Friday, February 19, 2010

GOOD MANNERS MATTER

Good manners have always been important to me so I hope you don’t mind me sharing that. No, well, I thank you (see what I mean?)

I abhor bad manners, lack of courtesy and those who are less than polite – whether it’s keeping a department store door open for someone who breezes past without so much as a “thanks” to children who don’t seem to be able to master simple phrases such as “please” and “thank you.”

This brings me to politeness and manners in business – they do matter, and I like to think I have them. They are vital. But, in the opening two months of this year, I’m detecting a sad slide, however, despite modern communications available to all.

Here are two examples: at the start of December I undertook a copywriting job for a publishing company. One of the businesses I had to contact during the project indicated, in our conversations, that it was interested in PR support and media relations and asked if I could make follow-up contact in January, which I duly did, as I promised I would.

When I got in touch via email, as requested, I asked the gentleman I had interviewed previously if he would like to consider a meeting to discuss his company’s needs for possible PR, generally. No response. No simple acknowledgement was forthcoming so after seven days, extremely politely, I emailed again. Several weeks later, I have heard nothing.

Yes, of course, I could telephone but I was specifically asked not to do so and to use email instead as it was “more convenient” given the nature of the business. Not convenient enough, it would appear, to say “no thanks” or “we’ve gone off the idea or “we’re waiting to sort out budgets” – an acknowledgement or a knock-back, it wouldn’t matter. Some form of feedback was all I sought.

In another case, I was invited to visit a company to discuss PR and media relations. At the end of a very positive meeting, I suggested – and its company representatives agreed – that I should submit an outline strategy, flesh out some of the matters we had discussed and submit costings based on a range of commitment scenarios.

I emailed them to say I had enjoyed the discussions, meeting them and so on – as I usually do after a first meeting - and attached a summarised proposal. Four weeks on there has been no feedback, no acknowledgement that they have even received my document. Phone-call follow-ups have yielded the usual trite “we’ll pass on your message” or “so-and-so has been very busy” to “leave your mobile number” etc. Pathetic.

I’ve not been seeking decisions, agreements or confirmed deals. I only want to know that my communication, which I have taken the time to prepare, refine and finalise, has actually been seen by someone I was dealing directly with.

Thankfully, and to end on a positive note, good manners do exist. This week I met with a charming MD with a view to creating website text for his company. Again, I was asked about PR support, media relations, social media opportunities and more. When I was on the train home, up popped a message on my Blackberry to say - and he beat me to it - that he had found the meeting extremely instructive and interesting and could I, in the first instance, give him a costing for the copywriting work the following day.

This I did – and he replied one hour later to say go-ahead. Now that was efficient and business-like, simple good manners, neither difficult nor challenging. Not all decisions, obviously, can be made instantly. But, if I am spending time plus effort to communicate and keep potential clients informed, the least I expect is the same level of courtesy. And with email, text or whatever, it’s never been easier.

To refuse to respond, answer, or acknowledge is arrogant, ignorant and totally unacceptable behaviour in my book. To repeat: business manners do matter.

That feels better: please forgive the rant. I’m sure I’m not alone, am I?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

TO WEAR A TIE – OR (K)NOT?


I have a business problem at the moment. Thankfully, it’s not causing sleepless nights, but it lingers nonetheless.

I’m talking about dress codes, or lack of them, if you like - and not for shopping at Tesco, barefoot or in nightwear, I hasten to add.

No. For most of my working life a simple formula existed: work = wearing a suit and a tie, or trousers and a jacket and a tie. No wriggle room.

From my earliest days as a young hack, it was drummed into me to wear a shirt and tie for all eventualities. I did so until I left a newspaper editorial floor for the final time back in 1996 and I followed that advice faithfully as I started out in my own PR business thereafter. I never thought twice about it; it was as natural as putting on your socks or cleaning your teeth at bedtime.

But the sartorial world in business terms, and I’m concentrating on men as I am one, has undergone a massive shake up. Ties are now optional and that’s been confusing me for a while.

Ties are still OK, open neck shirts are not frowned upon, either, these days. Think Alan Sugar (tie) or Richard Branson (no tie.) Some guys happily toddle off to work in jeans and polo shirts and, I suppose, if you work indoors, don’t meet anyone other than your colleagues, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Dressing appropriately for a particular professional, business environment is sensible. Some might say that it adds a touch of gravitas. Newsreaders like Jon Snow look good in ties and I reckon if he opted for an open neck shirt in the TV studio, it might just look out of place. So-called football TV pundits can leave the ties at home alongside any original thoughts, insights or points of view.

That said, I think that how people dress is entirely a matter for them, and I’m not one to judge given my uncertainly in this matter. For example, the Top Gear team on BBC TV recently got a dressing down in a survey for being less than Top Men when it came to their on-air threads. Jumping in and out of souped-up toys hardly calls for a neat, dark blue or black, all-wool two-piece, from Savile Row, or Ralph Slaters, which is my emporium of choice, does it?

So:

Do I wear a tie at all times on business, as I was brainwashed to do?

Do I never wear one, regardless of the business appointments?

Or do I wear one selectively? That is: a “yes” when meeting lawyers who are clients, for example, but, a hey man, “no” when dealing with music festival promoters and organisers or other creative/artistic types? I don’t imagine the legal eagles would really mind, either.

My general rule of thumb is, therefore, this. If I am not sure, I wear a tie – and I prefer a white shirt with a self-coloured one in the main, not being a fan of patterned or striped ties. After all, as I said once jokingly in an interview with a business newspaper: “I’ve never been refused entry anywhere for wearing a tie.” I can always remove it if I feel I’m over-dressed in comparison to those I’m meeting for the first time.

This happened when I went to see potential clients in London a few years back during a heat wave. In my suit, shirt and tie I was uncomfortably hot – those greeting me at their Tower Bridge offices looked as if they were heading for a beach barbeque with not a pair of trousers in sight, only garish shorts.

Before the pitch began, my tie was off, so was my jacket with great relief – and I got the contract, which actually involved meeting lots of people wearing ties, so I wore one, too.

This week, in a very unscientific poll conducted on a Glasgow-Edinburgh train, I noted that about half the chaps in suits were wearing ties, the other half, including myself, were not. Very inconclusive.

But, I’m bending to the view that the tie-wearers did look sharper, keener and smarter, even though some of the tie and shirt combos were of the “dress in the dark” variety.

As I don’t have a mirror that talks back, I asked my darling wife, Maggie her opinion. After a moment’s consideration she said I looked smart and dashing with or without a tie, a pleasing compliment I must say.

So, with apologies, this is a blog with no conclusion, or answer to my initial question. It’s personal, isn’t it? Any comments would be, as always, most welcome.