Service of Response

June 11th, 2012

Categories: Education, Responsiveness

I’m so grateful to readers of this blog who respond to my posts. It’s quite remarkable, especially when you consider the many instances of people whose job it is to take action or in whose best interest it is to reply–yet they don’t.

I asked Erin Berkery-Rovner, senior career advisor at Parsons the New School of Design, how she inspires students to respond. “Sometimes we scare them,” she advised. “Let them think that there are dire consequences if they don’t.”

She observed that students don’t regularly check emails or the Internet, so she resorts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and traditional posters along with emails and frequent website updates to reach them.

She noted that the readers of this blog might have confronted other roadblocks to communicating with students. When she was in grad school, some of her classmates confronted their social media addictions by using smartphone applications [apps] that disable all Internet connections for a period of time. “They lock themselves out so they can concentrate on work and not be distracted by beeps signaling a text or Tweet to read and respond to,” she said.

Even so, when she would like or requires responses, she takes action when she hears crickets. For example, she asks the students which companies they would like her to invite to Parson’s annual Career Day where they and the fashion companies explore internship possibilities and candidates, respectively. Parsons is considered by some-such as Eric Wilson of The New York Times-as “the premier design school for fashion in the United States,” referring to the perception of Seventh Avenue designers and European luxury conglomerates.

So if she doesn’t get a healthy response, she tells the students that they can’t be upset with the companies that participate in Career Day–“I warn them that I’ve asked who they wanted me to invite, and I sent out invitations based on feedback.”

Students aren’t the only unresponsive people Berkery-Rovner deals with. She needs intern evaluations at the end of a semester and some company contacts neither send them nor react to three emails and two phone calls. “As a last resort, we send an email to the students with a subject line, ‘Possible incomplete on your internship.’ When we enroll students in this way,” she admits, “it works.”

When I request information from a group I try to make responses easy by giving them options in a mini survey. They can click “send” after noting “Answer B.” Most often, they add comments. At the least, I get enough responses to feel an accurate pulse.

What tips can you share to encourage people to respond to queries, surveys, emails and phone calls? We all know individuals who hide behind voicemail and are unresponsive to letters and emails no matter what, but as a whole, are people more unresponsive these days and if so, why?

12 Responses to “Service of Response”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    I think people are just lazy. There’s no reason not to respond to an
    email query. You can say yes; you can also say no. You don’t have to
    justify your decision or your plans, and you don’t have to apologize.
    But to leave others hanging, as so many people do, is unforgivable in
    my book.

  2. Martha Takayama Said:

    I think Berkery-Rovner’s ideas are excellent.

    However in the non-academic world it is very hard to enforce the same pressure for response. Failure to respond may at least partially be due to the overwhelming (often lengthy) demands made via email, traditional mail, and phone calls from unknown parties, which are demands for donations, contributions, expenditures, personal information, and intelligence for corporate needs. If not deleted en masse, the emails require an ever-increasing amount of reading, and time. An important editing rule is that less is more.

    One of the best sources I have found for tips is Stever Robbins book “Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps To Work Less and Do More,” which can be found at More enlightenment on the same subject can be found at
    Stever Robbins blog:

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Here here! Nobody expects an immediate response, but within 48 hours would be nice. I guess folks figure if you really want to reach them you’ll figure out a way.

    As a PR person who can’t take silence as an answer, especially when I think a client, product or service fits a venue perfectly, I do everything I can think of to get some kind of response and then I finally give up. Sometimes, months later, I hear back. Then it’s time for celebration.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right–we are bombarded from all sides. Good subject lines help.

    You can’t even trust that emails with links from friends are legit….lately I’ve been getting suspicous ones that I delete. Most often, I forward the email to the sender to ask if the info/link is legit and most often I hear nothing back!

  5. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Jeannie —

    You may recall that, for a dozen years, I produced a Design
    Idea Center project for Woman’s Day Specials to present at the
    Kitchen/Bath Industry Show. I not only had to coordinate the project
    itself but also raise money to fund it. On paper, at least, the idea
    was that it would zero out…meaning that I would raise enough sponsor
    money to pay for the entire project (that happened just once).

    So in each category—appliances, countertops, flooring, etc.—I’d get on
    the phone to try to enlist sponsorships. And, being a gentleman, I
    could only contact one company at a time in each category. Alas, I
    remember making a pitch to Whirlpool in, like, September of whatever
    year it was. I got no response, so a couple of months later I
    re-pitched the project to the publicist, tactfully indicating
    that if I didn’t hear from her within X number of days, I’d have to
    connect with another manufacturer. Still no response.

    By early December, I’d recruited another manufacturer, one promised to
    lend us all the appliances we needed and agreed to put up some
    thousands of dollars in sponsorship funds.

    In January, I got a call from Whirlpool. My contact—long since
    retired—announced that Whirlpool would be happy to be part of our
    project, etc., etc. I then had the unenviable task of informing her
    that, having received no acknowledgement of my messages, I’d had to
    move on. She was just shattered, which made me feel terrible, of
    course…even though the blame lay specifically with her. If she’d
    even hinted that her company was considering participation, I’d have
    been patient, but to have heard NOTHING till then, I had no choice. I
    don’t think we ever spoke again. . .

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your example illustrates that NOT responding isn’t anything new, nor does it reflect on the importance of the query and it’s not something that only the young indulge in these days.

    There’s no excuse for the PR agency contact, period. She didn’t deserve such a great placement. A press friend used to tell me that there were plenty of PR people she heard back from only when they wanted something from her. Otherwise, she had a heck of the time rousing them for information.

    I wish you’d have told me about this at the time. I would have immediately assured you that you shouldn’t have felt the tiniest trace of regret. She was lucky you waited as long as you did! Whirlpool was not well served if this is how she treated an important project such as those you produced. Every year you would build each installation twice, once in a photo studio–the photos appeared in the magazine and in invaluable reprints–and a second time for the thousands of attendees to see in person at the National Kitchen and Bath Show in Chicago.

  7. ASK Said:

    In the Whirlpool case, I suspect it was the publicist’s superiors who left her dangling…

    Several years ago, I flew to upstate NY with a contract-book publisher who was planning to retain me to write a book on kitchen (!!!) design. The marketing VP paid for our trip, and we were in his office to sign on the dotted line, when who should arrive but the company president. At the last minute, he announced that the company could not possibly indulge in such a project. Everyone, including the VP, was mortified. Did the CEO really have to wait until the “zero hour” to let his own VP know of his decision?

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    There s no way one can force a disinterested and/or lazy person to respond to anything, unless making false promises, as in “scam.” Over and above that, many emails want something, and most inducements are in favor of sender, not recipient. Who hasn’t received an “opinion poll” which sports a request for money at the bottom of the page?

    When it comes to education, if a student needs to be “scared” into action, chances are that he isn’t motivated in the first place. Some students, especially those under grad school, may be there because of parental pressure, which may explain lack of interest. This may be changing, if what is happening at my alma mater is true elsewhere: 93% of the students are receiving financial aid, undoubtedly meaning those on scholarships and/or taking out loans are more geared to success.

    I am not in favor of squeezing action out of an unresponsive source, unless one is paying for something. Chances are one has already wasted time, so why squander more?

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Did you hear my groan upon reading your comment? The silent boss sounds like a horror. No doubt apologies fell from his lips –or maybe not. What a horrible man to work for! I feel sorry for the marketing VP who was on the right track to hire you for the project. I cringe thinking of your disappointment.

    But back to Mervyn’s example, I have worked with silent clients–we all have. And we give them deadlines because while our clients are extremely important to us, equally important are our media contacts. With a deadline, as zero hour approached, I’d have warned said client that he/she will lose the opportunity. Most of all, I’d update Mervyn. He’s a reasonable man. I’d have picked up the phone at the least to update him.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Erin wants to please the students who are paying–or whose parents are paying–huge sums to attend the college. She owes them the best she can muster. She could take the attitude that they are old enough to respond and if they don’t, they should suffer the consequences, but then she wouldn’t be as good at her job as she is. In addition, because fashion is a passion of many of these students, they may know of a fledgling yet hip company that’s under the radar that should be invited to send a rep to Career Day. She can’t close off that pipeline for this and future year’s students.

    I find it instructive for people to share their experiences and tips. At times–Mervyn’s case is a good one as is Erin’s need for intern reviews–you need to hear from someone and you don’t care if they are motivated to respond. In ASK’s case, the boss didn’t bother to communicate. He made his company look inferior, angered his VP marketing and didn’t make a fan of ASK [who has plenty of contacts in the industry and is nobody to treat this way].

  11. Horace Peabody Said:

    What an interesting exchange on this always relevant subject.

    Last March, I wrote a letter to an acquaintance who had run the major not-for-profit entity in its field with great success for more than thirty years. We had dined together and spoken on the telephone on several previous occasions. He had always before answered my letters/emails. This time he did not. Why?

    My letter, which was carefully written to make it as far from being contentious as possible, questioned one of the policies of the not-for-profit. Perhaps on advice of counsel, but I think not, this able manager decided that no reply to my letter was the best way to reply. He did not wish to have to defend in writing a policy about which he himself may have had some misgivings.

    Had the two of us been having lunch together, I might have received a very different reply. However, as it was, his non-answer was sufficient enough. It was to mind my own business. Something he would not have said to me in writing.

    Admittedly non replies are rarely a good idea, but they have their place.

  12. jeanne Byington Said:


    The writer could have written, “I look forward to our next lunch.” That’s all! He lost my respect by chickening out. The words–or lack of same– would have said it all. His silence didn’t impress.

    For all you know, your query might have landed in his spam file and someone else might have followed up with the guy. He deserves that!

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics