So, let’s get this out of the way right up front. This is not an impartial, detached analysis of the value of road trips in the marketing business. I absolutely love them. Not a little bit. A lot. Especially in the spring, summer and fall. During an upper Midwest winter, maybe not so much.
In my opinion, our clients conduct their business in some of the prettiest locations in the United States. Yes, I’m partial to farm country and small towns.
If you have the opportunity to drive (yes, opportunity—I hate flying), you have the chance to detach from the daily routine, observe the countryside, watch for unexpected photo opportunities and, in my case, eat food that can significantly shorten your life expectancy (Yes, officer, that is a giant tub of cheese balls). I rely on GPS, but I still carry my Rand McNally Atlas—brand new 2017 edition.
But enough about the personal benefits. What do road trips deliver from a writer’s—and a company’s—perspective?
To me, there’s value in getting my face in front of our clients. It shows we care enough to stop in. It lets me see the country they cover, meet them and the people they work with, see what’s changing in their part of the world…and what’s just the same as the last time.
Sure, you can talk about growing conditions and new employees over the phone. But there’s something about face-to-face contact that tends to bring out the best in people. That’s how you uncover the little nuggets of personal information that take a story from average to exceptionally readable.
Where stories are born
I recently had the opportunity to make my annual visit to a client in Montana. Although I flew there (that’s another story, and another reason I hate to fly), I did get to tool around some of the most gorgeous country on earth for several days.
On these trips, I’m constantly impressed with how friendly and courteous our clients are—and how knowledgeable. They know their stuff, and really appreciate it when you show a genuine interest and do a decent job of communicating their message. In time, you can become a little like a member of the staff.
Then there are the stories. Like the retiring location manager I visited on my Montana junket. Though he was a Montana native and had been working at the cooperative for 20 years, there was a lot more to his story. He’d been stationed in the Mediterranean while serving in the Navy, built sailboats in California, worked as a commercial crab fisherman in Alaska, and was planning to spend his retirement years mining gold in the Sierra Nevadas.
Would I have gotten all that over the phone? Maybe. But having the chance to sit down with him in the place he’d worked for two decades just might have added something to the narrative. I know it did for me.
Life is basically a collection of stories. We all have our own. Organizations have theirs, too. None of these stories take place in a vacuum, but in the context of an environment and a community. Visiting those places helps us to understand and communicate those stories more completely and accurately. And it’s stories—not words—that capture peoples’ attention.
So, here’s to the wondrous inefficiencies of the road trip, and the chance it offers to place ourselves into the context of the stories we’re writing.