Some people just grab you. Last week at Cannes Lions I saw a talk by Brian Grazer, a Hollywood Producer who, every two weeks for the past 35 years, has sought out conversation with the world’s leading experts, which he’s collected in his book, ‘A Curious Mind’.
One of the things the talk reaffirmed was that brand experience can still learn a lot about building relationships by being mindful of the subtle dynamics of human interactions.
Brands that ask for too much, or have an obvious ulterior motive, are dismissed – just like people who share the same traits. But Garvis was strategic and thoughtful in every encounter he created. He would emphasise he wasn’t asking for anything, other than the meeting himself. He stressed that they could stay for as long or as little as they liked, never suggesting lunch because it might seem like too much of a commitment. He gave people gifts to create trust and engagement early on, and to show he cared – something he thought they’d like. And he researched the topic, so that he had a way into the conversation – making an effort his expert would appreciate.
He also has a very intuitive knack of finding the one thing that would make people open up – an ‘insight’, if you like – that created the richest and most rewarding exchange possible. How do you get Michael Jackson to shed his persona? Ask him to take off his gloves. ("He looked at me like no one had asked him anything before.")
Sitting opposite Princess Diana at a dinner, he wondered – ‘How do I make this moment matter?’ So he decided to flout the Royal rules of etiquette – and to use his stories of Hollywood to make her laugh and share a bowl of ice cream with him. (‘Her smile had such elasticity, you could feel her humanity.’)
And as Eminem stood up to leave after 40 minutes of refusing to talk, a final challenge – "Why don’t you animate?" – provoked the rapper to open up.
It’s an inspiring project and something we could probably all seek out more ourselves. Garvis said that every time he met someone, he was surprised, failing to anticipate their point-of-view. It broke him out of himself – deepening his powers of empathy, and enabling him to apply new perspectives to the work he created in his own world. Amen to that.
Lewis Robbins is senior associate strategist at Jack Morton Worldwide.
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