles just have to be learned in the real world. Principles such as honesty, integrity and the importance of relationships are learned from parental teachings and through the observation of others.
I remember my first real advertising job. While still in school, I was employed as ad manager for a retail store. With my wealth of freshly-learned book knowledge, I was ready to show my stuff. What I didn’t know was that I was about to experience the harsh reality of how things work in the business world.
While the owner of the store was very open to my exuberant ideas, he often frustrated me by saying, “Go see Paul,” or “Call Mary.” I wanted to prove myself and he was always directing me to his peeps. I didn’t realize that he had relationships to honor and friends who returned his favors by looking after his interests. Wow! They didn’t tell us about this in school.
You see, not everything can be placed on a spreadsheet or plugged into a computer. The value of friendships and business relationships cannot be quantified; a fact that drives CFOs, human resources managers and legal folks crazy. Touchy feely stuff just can’t be measured.
The marketing communications and public relations business, like any business, is built on relationships. More than customers and vendors, I’m talking about friendships that are massaged, grown and honored over the years. The challenge, however, is to delicately balance one another’s business needs with the friendship.
In the mid-1990s, as the owner, promoter and manager of trade shows and conferences, I forged a relationship with the owner and management of a radio network. They agreed to promote my conferences and I put their company name all over the events, as if they were theirs. What evolved was a relationship that I cherish to this day.
Here’s why. As the conferences grew in attendance and popularity, each side constantly worked to assure that we all benefited from the relationship. I had absolute trust that they had my best interests at heart and, in return, I looked after theirs. The relationship was a huge success because of the integrity, trust and friendship around which everything was built. They promoted the conferences and my company at every turn and I did the same for them. Even though the conferences eventually ended and I don’t see the people very often, I still view them (and the company) with eternal respect.
I belong to a number of trade associations where I build business and personal relationships. As a member I make it a point to get involved, serve on committees and support the needs of the organization. I believe that the first step toward making friends is to be a friend, both to the organization and its members. I ask for nothing in return except a little respect, loyalty and friendship.
For our clients, we show the same loyalty. It’s about more than producing a cool web site or a killer brochure. Our passion is to help our clients (friends) with strategies that generate results. If a client is unable to be a friend and have more than a client-vendor relationship with us, it probably won’t work out.
A recent example of a successful effort is the 2010 SMPS Southeastern Regional Conference held in Nashville, Tennessee. The Society for Marketing Professional Services is made up of marketing pros in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. A focus area for Brand Acceleration, we definitely wanted to be part of the event, so we jumped in.
We volunteered our services to design a logo, all advertising, direct mailers, signs and elements of the program book. In return, the planning committee allowed us to place the Brand Acceleration name discreetly on everything. There were no discussions of sponsorship levels, nor were there any contracts; just an unspoken promise to serve one another’s needs. At the conference, I was very pleased to find that our company was listed as a Gold Sponsor and that we were very well thanked for our services. These people operate with class! We have built powerful relationships that I expect to grow and last.
Are there ever misunderstandings? Of course! It’s just human nature for people to occasionally find themselves on different pages. The answer, in my opinion, is a willingness to correct the situation, forgive, forget and move forward in the spirit of friendship. Long-term friendships cannot work if either side becomes belligerent or insists on winning at the expense of the other.
I’m a very, very loyal person. Over my long career, I have developed relationships with people for whom I will now do almost anything. I love my job and love working with people of integrity. Like a great dog, if you treat me with courtesy, respect, and give me an occasional pat on the head, I’ll be your friend forever.