There is a difference between bribery and corporate hospitality

Last week my lead agency kindly took one of my team and me out for dinner and a show. It was very pleasant, and much good wine was quaffed, splendid food consumed… and Nurofen swallowed the following day.

Secret Marketer

But it wasn’t all booze and posh nosh. Over the course of the evening, I had quite an intense discussion with the managing director of the agency about our business relationship. As is often the way in many agency/client engagements, our respective teams are in continual dialogue but the respective heads of those businesses rarely get time together – certainly not to discuss wider strategic issues. And relaxing over a glass of something does let you be more open than perhaps you might be in the constraints of an office environment.

In our business, we have a hospitality register, so first thing the following morning I had to enter the details of my evening – where we had gone, how much I perceived it to have cost, and my business rationale for accepting such generosity. I had no problems filling it in but I suspected that someone somewhere in my organisation would look at the entry with disdain, not least because it isn’t the first piece of hospitality I’ve enjoyed in the past 12 months.

If someone were to deride this behaviour, they’d be wrong to because business relationships require an emotional and sometimes intangible input to make them work. To rely solely on functional engagement, where business is the only conversation and the agenda is carefully managed, can only lead to shallow relationships. There are few industries where your entire business can be conducted through a pre-determined contract – situations often crop up where you need someone to go a little bit further, to think a little bit differently or generally respond to an emotional trigger in a situation.

Bribery and corruption legislation is there for good reason but people need to understand the difference between that and corporate hospitality. The latter has a critical role to play in industry, and is something that I strongly support – or at least as long as I’m invited.

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