In Saying Thank You, Marshall McLuhan Had It All Wrong

In Saying Thank You, Marshall McLuhan Had It All Wrong

Gary Slack | November 30, 2017

It’s not the thought or the “medium” that counts, it’s the words you use.

My good friend Ron Culp, who teaches in the PR/ad program at DePaul, had a brilliant idea a few days before the Thanksgiving vacation.

Having recently received only a smattering of formal thank-yous for a big favor he did for a group of students, he created a blog post for his much-followed “Culpwrit” blog platform titled, “Thank Your Way into a Job.”

Wanting other people’s experiences and knowing that I often like to be edgy, he invited me and another contact, Cynthia McCafferty of the Hawthorne Strategy Group, to contribute our thoughts.

Which we did. Cynthia’s comments were fantastic, and you can read the whole post here. Ron told me at an Economic Club of Chicago luncheon on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that the post had been seen by 4,000 people, one of his best-read ever.

I think I helped a bit, with some edginess in the following commentary:

“Millennials, in particular, really don’t know how to say thank you. Unless they think a trite verbal note of gratitude is enough, which it may well be in some cases,” said Gary Slack, CEO of b2b marketing agency Slack and Company. “Saying thank you in a meaningful, heartfelt way often never happens.”

The millennial reference, I learned later, irritated some of the millennials who work at my firm. The following note is for them: “Dear Millennials at Slack and Company: I think around half of all millennials, including my two millennial sons, are some of the finest human beings on the planet. The other half I can do without. All of you fall into the former camp. I wasn’t pinpointing or chastising any of you. I feel much better now and hope you all do, too.”

I went on to say in Ron’s post:

Personalized, handwritten notes that go beyond happy words and actually say something are the best way to show appreciation, Slack noted, although he added that “key-boarded missives” work well, too. “Email or Snapchat thank-yous may be enough for other millennials but not for boomers, although video voicemails would hit home for me and adequately substitute for the ‘massive’ logistical undertaking involved in writing and mailing a snail-mail note card.”

Actually, I feel that email thank-yous—even texts in some cases—are fine for many types of favors.

As Cynthia so aptly said in her remarks, in the end it’s really much more about the quality of the words or visuals in the thank-you than it is the quantity of words or the platform via which they’re conveyed.

I remember receiving a few years ago a canned thank-you note from a conference producer for my role on a panel at her event. I knew right away that she sent the exact same note, with the exact same words, to every panel and conference speaker.

That hollow experience led me to realize how hard and time-consuming it is to write meaningful thank-you notes that people appreciate, remember, put in a file and maybe even hold on to for the rest of their lives.

What she did wrong—and what I’ve done wrong plenty of times myself—was not to first reread a presenter’s deck or listen again to a recorded presentation, all to pull out a nugget or insight or two to show the speaker that someone (!) was paying attention.

Time to write, process, sign and mail a tailored note to 30 conference speakers = 30 minutes per note, or 15 hours total.

Time to write, process, sign and mail a canned thank-you note to 30 speakers = maybe an hour total.

Labor ratio = 15:1

Value to recipient = You are forever warmly remembered vs. forever disregarded and never forgotten.

As message-writers, few of us are experts at crafting personal letters—not just thank-you notes but lengthy missives of all kinds—the way our forebears used to do when a quill pen and ink were the tools available. Life is sped up for us, and we use electronic tools to develop and send much shorter—and much more frequent—messages.

As recipients, though, we yearn for more personalized messaging—again, on whatever platform is used. Messaging from someone who has really read and contemplated what we’ve written, really listened to and watched what we’ve performed—or that is just clever, witty and fun—is gold.

So the next time you get a thank-you message, it’s probably the actual words, written or recorded, that should inform your judgment of the one thanking or writing you—less so what instrument they used, whether it involved paper or ink, whether it was mailed or hand-delivered or sent by microwave, email, ESP, another dimension, Snapchat or Instagram.

I mentioned in my remarks in Ron’s post that I would be very comfortable with video voicemails. My good friend Jim Carey, who teaches at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, uses video voicemail, and I’m really motivated to try it. I have recently signed up for BombBomb—crazy name, but one of the leading platforms. Stay tuned!

Subscribe now