Retail politics – a type of political campaigning in which the candidate focuses on local events and meeting individual voters

It always seems weird to see presidential candidates shaking hands, kissing babies, and working rope lines. But even when you’re running for the highest office in the country, you still have to get out there and press the flesh.

As a business, it’s a good idea to recognize the value of retail politics too. There’s no match for meeting someone in the flesh. You can broadcast your message to a huge audience via the web, but you can’t replicate the interaction you get when you meet someone in person and explain to them exactly where you’re coming from.

For example, 37signals is out in full force right now at RailsConf (David, Jeff, Jeremy, Mark, Ryan, and Sam are all there). Other recent appearances: Ryan spoke to a large agency in Germany and Jason spoke to AIGA/NY at Smart Models (a good summary here).

Admittedly, RailsConf is speaking to the choir. But we also make an effort to talk to general business audiences, students, and other people who don’t normally get to hear our way of thinking. In fact, presenting new ideas to those sorts of crowds can lead to the most interesting conversations.

Actually, that’s another benefit to retail politics: It’s a great way to present controversial ideas. A lot of our opinionated comments make people think we’re too arrogant or dogmatic. Yet their tone usually takes a 180-degree turn when they meet us in person.

Eye contact has a way of diluting harsh views. In person, it’s a lot easier to separate the human being from his/her opinion. You get less of the animosity tone that reigns on blogs, etc.

Bottom line: Don’t forget the power of retail politics. Sometimes getting out from behind the keyboard and attending a Meetup, conference, or similar gathering can do you, and your business, a world of good.