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Etiquette: What's Right Or Wrong?
Emails, Face-To-Face, Promotions ...

By Debbie Irwin
Voice Actor

In my many years of conducting business online, I've frequently wondered about etiquette issues. 
For example, when someone sends me an email I often begin my reply with my answer - seems obvious enough, right?
But only after I've reached the end of the message and I review it does it occur to me that perhaps I should include a "Dear So and So," because without it the opening seems a little abrupt due to the written format.
Emails however, often feel like conversations in which replies don't begin with a salutation. But since they look like letters, they feel incomplete without one.
Then there's the sign-off - simple enough if you don't know the person. "Sincerely, Regards or Kind Regards," or if you know them very well "Love and Kisses!"
But what about the situation where you've been working with someone and have begun to develop a warm and personal connection?
Oh how I've obsessed about this. Sometimes "Warm regards, Debbie" or "Best, Debbie" just isn't enough. "Fondly, Debbie" just doesn't land right either.
Sometimes I want to communicate more - but not too much to be considered inappropriate.
In Spanish, the term Abrazos means Hugs, and I've seen this sign off.

It feels right to me in Spanish, but somehow I can't see writing it to a business colleague, even though when I see him/her we often do hug on our hellos and goodbyes.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
On the face-to-face front, I recently had an experience where I was meeting a new client, a sound studio, who hired me to record a project for them.
Because I was able to make the long-ish trip to their studio, I offered to come to them instead of conducting the session remotely.
Everything went swimmingly before and during the session.
Towards the end of the session I brought out my "happy happies" - little gifts I give away as mementos, along with my demo and business card - to the various people who were there - the studio manager, the audio engineer, the ad agency folks, everyone who was present.
They thanked me, we continued to chat warmly and I left.
The next day I received an email from the manager saying that I had overstepped my boundaries as a sub-contractor, in handing out my business card, etc., and thereby selling my services to their clients.
It hadn't occurred to me that it would be perceived that way. 
I've always left at least my card behind so that people knew who they were working with and, yes, could get in touch with me in the future or recommend me to others.
But the assumption from the studio is that I would be taking business away from them if I developed a relationship with their clients (the ad agency, etc.).
I thought long and hard about the scenario to try and see it from all sides, and I can understand how they would think that.
My personal philosophy is to be honorable to the chains of command that bring me work.
In other words, if the ad agency wanted to hire me again for this project, of course I would insist that we record through the studio that connected us in the first place.
The question that remains is: What about work for a different job?
What if that ad agency works with a different studio? Should I be deprived of being hired for a project under those circumstances?
Our business is very fluid these days, much more so than ever before.
Once you book a project through an agent and meet the people who have hired you, they can either try to hire you directly or go back through the agent.
I always ask them to go back through the agent - unless there is new or different work,  since I am a freelancer and not signed to one agent exclusively.
Everybody up and down the food chain uses many different vendors. Casting directors contact multiple agents to find talent; agents contact scores of talent to audition; talent work with lots of different agents and casting directors to find work.
Ad agencies and marketing firms hire different production studios even when working on different projects for the same client.
Clients (the entity for whom the production is ultimately being done), hire different ad agencies/marketing firms/casting directors/production studios/agents/talent to get the job done.
It's a bowl of spaghetti.

Many years ago, before the onset of the Internet and the explosion of non-union talent, the work flow chart was probably a lot easier to follow.
It's a whole new world out there and these questions of etiquette are worth discussing.
I look forward to your insights in COMMENTS below.


Debbie Irwin got her start in voice overs nearly a decade ago when she found a new outlet for an old passion: acting. She took her stage skills and transformed them into studio skills. Today her work encompasses commercials, eLearning, corporate videos, Internet audio, audiobooks, audio tours, medical narrations, product demos, video game narrations and telephone messaging - sometimes in Spanish and Italian. She has traveled the world from her recording booth in NYC, voicing projects for major corporations and organizations. She is also the voice of the Statue Of Liberty, and voiced the Telly Award-winning video for the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC), now called The Segerstrom Center for the Arts. She's worked on Wall Street, at the Guggenheim Museum and has raised three kids with her husband in NYC.


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Comments (11)
Debbie Irwin
11/12/2011 at 1:19 AM
Dear BP, Earl, Bettye, Jane, Michael, Marty, Roy and Ken;

This conversation is so interesting - thank you all for adding new insights.

The only thing we're missing is a glass of wine, a comfortable couch and a fireplace with which we can enjoy the discourse together!
11/12/2011 at 12:09 AM
For jobs arranged by an agent, I never hand out my personal business card at the session. (If anyone there other than the original agent wants to contact me later, it's easy enough to be found on the web.)

I also hold off on gift-giving until I have a long-established relationship with a client, and even then the gift is usually a gift-wrapped package of bite-size gourmet cakes or something similar that can be shared among the staff.

Regarding email salutations, you can't go wrong with "Dear Mr. Suzuki" .

BP Smyth
11/11/2011 at 9:19 PM
Hello Debbie,

I say, always promote yourself. Handing someone your business card is the most basic of all considerations, regardless of what anyone may think otherwise. This is a dog eat dog business, and as fickle as they come, so never shy away from introductions to anyone that you think will further your business.

Too bad for the "manager" that said you overstepped your bounds as a sub-contractor. He/she obviously has "issues." You have your own business and so does the sound studio, so all is "equal" in this game. Trust that they won't be "loyal" to you. You have to always look out for yourself first and foremost. Never let anyone intimidate you, ever!!

Earl Pollitt
11/11/2011 at 7:15 PM
"On the next day I received an email from the manager saying that I had overstepped my boundaries as a sub-contractor, in handing out my business card, etc., and thereby selling my services to their clients."

Sounds like they were being inflexible and not being business like. You sounded business like and they could communicate in a more professional manner. Leaving a business card is being professional.
Jane Ingalls
11/11/2011 at 6:50 PM
Hi Debbie,

Thanks for a very thought-provoking article.
When I exchange emails with a client, I study their style and language choices, single or double spacing and degree of formality. I always try to "speak their language" while including my own personality. Hopefully, it puts them at ease. Sometimes it is the little things that matter!
Bettye Zoller
11/11/2011 at 1:09 PM
Very good article and much needed info. Yes, it is bad manners and bad form to give YOUR PERSONAL INFO out on an advt. agency job at a studio with a client. It would be ok to give out a pen with your name and "voice talent" and your agent's info (your agent in that particular city), but never about your studio or with a mailing address or something saying "call me for a job quote," etc.

Every scenario differs. Who gave you that job? Hands off. That person won't use you again if he thinks, right or wrong, that you're too pushy and trying to get business from HIS account. Recording studios know you have a studio too, yes? That's touchy too. I'm in the same boat as you on that score.

But very nice article and thank you for it. All best to you and hope to meet you. Your reputation preceeds you glowingly. I have to be careful all the time with whom I solicit, etc. This business (and the jingle biz and music biz too--I am in both) get very sticky sometimes.
Michael J. Schoen
11/11/2011 at 11:39 AM
Hi Debbie,

(That's the way I start a business email). I enjoyed reading your article. The first thing I would say is this is NOT an area to obsess over. The tone is businesslike at the start and then shifts as the relationship shifts.

For example, a series of exchanged messages to set a time for a session -- and then the script or time changes. There's no need for formality in later messages. And when the relationship gets more personal, that dictates the degree of familiarity. Phone calls work when you really need to discuss something -- but for a busy person, emails are a great way to communicate.

Abrasos y besos,
Debbie Irwin
11/11/2011 at 11:31 AM
Hi Ken; (or does Hello Ken sound better?!)

What insightful comments you wrote....

Changing the syntax of a sentence to communicate an idea through positives rather than negatives is something I find myself doing in the editing process (sadly, it's not my first impulse!).

Saying less is another goal I aspire to achieve....
"If I had more time I'd have written a shorter note."
(Variously attributed to Ben Franklin, Blaise Pascal, Robert Sayre, Mark Twain.)

Love the gum gaffe metaphor.... and your newly articulated policy to avoid such quandaries.

Finally, if like Lincoln, I spent 8 hours sharpening my axe and two hours cutting down the tree, I'd hardly recognize myself-- as I have been referred to as 'Ready. Fire. Aim!' But hope springs eternal and I am ever looking to improve my ways.

Thanks again to you, and Roy, for your suggestions.
I see my New Year's Resolutions taking shape already!

Marty Wall
11/11/2011 at 11:12 AM
The most important thing for folks who have been doing this a long time is your point that the business has fundamentally changed. So when you go back to the traditional studio session, you have to think carefully about that particular situation before acting.

I completely agree that if work came to you through an agent, you should continue to honor that agency relationship for future work. In fact, it may be in your contract to do so. After that, there are no rules. Clients work with multiple studios, and/or directly with talent in home studios. Those studios may well recommend you for future work with this or another client. I am always mindful of my obligation to my studio pals who I worked with long before home studios.

But what if that client comes to you later and wants to work direct? Dicey. I would just say this: Personally, I don't feel comfortable "selling" my home studio over an offsite studio with whom I have a relationship. But if the subject is broached, I will make them aware that home recording is an option and leave it up to them.

In some situations, I have even taken pains to point out the advantages of a remote studio over my own, most notably match-to-video. In this role, I become an advocate for the project instead of solely for my own bottom line. You might lose one gig. But I think that showing you want the best for the project every time, whatever the circumstances, will pay more dividends over time.
Ken Budka
11/11/2011 at 10:47 AM
Great article Debbie, thanks for sharing.

For years I taught business writing skills and the challenges of written communication, especially in email.

My approach continues to focus on the reader, be positive, and keep it short and simple. I always address the reader by name in the opening with either Hi or Hello, depending on the rhythm of their first name. Use can, will, do vs. can't won't, don't. And in business writing, shorter is better...always.

The bottom line is you are speaking to a person through a two-dimensional medium. If you can imagine your reader, much like we imagine our listener when we record voiceovers, it makes a huge difference.

Your situation regarding loyalties, client boundaries and proper etiquette is not always so clear. The party that brings me in on a job is the top-dog in the chain and the one who gets most attention, follow-up, and efforts in future contact. They have you in mind when projects come up and are demonstrating some connection to you in the process. Especially when it's the first time working together, the ground is fertile to make them shine and reinforce their decision to work with you.

As I write this, my policy (didn't even realize I had a policy on this, so thanks again Debbie) is to send gifts after the fact to avoid anyone being left out or ruffling feathers. It's like being in school and not having enough gum to go around - it creates more attention and emotions than the gifts themselves.

At the same time, you now have an opportunity to reach out to the person who brought you in, making another contact which is always good, and ask them if they would mind if you contacted some of the other people at the session. At the same time, ask them for additional referrals or clarification on who the decision makers are.

Asking is a powerful expression because it shows consideration, respect and demonstrates integrity, showing them you have their back as well and aren't talking about them when they're not around.

Anyhow, this has been a helpful topic and one that requires some thought as you mentioned from different perspectives. The key is to think it through, before-hand. Funny how thinking takes so much energy prior to doing things, and happens so freely and incessantly after we've done something we wished we could un-do. In your case, learn from it and let it go. What you did came from inside which is a good thing and providing a great opportunity to learn and grow.

Enjoy your weekend and thanks again...

Roy Wells
11/11/2011 at 8:48 AM
Hi Debbie, Loved your article, and since you asked for comment re your giving out business cards, etc., if it was me, I would give out cards while saying, "Was great to work with you today," or something in that vein, but nothing additional. Heck, we're actors, it's ok for us to be a little gushy.
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