Whatever the progress of technology, real people still trump robot meetings

By Russell Davies, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:00AM

I was once asked to run a training session on international planning. I got the wrong end of the stick and, instead of banging on about multinational brands, cross-cultural synergies and harmonising global toolkits, I decided to focus on techniques for mitigating jet lag and combating airport ennui.

Whatever the progress of technology, real people still trump robot meetings

How do you stay awake in your fifth focus group in five nights in five time zones? Where do you plug in your laptop in US hub airports? Is it better to get on a plane and sell a strategy with no sleep or try to do it via a conference call that doesn’t work? These are the real ninja skills of the international ad community.

And, I suspect, technology’s not going to solve these problems soon. The world is just too big, time zones are undefeatable, our circadian rhythms are buried too deep and too tied to the sun. I once visited a smart Central London facility and sat in a meeting via deeply immersive technology: screens all around us, matching rooms at either end of the call – even similar biscuits. It was incredibly convincing. And, then, we found out later, the actual decisions got made just after the meeting, in the corridor outside the matching facility on the other side of the world. Sometimes you just have to be there.

The world is just too big, time zones are undefeatable, our circadian rhythms are too tied to the sun

Nowadays, people are trying to throw robots at this problem. There are systems you can buy with cameras and speakers mounted on tall, spooky robots so, at the conclusion of a meeting, the telepresent person could pursue their pitch quarry into the all-important corridor. You can imagine the glee that various monomaniacal global agency bosses could get out of such machines – instantly deploying their presence to any point in the network and sneaking up to people’s desks. They will, of course, be defeated by the actual people on the ground, who will probably just lock them – accidentally – in a cupboard.

So, to those of you attending Cannes, many of you citizens of airports rather than cities, staring at the world through bloodshot eyes and babbling in Global PowerPoint English – we salute you. You keep our business going. Now, try to get some sleep.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service

@undermanager

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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