Last week I went to the British Chamber of Commerce national conference in London. Truth be told I was not particularly looking forward to it. But I was pleasantly surprised and the quality of the speakers and the debate was first rate. Top of the bill was a very heated debate between Lord Peter Mandleson and Ken Clark. It was a privilege to watch two such hard-hitters at work. The gloves were definitely off and polite insults abounded. Mandleson accused Clark of living off his past political reputation, to which Ken replied “At least I’ve got a past that I can mention, Peter” Ken also said to Mandy. “what you have done is catastrophic and driven the British economy into a train crash!” and that “we are teetering on the brink of the Greek financial situation.”
Other speakers included Trevor Phillips from the Commission for Racial Equality, and Alan Sugar, who was on good politically incorrect form as usual, and attacked the media vehemently, he surprised himself by complimented the French for their protectionist policies and said that the UK is too soft on this issue.
So Ken wears hush puppies. But a little publicised fact is that Peter Mandleson wears slip-ons …..
Some (well okay, most) of these have been learned from bitter experience….
(1) What are the rules?
Rules are meant to be broken – if you have a client that you know particularly well then you can bend the rules. If however you are taking a local solicitor to lunch with a view to getting his business you’d better behave yourself.
2) What is the dress code?
Whatever you think your client will be wearing — if they are the same sex as you that is — or smarter if you are not sure. Never be under-dressed – you will feel inadequate. If you are going to a place that needs a certain dress code make sure your client is aware and is happy about it.
3) How do you decide where to take a client?
Sensible answer: Where do you think the client would most like to go? Some clients would rather a pie and a pint than the latest trendy Gordon Ramsay resturant. Also, how much time do you and your client have available will impact on your choice.
Honest answer: How flush are you? Where do YOU want to go? How much is your client worth to you? If you have another meeting close by, you should choose the resturant to make it easier for you.
4) Should you drink?
Sensible answer: Follow your guest’s lead
Honest answer: If you fancy a drink and your guest doesn’t you can always use the line “If I didn’t have a pint you wouldn’t believe that I’m a PR guy”. It never fails. And nothing goes down worse than if your client wants to have a drink and you won’t (so I’ve heard!!)
5) Should you talk business straight away?
And it’s no, nay, never, no nay never no more, will I talk busines at lunch – no never no more. Taken loosely from the lyrics of the Irish song “The Wild Rover” Unless of course your client starts it ….
6) How do you, or should you, seal the deal?
Like Victorian children — normally again — not unless you are spoken to. Seriously, it’s okay to clarify what’s been said at the end of the meeting.
7) On what note should you depart?
More sober than your client – always. Especially if you have another meeting to go to afterwards! If you think it’s going to be a drinking lunch then don’t plan anything afterwards.
8) What should I eat?
Nothing messy! Not oysters either. A client still reminds me of the time ten years ago I made a mess of Thai food down my shirt — and I had another meeting to go to afterwards! Take your client’s lead about whether to have starter or desert.
9) Topics of Conversation
Current affairs, the client’s industry, sport, music, films, family life (if you client has one) hobbies (the client’s and NOT yours!) Let the client lead this unless they don’t talk. Have some anecdotes up your sleeve. There’s nothing worse than awkward silences.
10) A few Do’s and Don’ts
* Do be charming and witty and polite
* Do go to the local resturant where the staff/owner knows you and will make you look artificially important
* Do arrive before your client — and if you are late say “a journalist kept me on the phone talking about your company and I couldn’t get away”
* Do enjoy it 🙂
* Don’t rush off saying I’ve got to see another client (if you do have to, say it’s a journalist you’re seeing)
* Don’t use your mobile/BlackBerry (if you have to say you’re just checking on something urgent for the client you’re with) If you need to make a call or see the cricket score do it when you go to the toilet.
* If you have to leave your phone on in case another client has to call you, say you have a family crisis and have to leave your phone on just in case.
And if none of the above work you’re on your own. Just blag it.
The golden technology years are most definitely over. Whereas back in 2001 the market was still growing like crazy, we now face a saturated market with increasing competition and rivalry. A good industry indicator is to go to CeBIT and see for yourself. CeBIT in Hanover used to be one of the biggest technology shows worldwide, with full halls, parties every night, no chance to get a last minute table at the Munich Hall and seemingly endless and expensive giveaways for everyone. This year was my 7th CeBIT and over the years I’ve seen the decline and it certainly wasn’t hidden. This year, a number of halls had already been closed and many others had been used for CeBIT Music or the SAP World Tour just to give the impression of a full CeBIT event. When talking to the CeBIT organisers they told me that they only had about 100 companies exhibiting less than last year, but that they just managed to hide the fact a bit better than last year when there were half empty halls and vast spaces closed off. I also talked to a couple of journalists and they just underpinned my impression by saying that the times when loads of exciting new products were introduced at CeBIT were over. Now you have to go to CES or Computex or just check Twitter to find out about the latest releases. I guess times just change, and that’s not a bad thing. The hotel prices in Hanover were too expensive anyway… 🙂