Dealing with distance

I’ve just been to Switzerland for a client meeting. From the Bay of Islands. For a day and a half.

I learned two things and re-learned a third. The re-learning was that face time counts. Not only in the ‘new’ markets of Asia Pacific that we in New Zealand are so focused on learning to serve. But also with our traditional trading partners in Europe and North America.

You can do a lot with teleconferences and Skype, for sure. But when it comes to reinforcing old relationships and cementing new ones nothing can beat old-fashioned face-time.

Brainstorming a CSR programme for a major listed global operator and creating it from scratch is a whole lot easier when you’re in the same room as your clients; feeding off the combined energy and enthusiasm and picking up the non-verbal signals.

It also gives you a chance to explore new opportunities, new business openings and generate discussions that aren’t formally on the agenda.

Yes, face time is fabulous and I fear we are so brow-beaten by budgets and becoming so reliant on technology to defeat the fabled tyranny of distance that we may sometimes be forgetting how fabulous it actually is. Ours is, after all, a business based entirely on relationships – are some of us losing sight of the investment that face time (and the travel it involves) represents?

We’re not always perceived to be as remote, isolated or irrelevant as we frequently tell ourselves we are.

First among the new things I learned was that sometimes our cultural cringe makes us our own worst enemies. Too often we tell ourselves that stuff happening elsewhere is better than what’s being done right here in NZ. Well, for the record, in my meeting I used the work being done by several local organisations as examples of best practice and this went down a storm. Auckland Council’s use of social media. Air New Zealand’s consumer branding. And the community relations work being undertaken by Meridian.

The second revelation, leading on from the first, was that we’re not always perceived to be as remote, isolated or irrelevant as we frequently tell ourselves we are. And this is where I tip my hat to the multitude of Kiwi organisations, across a wide range of sectors, who have over the years blazed a trail internationally and created an awareness of this country and the expertise and excellence it frequently represents.

Organisations like Carter Holt Harvey, Endace, Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra, New Zealand King Salmon, Sealegs, Sealord, Tourism New Zealand, Xero and ZESPRI. And of course the multitude of smaller, specialist exporters. These ambassadors of New Zealand commerce, aided so ably by the heroes in our trade missions abroad, have combined with our sporting teams to create a perception of New Zealand internationally as professional, expert, efficient, adaptable and accessible – all qualities that serve to bring us closer to the rest of the world than our size and geography might otherwise dictate.

I thought it was worth bearing this all in mind as we head towards the presentation this week of the 38th annual PRINZ Awards – what we do in this part of the world is leading edge and just as relevant to people in Dusseldorf as to those in Dunedin. And the fact that public relations consultants are able to join the ranks of those other Kiwis selling their goods and services abroad should probably be not as surprising as it invariably is.

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