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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tarred by others feathers

One of the biggest challenges in business is when your business practices (and brand) are adversely affected by the ill-doings of others, such as your competitors. I noticed this challenge yesterday on the closed list serve from the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) group for Certified Professional Services Marketers (CPSM).

One member sent an email to the group with this question:

Would like your opinion regarding National Publications offering to publish a feature article on your firm. The caveat is to supply them with a listing of your firm's vendors/suppliers who they will then contact to obtain advertising space.

Although the contact at the publication assured me this is done in a professional manner (no hard sales involved), I'm not sure that I am comfortable with this tactic.
Several members responded, some telling of horror stories of suppliers being badgered, and publishers producing terrible and useless publications. A few took a more even-handed stance, pointing out that if the feature is well written and distributed to the right people, it can truly be effective for the business.

I felt like the lion in a china shop, however, as our business is producing just these types of features -- and I know that the complaints of the angry CPSM members have some validity.

Last summer, for example, one of our own clients reported he had been burned by one of the less-than-ethical players in this business. He had experienced working with us, and so thought the other publisher would conduct business in the same manner.

The challenge of course is we can't dictate the ethical behaviour of our competitors, but their mis-doings affect our brand. We certainly can't name or criticize them. (However, here our client is being helpful; when we hear from other clients about the competitor plying the trade, we refer the potential customers to him a first-hand and wonderfully negative reference.)

The unethical behaviour in our industry is possible because sales can, to some degree, be conducted in a hit-and-run manner, especially if you are publishing a "national" publication and are able trap your business victims in many different locations, at least once.

As I write this note, an industry association with whom we have very good working relationship sent me an email asking about a publisher who appears to be representing a project in co-operation with the association. The association's employee immediately emailed us and two of our competitors to find if the person works for us. I'm sure the dishonorable publisher will be warned off.

I don't have a magic solution to this problem, which might affect your business, especially if you have several less-than-ethical competitors in your market space. Probably our best defence is simply to maintain our own standards. We benefit, like most successful businesses, from long-term repeat and referral clients, and by participating and contributing to industry associations.

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