Talking nonsense

By The Drum, Administrator

June 29, 2006 | 6 min read

Depending on your point of view (and possibly your age) the online explosion of recent times has either been a revelation or a hideous irritation.

It has made the world a smaller place, and in marketing terms, it has brought businesses and clients that little bit closer together so anyone would think that businesses would encourage the use of e-mail.

You only have to think back to the infamous ‘Claire Swire’ incident which happened in London’s City market (when the intimate details of her lovelife were broadcast to the world via her boyfriend’s email address book) to know that it can also be a bad thing.

The problem is, with the ease of communication which email allows, comes informal chat, which may not be appropriate for everyone, especially clients.

“Email is one of the very best things and one of the very worst things to happen in advertising,” says Guy Robertson of Guy Robertson Partnership. “It’s a very effective means of passing messages and communicating simple statements. It’s a very poor means of communicating briefs and anything that requires any element of tone to it. It also encourages people to misuse and mangle the English language, which is a particular bugbear of mine, and it also encourages both clients and agency people to be lazy and from the clients’ point of view it makes them easier to give briefs without properly thinking about what they are looking for.”

But do clients think so? Glen Gribbon at Chartered Brands – also a former Whyte and Mackay marketer – says that he enjoys the informality that email can breed between agency and client, and that he believes it creates a more relaxed relationship between the two. “As with all communication, there is a mix, of which e-mail should be part,” he says. “Three page emails are wrong. When you get to 1000 words you rather hope that the benefits of telephone communication start to become clear. The fact that most of us can get e-mails remotely very easily now is a big plus... We all have different ways of working, but thankfully there is a general trend towards informality in business. There is probably a fine line between informality and being lazy, but that is about good judgment. Anyone who uses text language on e-mail should have their PC confiscated.”

Companies may encourage the use of email on an internal basis, but as a connection between agency and client, there are many issues that may cause concern, as Mark Jennings, director of strategy for Cynosure, highlights. “The main issue is that now anyone can represent the company be sending an email, in a way that the letter would have negated to some extent,” he says. “The worst case scenario is to see your company’s email address being used by staff to forward on some unacceptable joke etc to the wrong person. We are all for freedom of expression but email is less controllable and by its definition, easier to use.”

Bella Cranmore, an account executive at Storm ID, feels that informal language through email may also enhance a relationship between the two parties. “From our experience the level of formality is not always related to the use of email, but is driven by the specific relationship with the client,” she says. “Some clients respond well to informal language, especially where we have worked in close partnership with a client over a long period. However at all times it is important to remember that email communication results in a written record. There are also numerous occasions where informal language within an email is not appropriate, independent of the client. This is especially true when you don’t know the recipient personally, when they expect formal communication, and often when addressing more than one person.”

Erick Davidson, the chief executive of Tayburn, feels that the lack of tone in an email is another problem that limits written communication as opposed to speaking directly to a client. “Emails have helped speed up processes and detailed stuff enormously, but undoubtedly only using email can make it seem quite cold,” he says. “The decision to email or speak depends on what the content of the message is. The benefits of email are that it allows clients to address the message in their own time, when they become available, rather than take a phone interruption. One theory of mine is we all get so many emails people tend to rush replies, so you find yourself going back to ask the same questions again.”

Robertson believes that the overuse of emails in business has begun a decline in the standards of communication. “If you’re going to be sloppy in your email communication then it follows on that you’re going to be sloppy in your proper written communication,” he says. “It shows a ‘dumbing down’ of standards. If used properly for short, quick messages, it’s absolutely fantastic and for checking off finished artwork, such as PDFs, that’s fine. In terms of a tool for briefing or for showing initial visuals, it’s a nightmare.”

Robertson also states that he feels that the overuse of this digital media has lessened the need for interaction: “It would obviously have a hugely adverse affect on the relationship between client and business as it would mean that there’s not so much face-to-face communication and you lose the personal touch,” he says. “Pre-email you would go and see a client face-to-face and inevitably in the course of discussing one job you would have the opportunity to discuss another.”

Some companies - especially in the financial markets - have email communication policies, and some clients have instructed staff to not put any emotion into replying to emails, instead to limit comments to ‘move logo to the left’ or ‘make type bigger’.

But another client, Heather Scott head of communications for Intelligent Finance, is a fan of email communication. “I have a terrific relationship with my agency,” she says. “It would be odd to have such a relationship and be formal - hence it is appropriate if you know who you are communicating with - it would be inappropriate to speak to customers informally - unless we were speaking to them over the course of a few months and a good relationship formed between the sender and the customer. Personally I love phone contact - but if I'm busy just give me the info I need.”

Using email as a communications tool is easy – but where would advertising be if all involved didn’t have the excuse to meet over lunch or a pint with one another?

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