After being self-employed for the past 15 years, the first six in journalism and the last nine in public relations/marketing, one of the most important truths that has come to the fore is worth mulling for a few moments: “I would rather be in a bad deal with good people than in a good deal with bad people.”
There are quotation marks affixed to that phrase because it’s not an original thought. Ron Puryear, founder of World Wide DreamBuilders and an Amway Crown, has conveyed them to audiences throughout North America at events like Dream Night conferences held each January. In his 40-plus years in business, Puryear has seen plenty of both scenarios. The ideal, of course, is to be in a “good deal”—whether that’s a business partner, a client relationship or some other transaction—with good people.
Of the hundreds of individuals and organizations with whom my public relations practice has had contact over the past decade or so, one stands out as a quintessential example of a “good deal” that went sideways because an individual didn’t measure up to the seemingly positive situation that had unfolded.
It played out about five years ago, after the inaugural edition of a publication called Profile Direct.
Founder Chuck Berry—not the musical legend, but someone claiming a background in the fitness and direct advertising fields—had been working hard to gain traction in the area. As a newcomer to the area of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, he took steps to warm up people to the idea of this new magazine, meeting with business owners one-on-one, attending chamber of commerce and other business association meetings, and building on referrals that he cultivated in all of those interactions.
Along the way, he worked to collect recommendations from those who had devoted years, even decades, to developing a solid reputation. Through them, Berry hoped to make well-placed connections that could help him grow a robust list of potential, and potentially profitable, advertisers.
Before that first issue, I would let people know about Berry and his publication. But I made the conscious decision to stop short of offering any endorsement. Did spending money on advertising in Profile Direct represent a good investment? Because it had no track record established, I couldn't say with any confidence so I took a wait-and-see stance.
My position shifted markedly once the issue came out and triggered great results for an Oak Park acupuncture practice that I represented. By targeting a highly motivated niche of the population—couples struggling in their attempts to have a baby—a feature story that I crafted attracted more than 20 clients within weeks of publication. Rarely had a client ever received such a rapid and resoundingly positive response.
On the basis of that experience, my cautious optimism gave way to enthusiastic endorsement for businesses to purchase advertisements in Profile Direct. Thousands of dollars—from a landscaping company, a prominent restaurant, a large local business organization, my acupuncturist client, and others--poured into Berry’s hands. All hoped for a sterling return on investment.
Then, amid a torrent of excuses and self-justifying rhetoric, Berry skipped town without creating another issue. Assurances that he would repay advertisers went unfulfilled. The restaurateur, with a gift for effectively communicating just how ticked off he had become, managed to recoup his money. Others have yet to see a penny, nor are any holding their breath that any reimbursement will be forthcoming.
A good deal had gone very bad indeed. And the one who got shortchanged the most? Most certainly, that would be Berry himself; for the past five years, he has not received the benefit of any follow-up business from the local business community. Instead of building trust by being true to his word, he cashed in for a short-term payday that left a number of people feeling burned. A short time later, Berry joined the Skokie Chamber of Commerce. My subsequent phone call alerting leaders there to his dubious dealings couldn’t have helped whatever he was doing there.
The implications for public relations and marketing are clear: “deals” come and go, but as long as you establish yourself as an individual who can be trusted, you will overcome even the negatives that occur. At times, those will come in the form of the brazenly unethical and unscrupulous.
On the other end of the spectrum, having unquestioned integrity is one of the best brands of public relations and marketing prowess that you can ever hope to wield—and will draw like-minded individuals to you.