"Coffee, Tea or Social Media?" A Reminder That Competition Is Everywhere

200316557-001I got a call last week from a friend who owns a business. He’s “taking the plunge” he told me. He’s committing to a Social Media campaign in an effort to communicate his business. It all sounded great until he told me who was going to be leading the charge. His receptionist.

For years, I have said that sometimes our competition is not other firms. Sometimes it’s the “DIY” type – the client who says “all of the media knows me, I can do this myself.” He’s usually in OK shape, short-term, until journalists start taking buyouts or the beats start turning over or the news organizations themselves disappear. Other times, though, it’s the “we’ll handle it in-house” type. Except they don’t have any professional communicators in-house. So, they have the office manager send out their press releases. It may get a little news printed, but that’s it (and that’s not the point).

Now, there’s this example. The rationale (or rationalization) in this case is two-fold, my friend implied. This receptionist is young – half his age. And, of course, he won’t have to pay her any extra to take on extra responsibility, even something she is not qualified to do. She may be an intelligent person with a very bright future. But, she is not a professional communicator. She may have spent countless hours on Facebook interacting with friends, but is she the best person to craft the company’s message in front of a universe of half a billion people?

Over the years, all of us in the agency business (especially those of us who work with large, global corporations as well as locally-based small businesses) have seen these situations. The business owners seem to feel good about having control and saving money. But how many of them are really successful, over the long term, communicating strategically and building their brands while building their businesses? None that I have ever seen.

In talking with other professionals, it appears that those of us in communications face this challenge alone. Law firms don’t have to worry about a receptionist being asked to make arguments in court because they are “good at talking.” Accountants don’t have to worry about a client taking their tax preparation work in-house because a receptionist is “good at spreadsheets.” But, because our profession doesn’t require state certification, it can be dismissed as something a receptionist can do.

What can we do about it? Sometimes it’s as simple as shrugging our collective shoulders and reminding each other that those who seek “free” solutions are getting what they pay for. But, it should also be a reminder that competition is everywhere. So, for the clients who “get it” we have to provide value every day.