BEFORE WE START: This is too serious a topic for this blog. I have pondered setting up a separate place for my serious thoughts, but at times I doubted that I had enough serious thoughts to make it worthwhile, at other times I have worried that some of my more serious thoughts may be too dangerous for the current Marketplace of Ideas and at some other times expected my ‘serious thoughts’ to be judged by the outside world as just some jokes that aren’t funny.
I have recently gotten into the blog of “Marketing Guru” Seth Godin, although the title “Marketing Guru” is really two strikes against you if you want me to care about what you’re saying. But unlike other MG’s, Godin is only about one-third full of sh!t and genuinely thought-provoking even/especially when I disagree with him. But his piece on Responsibility really hit the nail right on top of his own bald head. Why? Because most of the people who raise the issue of “Responsibility” usually put ALL the responsibility on the Consumer (“Caveat emptor, sucker”) and none on the Producer, bowing down to the all-powerful and all-positive Market Forces by claiming that “if nobody bought it, then nobody would make it.” Godin calls bullsh!t on that with his first two words: “Marketing works.”
He goes on to point out more eloquently than I have seen before the FACT that Marketers Are Responsible for What They Market. Bravo.
This was a lesson I learned at the highest-paying job I ever had. It was doing number-crunching at a Financial Services firm that invested heavily in Junk Bonds in the late 1980s. (The company’s CEO was such a close friend of Michael Milkin that he was declared ‘under investigation’ with Milkin but never charged) Anyway, the company’s high-return investing allowed it to sell Insurance and Annuities at “bargain prices”, as well as do a lot of other fiscally irresponsible things – like overpaying the number-crunchers like me. But when the oversold Junk Bond market crashed (partly due to the migration of really bad investments into the mix but also partly in an inevitable cyclical downturn amplified by the foolish belief that there could never BE a downturn), things changed. The employee payroll and my paycheck were never in doubt – in fact, my income increased as the ever-changing management rewarded those workers willing to stay on to the bitter end. But the payouts to the Annuities were in doubt, and in fact were briefly suspended when the State Insurance Commission took over and tried to figure out what was going on. Now, many of these were Lifetime Annuities, being paid out as a permanent source of income for people who really needed it, “structured settlements” – mostly for people disabled (aw, heck, call them crippled) who were offered a lifetime income instead of a big cash payout. And those who had to pay out shopped around for the best deal on Lifetime Annuities, and for a while, my company was the WalMart of that market. When the State moved in and the payments ‘paused’, everyone in the Home Office took on an extra duty. No matter what your job description, you had to put in two hours a day answering the company phones, super-overloaded by calls from people asking “where’s my check”. And the only officially-authorized response you could give was “we don’t know, we’re working on it, we can make NO guarantees”. Isn’t that a lovely thing to say to someone who has told you he lost his leg in a railroad accident? Now multiply that by 40-50 times a day. That was when the Responsibility of my employer… and of myself, its employee, sank into my head.
There was only one time before I had turned down a job offer because of what the company did. In the early 80s I was offered a plum Accounting position with a company that distributed and -er- produced X-rated Video. I wasn’t so much morally opposed to porn, as I was somewhat embarrassed by it, and with the Reagan Administration threatening to crack down, it didn’t look like it had a long term future (I was wrong, the company is still in business). There were also the considerations of Organized Crime involvement, with stories at the time about mostly-legal porn being used as a cover for worse things, being unable to determine if the company in question had such ties, and knowing that my ‘plum Accounting position’ could end up right in the middle of bad things. And they were willing to overpay me as much as the Junk Bond-based company later did.
Fortunately, the time in Telephone Answering Hell only lasted a month-and-a-half, and all of the Lifetime Annuitants got most of what they were counting on. And months later, when I was laid-off in the third round of staff reduction with a severance check that was the largest lump sum I have ever received, I decided I would never again work anywhere that I did not respect what the company did. I ended up doing Contract Billing for an Engineering firm that – at the time – specialized in Environmental Clean-up work. Of course, my job was to ensure that the company got paid as much as the usually-non-standard contract would allow for the work they did, but I still felt a lot cleaner working there. But because Environmental Clean-Up was not a ‘growing field of business’, the company got into other stuff, including writing Environmental Impact Reports that destroyed entire forests in the number of pages produced that nobody read. The contracts became more standardized, the work became more boring and the IP department got a new Manager – who had had the same job at the Junk Bond company. And the fact that I knew him from there turned out to be not so good for my future at that company. But I digress.
Kudos to Seth Godin for asking the question “are you responsible for what you market?” and answering with an emphatic “YES”. Once I learned that I really do have responsibility, I learned to act responsibly. There are millions of people in all levels of the American workplace who haven’t a clue, and we are all poorer for that.