With the recent passing of several industry veterans and friends, I started to reflect upon my generation of meeting industry leaders. The one thing we all have in common is that during our time in the industry, professional relationships really mattered. I’m not saying that current leaders are not relationship oriented, but I can say with complete confidence that with my generation, the relationship was a primary catalyst for getting things done.
Those relationships were how great industry partnerships and alliances were built. They were the currency for influence. These relationships were not subject to any ROI formulas or quid pro quo analysis. They were based on trust and a legacy of successful results. It was through the power of these relationships and references that people got hired, promoted, fired, or demoted. Individuals who mined those relationships successfully through strong personal branding didn’t need to apply for jobs; they were offered positions—sometimes positions created specifically for the value they brought to the hiring organization.
Good and bad—relationships mattered. Now, whenever industry professionals seek funding for various sponsorships and partnerships, everything must pass a ROI formula before it gets approved. It no longer seems to matter how powerful the partner, individual, association, or media publication may be; if it doesn’t pass the ROI test, it doesn’t get funded and business partnerships don’t happen.
Maybe I’m too nostalgic or glossing over some of the cons of the relationship era, but as more of my peers and colleagues depart for well-deserved retirements or from natural causes, they are leaving a legacy that built this industry and strengthened its foundation. I truly hope the current generation of industry professionals respect and honor the shoulders they stand upon. I am in awe of what was accomplished in my generation, and I look forward to what the next generation will do. Who knows, maybe the bean counters will come to realize the power of relationships even if the ROI is difficult to quantify.
Three reasons why I believe relationships still matter:
1. Relationships are built on your personal brand integrity. Your brand is your most valuable business asset. It’s something you carry with you for your entire career, irrespective of what company you work for.
2. When buyers are making a final decision among preferred suppliers, the final decision (if all things are relatively equal) tends to be affected by the relationship or lack thereof. When I was a buyer, I often relied on the value of the relationship to make key supplier decisions. I also paid attention to the brand and reputation of the sales individuals I worked with, and in more cases that I can remember, these ended up being deciding factors.
3. At the end of the day, your legacy is comprised of the relationships you’ve built. It’s the long-lasting impact of those relationships that speaks volumes about the quality of your life and career. You can buy great public relations, but your legacy will be a direct reflection of your lifelong connections and your personal brand. These are your most valuable assets, so protect, develop, and guard them well.