The traveling communicator.
On a recent business trip to San Francisco, Calif., it took only a few hours for Arnold Kishi, management analyst, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, to study a 10-page manuscript and supply the author with a list of editing recommendations. The manuscript's author was in Honolulu. With a laptop computer and electronic mail, Kishi was not hindered by distance.
While visiting Houston, Texas, Chris Bunting, ABC, chairman and CEO, Continental/Golin/Harris Communications, Inc., Toronto, Ont. hammered out a business proposal on his laptop computer. Then he used a facsimile machine in the hotel to send a copy to his office in Toronto, which then submitted the proposal on time.
David Kistle, senior vice president, Padilla Speer Beardsley Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., carries a portable electronic audience-response system when he goes on the road to conduct focus groups. Using the system, he quickly polls participants and shows them their responses within seconds. Results can be compiled, analyzed and depicted in graphs.
"There is a whole new definition for the office. Today, you can take your office with you," observed Kistle. "Whether you are in a hotel in Cleveland or at home over the weekend, you can get your work done as long as you have the right equipment."
Technology Changes the World of Work
The rapid proliferation of affordable, portable devices and related services makes it possible for public relations professionals to complete projects no matter where they are in the world. It is now possible to set up office during airline flights, car rides, airport layovers and hotel stays.
Key to this newfound mobility is the development of the laptop computer, which is increasingly light and versatile. Now laptop computers can do desktop publishing and spreadsheets.
The electronic organizer, or note pad, is another innovation often found in the traveling communicator's bag of tricks. As small as a pocket radio, this device can handle word processing and spreadsheet work, plus serve as calculator, clock, appointment calendar and address directory.
Printers and copiers are becoming more portable, enhancing the usefulness of laptop computers. Documents prepared on laptop computers can be transmitted by modem to home offices and clients. Portable, battery-operated facsimile machines are another means of transmitting projects.
Traveling communicators are also relying more on cellular telephones. While phone-users are driving, calls on special frequencies can be transmitted from one cell, or region, to another. As prices drop, usage will climb, experts predict. By the end of this year, an estimated 4 million people will own cellular phones worldwide.
Other items that are gaining in popularity are electronic audience-response systems and videocameras that produce computer images.
Success in setting up an office away from the office requires close planning, warn communicators who have learned through experience. Equipment and services must be selected with care. Before hitting the road, professionals must be fully versed in how the equipment operates and ready to troubleshoot any glitches. Before traveling abroad, communicators should find out about any customs restrictions and make sure their equipment will be compatible.
"When I travel with high technology equipment, it makes me more productive," reflected Kishi. "But I have to make sure that before I start, I am absolutely comfortable with the technology. If you wait until the last minute to learn how to use it, you are going to be less productive than you could be."
Using Laptop Computers
By carrying a briefcase-sized Zenith Supersport computer, Elizabeth Allan, ABC, senior vice president, IABC international headquarters, San Francisco, Calif., has cut back several time-consuming steps in her work on the road.
Responsible for keeping a written record of executive board meetings, executive committee meetings and chapter management forums, Allan used to take notes by hand. Later, she would dictate the notes, which would be transcribed by an office worker. Finally, she would have to edit the transcription.
Now, Allan takes her computer to meetings, punching her notes into the system. When she returns to her hotel room, she can clean up the copy, which is ready for release.
Another advantage of using the computer is that she can quickly find the exact wording of motions. When meeting participants want to amend motions, Allan can read them back and change them.
There is just one drawback - the sound of keys. When the clicking stops, participants know Allan is not taking notes. Sometimes they joke about how they are not saying anything important.
"I'm thinking of taking a tape recording with me of the clicking," laughed Allan.
Kistle often uses his Hewlett-Packard 110 laptop computer for composing and editing. He recalled how it made the difference in meeting a deadline during a recent business trip. While in a Cleveland, Ohio hotel, Kistle hammered out the project and transmitted the final version by his room phone to his St. Paul office.
The next day Kistle traveled to Atlanta, Ga. His office returned a revised version, which he corrected. He then used a facsimile machine in the hotel to send the edited version to his office, which then mailed the final product by overnight courier to the client in Des Moines, Iowa.
Electronic Response Systems Become Popular
When Kistle leaves his office to lead focus groups, he usually takes a 35-pound automatic response system, OptionFinder by Option Technologies Inc.
Here's how it works. The system includes key pads with 10 buttons. Group participants push the buttons to indicate their responses to questions. These responses feed into a Toshiba 1100 microcomputer.
Responses are tallied on the spot. The system can also plot graphs and charts for more detailed analysis of agreement and disagreement. Results and graphs can be displayed by overhead projector to the entire group. Although Kistle uses this equipment in groups of eight to 12 people, it can poll up to 280 participants.
"This technology allows us to zero in on where people agree and disagree so you don't spend time talking about what people agree on," Kistle said. "I've done strategic planning sessions with corporate boards where one or two people dominate the discussions. But with this system, everyone can see - and focus on - what the group considers important and unimportant."
Helen Little, an independent marketing consultant based in Menlo Park, Calif., working with IABC international headquarters, learned how to use an audience-response system in a day. She traveled to the Evansville, Ind. manufacturer, learned how to operate the system, and flew to Washington D.C. the next day for a presentation.
"I prepared my entire presentation on the road," recalled Little. "One suitcase was my response system; the other was my computer."
Using equipment during trips takes advance planning especially during international expeditions.
Preparing for airport security is often the first step. At most airports, security officials often require passengers to set up computers and demonstrate operations to show the equipment does not pose any risks. Travelers need to allow at least 15 minutes extra for the demonstration.
Before traveling overseas, communicators should check on custom requirements with the host countries' consulates. Although prohibitions are beginning to disappear even in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, many nations still require visitors to register all equipment with authorities before entering. Customs authorities then check this information when travelers leave as part of the effort to control the illegal flow of goods across borders. Those who have not registered may face steep duties before their departure.
When planning to use plug-in equipment, travelers should inquire at consulates about power systems. If countries have different electric currents, it is wise to obtain adapters in advance.
Moreover, checking on equipment compatibility is critical, said Bunting.
Bunting learned this lesson from experience. During a trip to Australia, he discovered - the night before a presentation - the country uses a different video format than VHS and Beta, which are universal in North America. His tape, the centerpiece of the presentation, was filled with snow and the audio sounded as if it was on fast forward.
Luckily, Bunting tracked down a business that could transfer his cassette overnight. Now, before trips, he finds out about video systems and gets his tapes transferred locally or sends them ahead for reformatting.
Checking Ahead on Resources
Many traveling communicators not only rely on portable equipment; they also depend on resources in their hotels and airports. "Working on the road requires extra organization," warned Little. "You simply cannot lug along everything you think you need because you will just get bogged down. You have to think ahead and figure out how you are going to get things done."
Many major hotels have business centers with facsimile machines and copiers. But travelers must be willing to pay the price. Although quality is good, fees often exceed the prices of competitors.
A gradual transition in the airline centers for traveling entrepreneurs is occurring. Once a quiet haven for relaxation, these centers are fully equipped for business. Their conference rooms are excellent locations for arranging meetings with traveling professionals who have limited time in town.
The United Airlines Red Carpet Club, for instance, offers centers at 17 domestic and nine international airports that have telephones, desks, personal computers and facsimile machines. The club also offers conference rooms that can be reserved in advanced. More than 100,000 fliers are members, at a cost of US $200 for the first year and $100 in subsequent years.
"We have had Red Carpet Clubs for more than 20 years, which were originally designed to give people a place to relax and meet other people," said Joe Hopkins, United's media relations manager. "Although the bars and lounge areas are still popular, we added the business facilities because of the demand from our members."
The 24-Hour Communicator
Perhaps the major drawback to the new technology is that it makes relaxation more difficult on the road. When communicators have the ability to punch out press releases in the airplane, meet with clients at the airport and review proposals in the hotel room at night, not much time is left for rest.
"You are always asking yourself whether you should keep on working. The laptop computer is always right there with you," reflected Allan.
"Traveling in itself can be tiring and stressful. You have to deal with all the logistics of travel. Your meals usually have something to do with business. You have longer days. Somehow we have to remember there must be a balance."
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article on available technology; portable devices which allow public relations professionals to complete projects away from the office|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1990|
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