The conference call: Use it wisely.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme in this video series. So far we’ve smashed keyboards and PowerPoint projectors—with a 10-pound hammer, of course. This time we took out our frustration on a conferencing phone. The business tools we’re destroying serve as a metaphor, a way to illustrate that at the heart of most marketing agency breakdowns is a failure to communicate.

You, no doubt, see the irony since effective communication is what we’re being hired by clients to provide. And agencies large and small deliver (some better than others). Big ideas are concepted, creative genius is applied, and campaigns are revealed—all directed at customers to win the deal. Yep, communicating effectively to the target audience through messaging and visuals is our thing.

So where’s the breakdown?

Although communication is, literally, what we do for a living, there can be huge stumbling blocks when it comes to the communication between agency and client. There are many issues at play here. Clients are over-committed, multitasking beyond capacity. And we are all in way too many unproductive meetings. In fact, it’s the combination of these two things that have cultivated the normalcy of the conference call. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan. Conference calls are great for status updates and check-in meetings. They just suck for idea sharing. And herein lies the communication collapse.

To be there, or not to be there. That is the question.

It’s not just our clients. We’re all busy. It’s hard to coordinate everyone’s schedule to be in the same room for a meeting. Thankfully, technology has made it possible for us to meet anywhere and at anytime—a great thing when collaborative teams are located in various geographies and time zones. Because it is so easy, though, we’re now meeting everywhere and all the time.

As I mentioned, I like conference calls for certain aspects of client-agency communication. It’s an efficient way to regularly ensure everyone’s on the same page. But when we are talking about concepts or presenting creative options, we simply need to be in the same room.

Say, for example, I’m presenting a big, expensive campaign. This may include printed mock-ups, a digital presentation, or both. But even with the most state-of-the-art web conferencing apparatus, there is no way I can be sure that what I’m showing and telling you is what you’re seeing and hearing.


Going back to our collective busyness and meeting-saturated culture, the truth is that conference calls allow us to not really be in full attendance (um, can you say “mute button”). We’re thinking about our next meeting, while we’re spacing out in the meeting we’re in. Or, we’re tapping away on our computers (“taking notes”), when in fact we’re emailing a summary of our last meeting to those attendees. Attention is all over the place, popping in and out of the present.

The importance of staying on course

With agency work, especially with creative presentations, inattentiveness can be disastrous. Things get off course. Maybe it’s just slightly at first; but over time, even a small deviation of trajectory can take a campaign from being on-point to what’s-the-point. Take air travel, for example. In a cross-country flight, being off course by one degree would make you miss your runway by 50 miles. Sure, we aren’t flying commercial jets, but there are lessons to be learned.

  1. Course corrections can become very expensive. If discovered initially, it may be a matter of small tweaks to get back on track. But without a definitive meeting of the minds, the farther you get down the project road, the more costly it is to redirect your efforts.
  2. There is a point of no return. At some point in every campaign, you reach a pivotal juncture where no amount of money or time can fix the problem. The intended destination cannot be reached simply because we were proverbially headed to Seattle, and you had your bags packed for Mexico. It’s less marketing and more navigation.

And yes, this was a long way to get to the real point of why we smashed a conferencing phone. If you’re working with us, we will insist on meeting in person at pivotal times in the process. You may not have the time, but we’ll wait until you do. This will conflict with the typical multitasking MO of doing business. But be patient. We’re just trying to make sure we hit the runway.