It’s been a week since Mike DePauw, executive director of Minneapolis digital agency KC Truth, took his first work trip in over a year – and when he had worried about the approaching meetings at social distancing, nudging and the general awkwardness of returning. to interactions in the flesh, it quickly became clear that he and everyone else was more than ready to get to work.

“While the last year has taught us that we can work virtually, this trip reminded me of the importance of face-to-face meetings, especially for bonding and building trust with our clients,” said said DePauw, whose firm has worked for clients. like Transamerica and 3M. “My calendar is now open, clear, and ready to be booked for in-person meetings. ”

If there was any doubt Americans would be ready to hit the road again, they were wiped out over Memorial Day weekend, when the Transport Security Association checked over 7 million people – the busiest time for airlines since the pandemic. Likewise, businessmen are also taking off, among them marketing professionals who have been waiting for the moment to resume meetings with customers, prospects and their own collaborators from city to city.

A recent survey by the Association of National Advertisers found that 77% of vaccinated traders said they would be willing to travel to the country for personal or business reasons, up from 23% surveyed in February. The study also found that a growing number of companies now allow business travel for executives.

Jacqui Gifford, editor-in-chief of Meredith Corp’s Travel and Leisure, said other signs point to the return of business travel, including rising prices for hotel rooms and air tickets and hotels booked for everything from small meetings to large conventions (Gifford attends one in Las Vegas in August). Business travel is more comfortable today than it was just a few months ago, she said. “Is this going to look exactly like 2019?” Probably not, “she added.” But things are changing so fast. “

Besides DePauw, Andy Nathan, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colorado-based creative agency Fortnight Collective, visited Santa Monica, Calif., Last week – his first trip since last February. “Summer is back, travel is back, openness is back, marketing campaigns targeting the intrepid traveler are back, all very importantly,” said Nathan, whose clients include Patagonia and Yo! Sushi.

Jessica Hong, head of content at world creation store Stink Studios, who worked for Google and Peloton, said the difference between traveling now and a trip she took to California for a shoot in December – a memorable flight to a lack of food, tiny sips of water under two masks and being rushed by every passenger cough and sneeze – is striking. Now, six weeks after her second Moderna shot, and she’s back on a plane for another production, wearing a single mask, drinking water at “normal human intervals” and catching up with her colleagues on Slack with coworkers thanks to pretty decent WiFi on planes. “I don’t know if this is normal, but it feels good,” she said.

This is not to say that there is still no mistrust on the part of some traders. “Our teams feel the same about resuming business travel as resuming work in person, a little anxiety but also pragmatism born of the pandemic,” said Eric Moore, CEO of IPG’s Elephant, with customers including Kia and Beats.

The high levels of productivity during the pandemic made the agency’s leadership, like that of so many other companies, question whether the trips it had previously suffered were, in any case, critical for the business. . Moore recalled that prior to last March, he made regular trips between the company’s U.S. offices, creating an imbalance in his life and an outsized carbon footprint to boot. “The pandemic has taught us that the conventional way of doing business is broken, including travel, and out of balance,” he said. The agency’s approach to business travel will now be “very discriminating”, he said, and voluntary. “At a fundamental level, we thrive on human interaction, we are not robots, but we don’t need to use travel as a crutch for lack of focus, individual rigor and hard work.” , did he declare. “Getting the right balance will be the key. “

Cost is, of course, another factor as bosses and customers contemplate getting back on the road. Barry Lowenthal, CEO of The Media Kitchen, a division of the Forsman & Bodenfors collective and a member of MDC Partners who has worked for Vanguard and Loews Hotels, said if technology has shown everyone that there is a way to stay connected even when we’re confined to home, it also demonstrated how important doing business in person is – when it’s needed. “Just think about how much clients and agencies will save on travel and expenses, which I’m sure will result in more competitive rates,” he said, adding, “I imagine that travel budgets will be a negotiation of fees in 2021-2022. “

Howie Kleinberg, president of New York content marketing agency Glow, whose clients include Showtime and TBS, said a rebalancing of business travel is overdue. “In the old way of doing things, we would jump on a plane all the time, fly across the country, and burn for a few days on dates with clients in LA. But it comes at a cost. Not only does saying yes to every business trip burn productivity and take hours away from the creative product, it also takes employees away from their personal lives and families. Today we have a new responsibility to create the future the way we want to work.

“Going forward, I can see why it doesn’t make sense to travel for every little occasion, both for environmental and practical reasons,” said Sander Volten, Amsterdam-based global CEO of 180, who created campaigns for Sony’s PlayStation and Lululemon. . “However, I continue to believe that there is incredible value in meeting a client, colleague or potential partner in person. This creates bonds that translate into closer collaboration and ultimately more positive results. ”

Steve Miller, Executive Creative Director, Vice President and Partner at FUSE Create in Toronto, whose clients include CIBC and Ricola, added, “When you have clients outside of your own backyard, time face-to-face, meeting and welcoming and the ability to build and strengthen the relationship in person far outweighs the inability [to do so] via Zoom. And with the right health precautions – masks, hand washing, vaccinations – I think the client’s time and conversation is important enough to start traveling again. “

Steve O’Connell, partner and co-creative director at Philadelphia-based Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners, whose clients include Under Armor and Planet Fitness, said he has tons of travel on the books. “Even though we have all lived in fear for so long, it will take some time to get rid of the feeling that we are doing something that we should not be doing,” he said. This caution – or paranoia, depending on one’s perspective – will remain a defining feature of agency shoots, he predicted, noting that during a recent shoot, he had to pass three COVID-19 tests in 48 hours.

“I am sure that kind of security measures will stay with us for a while,” he said. “But given the past 14 months, I have no complaints. Bring the nasal swabs.

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