What Not To Wear
When "casual Fridays" were becoming a popular concept, I was starting my career at Sunset magazine in the Bay Area, where editorial, creative, production, ad sales, custom publishing, gardening and cooking folk all rubbed elbows under one roof. It was a fantastic mix. Our first trip down the path of casual Fridays went awry. All kinds of stuff cropped up and was deemed inappropriate -- from skirt length, to arms-baring, to level of fringe on very short jeans cut-offs. We were all over the place.
Our brilliant publisher was a diplomat and kept the playing field level; she hosted a fashion show during lunch one Friday, showcasing dos and don'ts. It became very clear what not to wear. If only the fashion show could extend to guidance on all the other stuff we "wear" to business settings of all kinds, all the subtle or intangible things we trot in as though totally appropriate.
The Job Interview
This setting has always been about the right balance of confidence, self-identification and delivering oneself as the solution to the charge at hand. Yes, that can be a delicate delivery, especially for those early in their careers, with only so many reference points. Flashing back on interviews past: It stands to reason that we should not bring muddy work boots, our own coffee, too much cleavage or social banter. Also, more generally: most people would say it's best not to talk too much about college unless we just left it and can reference very specific, relevant experience. Nor should we rant about our most recent corporate departure and being wronged. Nor should we bring all our "I"s and "me"s --- lest we be tagged with the pronoun problem. That pronoun problem is, forgetting that you have been part of teams, and that you are there potentially to join a new team. Presenting oneself as solo agent with no regard for context does not impart as much confidence as one might think.
Internal Team Meetings
The best stuff to bring is, of course, a combination of an actual agenda and respect for each other's time. This amounts to not focusing too much on the lunch delivery, not bringing more people than are necessary (30 people to a brainstorm?) and having a game plan for where you want to be at the end of the meeting.
The Agency & Media Publisher Sales Call
Personally, I regard these meetings as necessarily mutual. While some among us may regard the game as being about the seller prostrating himself to the "buyer" -- that perspective is more counterproductive than I have room in this short musing to cover. We are all in this together. So...
Agency folk, after of course taking the contact's call, politely returning or delegating it to someone on your team who will (your personal brand is impacted by whether or not you're a respectful citizen), tell the visitor in advance how much time is allotted.
Visitor: understand how much time is allotted and tailor your presentation accordingly. Don't make your host be the bad guy on the clock. If you've been told you've got a half an hour, that's what you've got. Bring real knowledge of the agency's client base and agency position.
Agencies, you'll save a heck of a lot of time, if you know who you're meeting and why, and the scope of their offering. And, just as the person calling should not inundate you with too much food, coffee boxes and long lunches dominating your conference room, neither should you bring five people to lunch who are not on the reservation, if you are going to a local restaurant. Also, generally speaking, if the meeting is between a seller new to the agency and the agency is a small boutique, it should be understood that the client base is the agency's lifeblood and those relationships are everything. Thus, bringing too much social, too early, in the engagement may feel like a waste of time to the agency -- who, no matter how much he or she loves the sunny Brasserie lunch, really just wants to look you in the eye and get down to business.
In addition to these kinds of meetings, there will be client, partner, VC and board meetings in any given month. On the lighter side, quite literally, know what not to wear: micro-minis, shabby suits, horribly chipped nails, bad shoes that you can't walk in, flip-flops and a 3-piece suit to a 5-star lunch. Yet the more intangible "don'ts" bring even higher stakes. Leave your time-wasting habits, I/me, past bad-relationship baggage and overboard/under-prepared lunch at home, when there are real connections to be made and business to be done.