Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The Right Coast

Posted on | December 19, 2007 | No Comments

NEW YORK–It’s the week before Christmas, I’m embedded in Manhattan to help give a presentation on new-media strategies for a client-senior vice president and his team. They’re trying to chart, as we all are, the new-media landscape—what it means and how to use it. Every meeting has its field but there are often points of germination.

One of these occurred when he said, “I miss the ‘80s.You built relationships by taking guys out to lunch.” His point was more nuanced than the quote, but you get the point. Reporters are far too under the gun today to have time to build relationships and spend the time to understand complex stories. Pure-play bloggers have a different model of communication and haven’t gotten on that train; maybe will; maybe never will. Both these dynamics are big problems.

That’s partly why, afterward—killing time before a train to Boston–I flipped up the hood on my jacket and elbowed my way down 52nd and down Park, puddle-jumping, taxi-dodging, to stride into the Waldorf. I slipped onto stool in the lobby bar, where I had $8 hamburgers with my not-yet-then-wife 25 years ago. Two Brits to my right battered the bartender with questions about Rockefeller Center and got a quick tour guide in return as they drained gin and tonics. The bartender, a wiry ageless guy who probably could free-climb El Cap, took my order, Stoli up with olives. Suddenly it was 1934: he poured it over ice in a small pitcher and stirred it reverently with a glass wand, his pinky floating free. You can go to any number of bars or clubs in this town to find gin-jerks who will juggle shakers, breathe fire and dance the Macarena as they make your drink. But there aren’t many monastic bartenders. He eased the liquid into martini glass as if he were laying a sleepy newborn baby to rest. As the concoction creeped toward the lip, he paused. “Take a sip,” he said, nodding toward the shaker’s remnants. “I’m Irish. We don’t waste any.” And so I, descendant in part from Irish immigrants who didn’t either, did.

I’ve had better martinis, but worse experiences. All the ghosts gathered nearby, some settled on the next stool, some mingled near the reception desk. The old man couldn’t believe he was paying that much for a gin martini in ‘82. Father Dave was about to hail a cab for Broadway, two fingers up in a blessing. Mom sat like something out of 1947 wide-eyed at it all. Heidi sparkled more brightly than the Christmas lights she posed before. I toasted them all. The only thing missing was Max Baer and a hive of honeys tailing him through the lobby; maybe Paul Whiteman’s band in the corner working out a new Gershwin tune. There wasn’t a single TV in the bar. The space was overcome with intricate woodwork and etched-glass images of beautiful women. Talk. Conversation. Chatter. Not a single TV. In 2007. Every cab, restaurant and toilet has one. The Waldorf’s bar doesn’t.

In New York, women and men still dress as if it matters. They show just enough leg; just the right tie. They mean business. They’re rushed, but they say “Have a nice day.” They’re more likely to throw an arm around you as they are to throw an elbow. They meet face to face, look you in the eye to talk business, families, frustrations and hopes. In California, we promise to get you on the calendar as we double-time it down the street fiddling with our Blackberries, banging into light poles, missing the point.

The martinis are better, though.

They have to be.

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No Responses to “The Right Coast”

  1. screaminglady
    December 20th, 2007 @ 11:07 am

    No many memories get more magical than the twinkling of Manhattan in December and the tinkling of martini glasses at the Waldorf. 1934, 1984. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Lou Covey
    December 20th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    I think the issue is one of patience. Relationships never begin nor operate instantaneously, but we think, because we are so electronically connected that we should be able to build those relationships faster. It doesn’t work.

    Brian, you and I were crossing paths for years before we actually started talking to each other and learning to respect where we were each coming from. It actually all started at our first lunch at Viognier in San Mateo and it has grown steadily ever since. My relationship with every journalist has progressed with exactly the same speed as all the others, regardless of the technology.

    What the tech does now is provide a new venue for nurturing relationships we already have, not a venue for creating new relationships.

    Blogging, email and chat have helped me create new acquaintances but never create a relationship. That is still done face to face, and outside of fulfilling personal needs.

    What I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that if I need to make a connection with a new media journalist, I’m going to have to give something valuable to them without getting anything in return…at that particular moment. The give and take occurs later. If the PR and the New Media worlds are every going to line up, someone is going to have to learn that technology will never replace personal interaction.

  3. screaminglady
    December 21st, 2007 @ 11:07 am

    Lou has a good point. The heart of it, actually. Tech isn’t a venue for creating new relationships. Because he understands that a relationship isn’t a relationship without time, shared interest, authenticity, and that’s what makes him the master. You can’t put quotation marks around a relationship. Many of us see technology try to substitute for time, shared interest, and authenticity, especially if we have teenagers and especially if we work with communicators who just don’t get it. That word can have quotation marks around it. As a former, home-grown PR gal, I delighted in CompuServe because it removed a major hurdle to communicating with editors: intruding on deadlines. I also knew that I’d reach them, which the phone couldn’t promise. Whether they liked the pitch, well, that was up to me, my skill, and our relationship. But I was young and cocky, and I overshot the hoop. I began using email to insinuate into relationships a level of personal connection that wasn’t there. “Hey, whazup?” Some were ok with it because that’s how they wanted to relate. And the ones who weren’t, well, eventually my success in placing stories in their publications clued me in. From the nub of their careers, communicators must be mentored in the art of relationships so that their job is never about feeding facts through a keyboard. They need to identify with the search for meaning. Communicators aren’t communicators because they know something their client knows. It’s about knowing something that connects to a lot of things that form angles that create meaning. But even then, they are irrelevant without trust. Back to Lou’s point: personal interaction. In comm school, there should be internships in it. Pick an editor and spend a semester cultivating a relationship. Get evaluated by the editor at the end. And using Second Life gets you an F.

  4. Kerri
    December 23rd, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

    Not just olives. Three olives. At Leo’s.

    And no, relationships can’t be created in front of a computer. When I’m in front of a computer, I’m interacting with a computer, not a person. Unalloyed human contact is just different.

    Lou’s right, though. It’s nice that we have this tech to keep in touch — the computer interaction is better than none.

    I do miss you guys.

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    July 30th, 2008 @ 11:52 pm

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