Dos and don'ts of chemistry meetings

You suss each other out online. Maybe you have a coy call or two. Then you get together and show off your best side while working out whether the other party would embarrass you in front of your mum. If it wasn't in a business setting, a 'chemistry meeting' would be called what everyone knows it really is: a first date.

Don’t cram too many chemistry meetings into a single day, argues Alex Black
Don’t cram too many chemistry meetings into a single day, argues Alex Black
And like a first date, there’s a chance either – or both – sides will start to make their excuses after the first drink. But there’s also the tantalising possibility they may hit it off and end up living happily ever after. 

That’s why dates – and chemistry meetings – are important.

But there are rules to be followed, and if you flout them, you run the risk of ending the night heading in completely different directions, vowing your paths will never cross again. 

So here’s the rules for in-house teams (with some for agencies too).

1. Don’t cram too many chemistry meetings into a single day. Agency number seven in the 4pm slot could be made up of the Dalai Lama, Mary Berry, Nelson Mandela and a lovely fluffy kitten, but chances are you’d rather set fire to your leg rather than listen to their creds

2. Got a complex set of stakeholder challenges that have been undermining your reputation for the last couple of years? Chances are someone else isn’t going to solve them either if they’ve never met you before. Save it for the pitch

3. If you’re not specific about what you are expecting, don’t grumble if you get something else. Introductions, relevant work from the agency, some context from the in-house team and a couple of broad discussion areas to see how both sides approach a topic should be more than enough in an hour
4. Help everyone by setting a limit to the number of slides an agency can present (10-15, ideally)

5. Budgets? Timescales? Next steps? A vague answer to these questions is the business equivalent of giving your phone number as 01234 567 8910

6. Agencies – rightly – get slammed if they field a pitch team. In-house teams have a responsibility too. If you’re trying to suss out whether you could work with an agency, only send in the people who would actually be working with them

7. The best agencies work as partners, not servants. Metaphorically putting your feet on the desk and saying "impress me" is the best way to end up going home alone

8. If one side – and it could be either, hence the rule about agency slides – talks too much about themselves there’s not going to much in the way of "chemistry" going on

9. Ask tough questions, but make them more, "what do you think about…?" rather than "what’s the name of…?". This isn’t Mastermind. You’ll just look smug if you ask a closed question to which most people in the room won’t know the answer 

10. Manners. Everyone has an obligation to make sure they shake everyone else’s hand. Whoever hosts makes sure there’s enough tea, coffee and water to go around. Both sides put their phones, tablets and laptops down and listen to what the other side is saying. Afterwards, somebody from each side thanks the other for their time

Follow these simple rules and you stand the best chance of getting lucky.

Alex Black is consultant director at Launch PR

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