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Monday, November 17, 2008

The (marketing) cost of business sloth

Today, on the SMPS Listserve, I read three posts about a competing publication that touched close to home -- too close, in fact, because the posts came close to describing some of our own business practices a few years ago. (The competitor will not be named here -- under no circumstances should any business speak negatively of the opposition -- I didn't of course initiate these posts.)

Has anyone had a good or bad experience with (publication name deleted)? They recently approached one of my clients to do a story on one of their projects and assured them that they had created a special edition under a new business model for clients who don't share vendor lists. But when my client said it was okay for them to do the story, the magazine's people contacted the project manager for a vendor/sub list; when he wouldn't give it to them, they went directly to my client's client and requested it from them. My client is really upset and embarrassed that the magazine approached this important client without her knowledge or approval. She said she will never do business with them again. I wondered if this was an isolated problem or if other people have had similar experiences.
This message resulted in the following two postings, both naming the same publication:
My firm will not do business with (name of publication) at all anymore. We had similar experiences. They also contacted our confidential sub list and solicited advertisement on our behalf, even though we told them not to. I have had many unpleasant conversations with them.
We worked with them on a couple of corporate profiles, but they merged two of the publications where separate profiles were to appear and they didn't tell me. They just posted both profiles in the same publication. The profiles were written for completely different audiences and distributions, so I was very irate. Eventually I got our money back, but that was the last time we worked with them.

I recommend avoiding them.
Reading these observations, I think of any business which fails to understand the basics when is representatives go out into the marketplace and oversells, under-delivers, and manipulates people for short term gain. I'm haunted by our own previous business practices where, with a lack of management control and common-sense respect for clients and the community, we sometimes stretched ourselves beyond the point of rightfulness to manipulate the process. Sure, we got the sale, but we lost respect for ourselves and our place in the community.

How expensive is it to get things wrong? Consider this: The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) has more than 6,500 members in most major U.S. cities (and soon will have an Ontario chapter) and the members of this association are responsible for recommending and allocating the marketing budgets of the nation's largest and most successful architectural, engineering and construction businesses. Now anyone who had any doubts about the unnamed competitor, reading these observations, knows what to think about it and its proposals.

On the surface, this type of publicity is no good for us as well, because, gulp, we earn most of our revenue by publishing features about businesses and selling advertising to suppliers largely from lists provided by the featured businesses. But there are differences, and they are fundamental -- and we learned these lessons the hard way.
  • You never win long term by misrepresenting short term to get the sale. Ever.
  • You can sometimes manipulate the story by going around some one's back. But when you do, you will effectively stab yourself in your own back.
  • Conversely, you can achieve the seemingly impossible -- achieving co-operation where you would otherwise not expect it -- by playing fair, expressing creative and sincere generosity, and respecting everyone in the process; regardless of stature.
Clearly, you risk major long-term costs to your reputation and brand if you allow your sales practices to degenerate to the point that you invite and allow the type of negative word-of-mouth represented in the three listserve postings reproduced here. Thankfully, we learned our lesson.

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