Think Business Cards are Dead? Think Again

By Philip Walzer
The Virginian-Pilot.

Call me Tyrannosaurus rex.

I text with my right index finger. I note meetings and lunch appointments on a pocket-size calendar, not my phone. I write daily to-do lists on scraps of paper. I carry a bunch of business cards wherever I go.

But wait. One of those practices really isn’t old-fashioned or impractical. Can you guess which one?

It’s the use of business cards. Stuart Resor, an architect in Suffolk who’s distributed them since the ’60s, compared the exchange of cards to “your first handshake with somebody.”

Resor, who works with his wife, interior designer Bonnie Resor, figured they go through about 500 a year. The cards have particularly come in handy since last summer, when the couple moved here from California and began building a professional base.

It’s not just old-timers like the Resors and me who believe in them. Jarrett Beeler is one of the cool young tech guys in downtown Norfolk. “For first connections, the business card is still very much the gold standard,” said Beeler, the 31-year-old owner of Sway Creative Labs.

“I can’t recall very many new business meetings, industry events or chance encounters with a potential client wherein the exchange of business cards didn’t happen,” he said.

As a reporter, I give my 2-by-3 1/2-inch cards to almost everyone I meet at meetings and all of the people I interview, even if I don’t expect to quote them in an article. For me, the practice serves at least two purposes: It confirms to the person that I’m legit. I really do work for the paper. And it initiates the two-step business dance, in which I collect the person’s card for future reference.

Sharon Greenspan, a holistic diet coach in Virginia Beach, leaves her cards at the Heritage Natural Market. “I’m sure people take one and intend to use it and they do end up in the trash,” Greenspan said. But she’s gotten calls from some folks several months after they’ve picked up her cards.

On her end, Greenspan neatly arrays the cards she gathers at workshops and social events in plastic pages kept in a three-ring binder. She never knows when she’ll need them. “I set up a one-on-one with someone who I met four years ago,” Greenspan said.

Her specialty involves the sense of taste, but another sense comes into play, Greenspan said, with the transfer of cards: “a sense of tactile interaction.”

For a different take, let me introduce Tom Antion, head of Antion & Associates, based at the Beach, which provides Internet marketing, speaking and other coaching services.

“The average person who just goes to work and comes home and goes to networking meetings and blah blah blah — yes, they need a business card,” Antion said last week. “But if you want to be special, that ain’t it.”

It’s not that Antion has sworn off business cards. They’ve just got to stand out. He used to have one with a mini-hologram. When you tilted it, Antion said, dollar signs spilled out of a computer.

Ilya Pozin, a former employee of Antion’s in Virginia Beach, is even more negative, deriding “the formal and mindless business card exchange” in a column in Inc. magazine last year. “I haven’t had any business cards for many years,” wrote Pozin, now an entrepreneur in L.A. “Instead, I make a point of asking new connections to email me.”

But I spoke with a self-confessed “big fan of new technology gadgets” who still believes in biz cards.

Shun Ye, an assistant professor of information systems and operations management at George Mason University, said he always carries a batch to business conferences. They can easily be translated technologically with CardMunch, the app from LinkedIn: Download it onto your phone, take a picture of a card, and the details will be added to your contact list.
But, Ye said, “you need to get the physical business card first.”

The cards themselves, which date at least to the 17th century by some accounts, have evolved with technology. Many feature QR codes, which can be translated by a mobile app, as well as email addresses, websites and Twitter and Facebook links. All good.

These days, “everyone wants two-sided” cards, said Dick Olenych, co-owner of Spectrum Printing in Virginia Beach, who reports no letup in orders. “The business card is turning into a mini-brochure.”

But Roze Worrell, a career coach, workplace consultant in Norfolk and fan of business cards, warned not to crowd them with too many words. Recipients might want to jot down notes.

If you print a colored card, keep it light for the same reason, advised Worrell, who also writes a column for WVEC-TV’s website. And use high-quality paper stock, but steer clear of embossed lettering. That also makes it tougher to write on.

At Sway Creative Labs, Beeler said, “all of our employees are given a boxful on day one.” Geico, one of Virginia Beach’s largest employers, provides cards to all of its 2,400 local employees. But few are personalized. They feature insurance information and a number to call for a quote, said Joe Thomas, the regional vice president. “We encourage associates to sell Geico,” he said.

Chad Cox, though, said personalized cards provide a big morale boost to workers.

“It gives them a sense of ownership,” said Cox, owner of 3 Waves Media, a graphic design firm in Virginia Beach. “Just to have 500 business cards with your name on it — it makes you feel it’s more than just a job.”

Still think business cards are dead? You should have been at the TED. No, not the arena at ODU. One of last year’s TED conferences in California, with the big thinkers and the short talks.

“At the tech-savvy confab of big ideas, I expected attendees to connect in more advanced ways,” Chip Cutter, an editor for LinkedIn, wrote in a post. “But at TED, the business card is king. People weren’t bumping their phones together to swap contact information; they were exchanging pieces of card stock.”

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