The Power Of Face-To-Face Communications

When considering communications strategy, most people think of television, radio, publications, and the Internet — this even though research has long found that face-to-face communications is often, perhaps always, the most effective.

When targeting elites, we at WHWG are big fans of policy dinners.  We gather between 10 and thirty of the kind of people our client wants to reach.  They may be D.C.-based journalists, or part of the Washington policy world (usually not current office holders but people office holders consult), or industry elites around the country (high tech or financial leaders for example), or even policy and political leaders in London or Brussels.  We hold the dinners at private clubs or fashionable homes or in the private dining areas of first-class restaurants.  We attract guests with a featured speaker (usually the client’s CEO or a globally acknowledged expert on the issue we want our guests to think about).  At least one member of the client’s staff is present, too.

As a dinner begins, the speaker presents 10 to twenty minutes of reflections on the issue at hand.  An open discussion follows.  One of our members is present to insure that the discussion moves smoothly and from time to time to offer observations.

The result: by evening’s end, a highly targeted audience has received in-depth exposure to a question of intense interest to our client.  They have participated in a sophisticated discussion informed by the client’s perspective, and at least some guests and the client have begun to develop personal relationships.

How effective are these dinners?  One prominent organization has made them an anchor of their communications with Washington.

What are the downsides?  Knowledgeable people must assemble the guest list.  The setting must be appropriate to the seriousness of the discussion.  The speaker must be properly briefed about the purpose of the evening.  The moderator must keep the discussion sufficiently focused to put across the client’s message… but sufficiently open that the debate and exchange of views are genuine.

Do it wrong and you’ve wasted time, money, and the good will of your guests.  Do it right and you will find no more powerful vehicle for communicating sophisticated thoughts to sophisticated and influential people.

Clark Judge As Managing Director of the White House Writers Group, Clark Judge provides strategic communications counsel to clients in industries ranging from financial services to transportation to high technology.

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