I could’ve been the glam Samantha Jones – the PR professional in “Sex and the City.”
There I was in New York City on a whirlwind business trip with our CEO, Marsha Friedman, and our vice president, Alex Hinojosa. We hustled with the natives down wind-whipped sidewalks and hailed speeding Yellow Cabs to meet with current and prospective clients.
Along the way, we passed store windows filled with post-Christmas sale-priced temptations and ate delicious meals at restaurants like The Sea Grill, where the Grilled Label Rouge Heritage chicken was divinely paired with a view of skaters stumbling over the Rockefeller Center ice rink.
I could’ve been the glam Samantha Jones — but I wasn’t. I haven’t been to New York City in decades, so I walked into trashcans while gaping up at tall buildings. And while publicists are known for their fashion and style sense, newspaper journalists definitely are not. My background showed in my circa 1984 mauve London Fog trench, absolutely the wrong color for the Big Apple.
Marsha and Alex either didn’t notice, didn’t care, or were polite enough to look the other way, even as I repeatedly tangled myself in my borrowed scarf. Marsha’s a native New Yorker and Alex has an excellent handle on the city for a guy from Texas. The two showed me all kinds of sights in the gaps between appointments, from tony East 42nd Street to the fun Soho shops to the bright lights of Times Square.
But my biggest surprise came in our meetings with clients and prospective clients, three of which took place where they work.
As a reporter, I’ve always known I’ll get a better story by going to the accident scene, attending the council meeting, or hanging out with the eccentric artist rather than trying to gather details over the phone. I didn’t realize the same applies in PR.
As the creative director for our Florida-based national company, I spend a lot of time getting to know clients via email and phone conversations. I browse their websites, read through their books, and study the lengthy questionnaires we ask them to fill out. Occasionally, they’ll visit our office, preferring to share their stories in person. We love those opportunities.
But it’s an entirely different experience meeting with people where they “live,” so to speak. There’s something about a workspace – the personal photos on a desk, the plaques and framed certificates on the walls – that speaks volumes about what the occupant values. We learn a lot by seeing how people interact with their colleagues, and by taking the time for a genuine conversation, which almost always includes stories about loved ones, hobbies, and past experiences – details too cumbersome to include into work-related emails and text messages.
Wonderful as the digital age has been in expanding our worlds and removing barriers imposed by geography and language, it hasn’t yet replaced sitting down together in someone’s office or home.
Computers haven’t yet replaced face time.
And online marketplaces don’t compare to window-shopping in New York City.
Penny Carnathan comes to EMSI following 30 years as a national award-winning editor, reporter and columnist at The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Fla. She continues to write a weekly column, Diggin’ Florida Dirt, for The Tampa Bay Times. As a features editor for the past 10 years, Penny received hundreds of press releases and story pitches daily. She knows what it takes to catch an editor’s attention and, more important, what likely will not get a look beyond the email subject line.