My friend, Target speechwriter Christopher Truscott, posted this 1990 United Airlines commercial a little while back, said it was “probably my favorite commercial of all time. You can still almost smell the crappy coffee (and probably cigarettes) in that office.”
I also liked that commercial when it came out, partly because my adman dad liked it. And I like it now because I can see Dad looking over his newspaper in his armchair, retired, and nodding, “That’s a pretty good ad.” Grudgingly, because he wished he’d written it himself.
I also like it now because it recalls more than just crappy office coffee. It celebrates humanity, and the importance of real connections essential to making any enterprise go—any economy go—over any kind of long haul.
I was talking yesterday with my pal and communication co-philosopher Sharon McIntosh, about how working in Zoom world severely separates us from those human connections; all her clients are desperate to get back to work in the office. But how it also deepens the characters we work with, as we see each other at home, complete with pets and crazy kids and messes in the background. No one is just “the asshole in accounting,” or the “marplot in marketing,” anymore. And no one is a God, either. The legendary PSA speechwriting instructor Mike Long has a dog, who coughed something up during his session yesterday, and Mike said so. I unmuted myself to interject, “How authentic!”
Whatever works. Especially now, we must all take max advantage of the medium we’re dealt. By asking that question you think might be a little too personal. What’s on the table behind you? Sounds like the kids are pretty wound up today! Err on the side of intimacy. Go ahead and say it: “You look a little tired this morning. Everything all right?”
I’m always asking speechwriters and other communication execs on business calls if they’re finding time for themselves most days, or taking vacations. I ask myself why I do this. I do it because I think I might be the only person in their professional life pushing them in that direction. I do it because it’s an indirect way to say, “I care about you.” And I do it because when they tell me about their vacation, I get to know them more personally, without the ability to take one of those United flights and take them out for drinks and dinner, which is what I really want to do.
I also accept pretty much every Zoom happy hour invitation I receive from my professional connections, and I don’t mind sitting on a PSA “Speechwriters Speakeasy” happy hour call in mid-August when there are only four or five folks on, even though you’d think there are more efficient ways to spend my time. There aren’t.
It’s a damned poor substitute, this connecting by Zooming around. But it’s better than no substitute at all. And if we’re going to hold our companies and our customers together (let alone our families and communities)—we each had better squeeze every last possibility of connection out of it that we can for another year or more, when, as Woody Guthrie sang 75 years ago—the last time so many of us were so long physically estranged—we’ll get back together again.
And meanwhile, don’t worry too much: We’ll take remember the essence of each other, just as clearly as I imagine my old man, 30 years ago, in the same old armchair where I read my paper today.