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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Where is the owner?

Yesterday, I experienced a story beneath a story -- and now have a real dilemma. I cannot disclose specific details because my meetings and interviews were to write a positive advertising-supported editorial feature, but as I discussed the company's history and story with the people associated with the business, I sensed (and they acknowledged) there are major unresolved challenges,
What should I do? Obviously, I have an assignment and will complete it -- and will write the positive story, but I sense the problem is deeper and more fundamental than any positive advertorial story or simple quick-fix marketing solution. Someone, I think, will need to make tough decisions. In the end, these decisions must either be made by the shareholder(s) or -- if things fail and the business needs to seek bankruptcy protection -- the courts or creditors.
In this story, with the limited knowledge I have, I see the incredible challenges that occur when you combine traditional processes, "leave it alone" leadership, diversification that creates some stability in hard times, coupled with over-diversification that prevents a business from defining its focus and marketing priorities. I also see the real problems that occur when a business's leadership is incredibly skilled at the actual art or trade of the business, but is over its head in the sales and marketing aspects.
My challenge . . . Should I go over the employees' heads in the room, and call the owner? I know him, not too closely, and I'm confident he has the basic business skills and talents to oversee successful enterprises. In favour of acting: If I were the owner, I would want some independent feedback -- I might know generally that there are problems, but not be sure of their scale and reality. In favour of remaining silent: This isn't my business, I haven't been mandated to interfere in its operations, and I really don't know enough to engage myself effectively in the issues.
Last night, thinking about these issues, I decided to use my favorite solution when I have a difficult decision -- I slept on it. But this morning, the problems remain; I am not sure exactly what to do, maybe reflecting the reality of the situation facing the business I saw yesterday.
What would you do in these circumstances?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't integrity dictate that you decline to write the article and tell the owner why - simply that you wouldn't be able to write a "positive piece" at this time. Maybe later. Just because you have an "assignment to do" doesn't mean you should do it if you have to lie and spin. Declining the assignment with honesty will get you out of the predicament AND shed a little light on the deeper issues within the company, without "going over the employees heads" or "getting involved where it is none of your business." Remove yourself from the situation.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your suggestion.
Here, I think the advertorial could only do good for the business -- their products are truly great quality and, in the nature of our business, the company featured with this publicity doesn't need to pay anything for it (so I am not taking money from them, or depleting their budgets in any way.) I don't think anything is gained by declining the assignment.

Agatza said...

I would contact the owner and ask some in depth questions regarding the company based solely on the article that you are doing on the company. Then using information based on his answers, temperament and that good old gut feeling tell him what you have noticed and ask if their are any big changes in store for the company in the years to come.

Unknown said...

Agatza, I asm thinking of following an approach in line with your suggestions. This morning, I wrote the first draft of the advertorial -- I am letting it 'sit' a day to review. I think I'll send a copy to the managers I interviewed and a separate copy direct to the owner. The draft alludes to the awareness of issues -- in fact it includes a sidebar 'job posting' for a strong marketing/sales person (kind of like a free recruitment ad for them!)