Ah, lawyers. It’s a love-hate relationship.
Just this week alone, I’m working with a literary attorney (publishing), an entertainment attorney (TV), and a corporate financing attorney (angel investments). All three are great.
Yesterday, though, I received the threatening letter below from Protocol Integrated Direct Marketing, whose call centers I recommend in the 4HWW. WTF?
Click to enlarge…
But what did I say about Protocol specifically? Here it is, after an group intro where I indicate providers can also be compensated per-minute:
“Protocol Marketing: One of classic sales-oriented call centers. I’ve used them for years.”
I used them as a start-up CEO and felt the recommendation was valuable to readers. Blasphemer! Even if a correction were needed somewhere, the legal bitch slap isn’t needed.
My response was simple: I called the lawyer and told him I would both have the mention removed and also announce the correction to readers (that’s this blog post).
I suspect the CEO, Don Norsworthy, is not aware of this letter, as he would have no doubt approached it differently. He would recognize a few things:
[Postscript: Don got in touch within 24 hours after this post and here's the scoop: the entire management team had been on an offsite while this transpired. When Don tracked down the e-mail thread resulting in this letter, none of the proper channels had been CC'd. He was a polite gentleman and even declined when I offered to publish a response on the blog, stating that he was calling to apologize, not to have anything published. It was precisely the best response from someone heading a $100-million+ per year operation.]
1. How you say something IS what you say.
Ever heard “it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it”? I would go further: how you say something is what you say. A simple call or e-mail to Random House with “we’re getting too many calls for the wrong services; would you mind changing it to the following?” would have sufficed. Have a normal human conversation and don’t come off sounding like Robocop (video above).
But what if you need to be forceful? If someone’s motives are clearly bad? I’ve dealt with this as well. First of all, if their actions are done with obvious malevolent-intent or law-breaking, you can be more forceful. Second, for those cases that fall in the middle, it’s possible to be forceful and clear without being rude. For example:
“It’s come to our attention that [action your want them to cease in neutral terms]. I’m sure you are unaware, but this causes [negative consequences for you], which results in [other problems]. We thank you in advance for removing/stopping/correcting X as soon as possible [notice how less abrasive this is than 'immediately', but it achieves the same effect] and confirming when this has been done. Legal action is always a last resort, but if we do not receive confirmation within one business week, we’ll be compelled to take appropriate next steps. Your fastest correction and confirmation is both important and appreciated.”
2. It’s counterproductive to threaten someone until you determine their incentives to refuse compliance.
In other words, what do I gain by refusing to remove them? Nothing. In fact, it’s in my readers’ best interest to make it accurate or remove it. Threatening me with Darth Vader-speak like “compel compliance with [our] demand” just pisses people off, and I could have still been a strong proponent of theirs. Too bad, so sad.
3. It’s better to steer the golden goose rather than kill it.
If I’m sending them enough calls to “inundate” their phone lines (ironic in itself, since they’re offering call center services), it would be in their best interest to just make the description more accurate, no? It’s free advertising in a #1 NY Times bestseller to be published in 33 languages. How much advertising cost — or cost-per-acquisition (CPA) — does that save them if it’s accurate? Knowing the revenue model and having worked with call centers, I’d guess hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum. To save what? A few thousand dollars in filtering out mom-and-pop callers at $.90 per minute? That’s just penny-wise and pound-foolish.
4. Don’t mistake symptoms with root problems, or confuse correlation with causation.
There are no “income investment requirements” that I can find listed anywhere on their call center site. It strikes me that their main problem could relate to a system-wide issue with pre-qualification. The blurb in the 4HWW is just a symptom — any successful PR or marketing that brings people to them will produce the same filtering bottleneck. Fixing the root cause is better than threatening the person who makes the root cause come to the surface.
If they have a problem with “closer”, Protocol might also consider removing the following from the second paragraph of their main call center page:
Whether you need a salesperson to close deals or specialized technical support services, Protocol’s contact center services can help.
Confused? Me too.
5. If you threaten someone in a digital world, it might become what your prospective customers see first.
Principle one: Better not to threaten people whenever possible. Principle two: Google someone before you threaten them. If their PageRank and SEO beats yours, recognize that the public will see what they say first and foremost. Principle three: if someone is sending you business, and you threaten them because of a positive description (even containing inaccuracies), you are disincentivizing all partners, journalists, and customers from evangelizing for you if it becomes public. Given the new dynamics of personal branding in a digital age, being nice should be company policy, if not for cheap Google insurance.
Oh, and being rude sucks.
Be firm when necessary, but be nice whenever possible. Long-term, it doesn’t pay to do otherwise.
In conclusion: Protocol, I’m sorry for endorsing you and reflecting my experience in a positive description. I was wrong and you are right. Readers, please pull out your Sharpie and strike Protocol from pg. 201.
Ah, lawyers. Use them wisely or the problem you create could be bigger than the one you solve.
Anyone have suggestions for good call centers that won’t threaten me for recommending them?
To lighten the mood, a photo from the American Apparel factory, which I visited last Saturday. More pics here.
Posted on: October 28, 2008.