There’s absolutely no doubt that technology has changed pretty much every facet of how we do business. Specifically, in the universe of advertising, it’s certainly challenged brands to think differently, and thus put more pressure on agencies to stay on top of new channels that best intersect their client’s customer base.

But one way technology has changed the workplace that I think sometimes gets overlooked is relationships – relationships with clients, bosses, even coworkers. Heck, we all know how technology has changed how we deal with family, friends, neighbors, classmates, but the role it plays in professional relationships shouldn’t be forgotten. I know I’m dating myself a bit here, but it’s crazy to me that some on our agency team literally don’t know what it’s like to work in an office without email.

Today, so many in the workplace favor using emails (or even texts!) rather than simply picking up the phone or walking into the office next door to have a live chat. To some, I may sound old-fashioned, but at the end of the day, whether it’s 10 years from now or 100, relationships with people trump all else … even the latest and greatest electronic device that becomes glued to our hands.

30 years ago – with the guidance of Chicago advertising firm Leo Burnett – United Airlines unveiled what in my opinion, was one hell of a TV spot.  Here’s the premise: Company gets fired by a longstanding and highly valued client. Company recommits itself to building and cherishing relationships by flying its sales people to customers in more than 200 cities. Company’s manager makes it known that the last ticket is his, used to visit that old friend who fired them that morning.  

An article written by Thomas Lee said it best when stating his case as to why the United spot is a timeless classic. “This TV commercial isn’t necessarily the cutest or the funniest.  It isn’t necessarily titillating or provocative.  It doesn’t necessarily have terrific cinematic or artistic qualities. It didn’t necessarily run during a Super Bowl.  It’s the best TV commercial ever simply because it makes its point so well.  As proof of that, just about any American old enough to remember it can, almost 25 years after it first aired.  And it’s the best TV commercial ever because it hammers home a business case for the service it is selling, which, for our purposes, just so happens to reinforce important insights of value to any manager or leader.  Even today, you occasionally hear people citing that TV commercial in business discussions.  Nothing rivals face-to-face human contact, they’ll say, and they’ll be right.”

Was it the best?  I don’t know … I think it certainly was a home run, and the message still rings true some 30 years later. But what I love about the spot is that it’s one of those genuine opportunities that forces me to pause and really think about the importance of people and the relationships we forge. While the world of advertising continues to evolve, one steady that should never be forgotten is the importance of staying connected with people. At our agency, we prefer the words “partnerships” and “relationships” over the word “client.”  Yes, we understand we have clients … but we also understand relationships are what keeps clients, wins new business and ultimately brings success to everyone.

Most recently, our agency got onto a plane and headed to the West coast for a new business pitch. While we hope we win the business (decision not in yet – keeping our fingers crossed), one thing is for certain, standing there, face-to-face and shaking hands, with a potential new partner was the only way to start figuring out whether the foundation for a healthy relationship exists – can’t really get a sense for that when submitting an RFP, exchanging emails … or sometimes even when chatting over the phone. You have to feel, see and experience it live from the best seat in the house. And guess what, this holds true not just for that partner across the country … but also the one across town too. Often, I’m reminded that the next time I feel the need to push send, maybe it would be best to grab coffee, lunch or drinks instead to relay that project update. I know I’ll gain far more connecting in person than relying on my keyboard. Handshakes, facial expressions, live back and forth dialogue are what brings heart and soul to a growing relationship. Think about it, this lesson is true throughout life, not just in the business world. Friendships, marriages, even leaders of nations … whatever … the world is by and large a better place when we come together and meet.

Speaking of which, let’s get back to the United spot.  Sure, you can tell it’s 30 years old … sure there are mentions of outdated words like “fax” … but make no mistake, this commercial delivers one hell of a message that stands the test of time. Watch it and learn. It may just remind you of – or better yet encourage you to see in person – an old friend, family member, colleague … or a client who fired you perhaps many years ago.