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5 ways to ruin your industry reputation

5 ways to ruin your industry reputation Sean Cheyney

Why is it that some people appear to repel business while others have an abundance of business everywhere they look? On both the buy side and the sell side, a handful of missteps can ruin your industry reputation and leave you fighting an ongoing uphill battle towards your business objectives.

In my 10+ years in the interactive space, I've observed many different types of personalities, business styles and sales tactics. Over this time, with all of the changes that have happened in our industry, I keep seeing people make the same mistakes that leave me scratching my head saying, "What was he thinking?"

While sometimes amusing, but most of the time annoying, these mistakes made repeatedly can easily doom the career of a newbie just starting out as easily as they can cause a serious thud to the career of an industry veteran. In a highly connected industry where information travels quickly and people love to talk, your reputation can either be your greatest asset or your Achilles' heel.

The good news is that even if you've made these mistakes before, all is not lost. As long as you maintain your ethics and integrity and your intention is in the right place, you can be rebuilt "better, stronger, faster."

Although there are numerous ways to flush your industry reputation down the toilet, here are the top five that I've witnessed over and over again.

There are certain media partners that just continue to deliver for me year after year. These companies are truly partners. They think the way we think, talk the way we talk, anticipate what we want done and then do it with flawless execution. Their team and my team have spent so much time together over the phone, conversing via email and talking face to face that they are part of our working "family." We're lucky enough to have a handful of partners we consider family.

With this said, how do you typically react when someone repeatedly verbally bashes your family? Does it make you want to jump into their arms? Of course not!

As an example, I have the "family" relationship I described with our SEO/SEM firm. They exceeded the performance of any other firm before them by 30 percent out of the gate and have only improved over time. We've been working with them for the past couple of years, and they not only smoke every goal we set for them, but they are all people that I would love to have as next door neighbors.

The problem is that one individual at another SEO/SEM firm routinely verbally rips apart our firm every single time we see each other, and others at his company take the same approach. I thought I had made it clear the first time this happened how much we love the work that our current firm has done for us, but the verbal abuse still continues. This is someone I've spoken with for years, and I respect his contribution to the industry, but others who overhear his abuse are clearly turned off.

Even if this individual had the best product or service around, he's permanently damaged his ability to earn my business. In addition, none of the people that work with me are likely to want to do business him at any point in their careers. Would you want to do business with this person given this scenario?

In an instant, an otherwise talented individual wiped out a segment of his audience by forgetting that focusing on your own strengths and talents will always outweigh criticizing a company's respected and solid-performing business partner.

There are few things that frustrate me more than working with a rep who continues to promise the world, talks a really good game and then consistently flops in the execution of a campaign. Although I've become much better at sniffing out these people over the years, I'll still get caught now and then. Typically, I'll work with these types of people once or even twice if I'm able to clearly spell out everything I need in the contract, but after that I'm done.

Now, with almost every large campaign (and even some of the smaller ones), I'll ask for a client list. If unavailable, I'll reach out to my network and ask if anyone has done business with the company and individual rep. Without fail, I get numerous responses back within two hours. This word-of-mouth aspect is a key factor that can either lift your reputation and career to new heights or cause your reputation to sink faster than a mob informant in Lake Michigan.

When making big money decisions with a large campaign or technology vendor, the recommendation of the people in my network on whom I place a high degree of credibility, plays a critical role in my decision-making process. For example, we just went through a selection process for an email solution vendor. We spent hours going through the demos of several different companies. After the demos were complete, I reached out to my peers who are superstars when it comes to email marketing. After phone discussions regarding companies and reps, two of the reps (and therefore the companies they work for) were immediately dropped from consideration. The reason these companies fell out of consideration was because of the nightmare stories I heard from multiple peers regarding how the world was promised by the rep, but the delivery flopped.

These are the types of reps that I seek to avoid at all costs. These individuals will be able to have a short burst of sales success but will ultimately churn and burn clients that will never return. In addition, many of these clients will shout from the mountaintop to everyone listening to avoid these reps at all costs. The short sales bursts then quickly turn into a major flame-out for both the individual rep as well as the company they work for.

Would you like to know a good way to cut off your chance of earning my business before the contract is signed? Be sneaky.

Along the same lines of over-promising and under-delivering, the sneaky individual is notorious for sneaking terms into contracts that put the client at a major disadvantage, contrary to negotiated and agreed upon terms. The hope is that the client won't notice until the contract is signed and they are "locked in" to the contract and the terms contained in it.

The fact that these types of people exist in our industry is the reason I'm thrilled that I took a contracts class in law school. It's a pain to comb through mind-numbing legalese in order to make sure every term you're looking for is spelled out correctly, but it will do two things for you. First, you'll be able to make sure everything is accurate and you're getting what you're paying for. Second, you'll flush out a sneaky rep and kill a deal that will likely cause nothing but problems.

As an example, a year ago I was negotiating a media buy with an individual at a rep firm. Although I had worked with the firm before, I had never worked with this specific rep. We spent quite a bit of back and forth time going over the media properties before agreeing to one specific network containing a handful of properties. It didn't take very long while looking at the contract that the rep had swapped out the agreed upon network and replaced it with an inferior media property for our specific needs. When confronted with this fact, he simply stated that the agreed upon network didn't accept the negotiated CPM rate, so he put another network in the plan instead. Infuriated, I didn't sign the contract and haven't worked with this rep or his company since. In addition, I've advised others to steer clear of this individual.

All it would have taken was the rep to come back to me and let me know that he had a snag with the original network, and he would have left the door open to doing business with me in the future. Trying to sneak something by me not only hurt his own sales opportunities, but it has taken away business from his company.

Being tenacious is good. Anyone with any degree of success in our business is tenacious. It's an attribute that garners respect and a trait that I like in the people I do business with. That said, there is a difference between being tenacious and being a stalker.

The biggest stalker activity I see on a regular basis is when a rep calls me or one of the people on my team over 10 times per day without leaving a message. With our phone system, it lets us know when we have a missed call. When we see this many missed calls from one phone number, it's a sign that the rep lacks basic phone etiquette skills. It also keys us in to the fact that whenever we see the number on caller ID, the call immediately goes into voicemail. Once the rep finally does leave a message, it lets us know to avoid that specific rep as well as the company they work for.

The other common stalker activity is being over-the-top aggressive at a conference or trade show. For example, I've had instances where I've met someone for the first time and then been hard pitched to within 30 seconds of introductions. Then, throughout the entire conference, I'm pitched by this person over and over every time he sees me. The result is that I spend the rest of the show looking over my shoulder to avoid this person.

The key takeaway is that when you're at an event, take the time to get to know someone and what their business needs are. Don't go straight into an over-the-top aggressive media pitch trying to close the deal immediately. Ask for the business when it's time-and-place appropriate or you're going to find people literally running away from you.

Be careful what you reveal in your public online profiles. Posting to your Facebook profile about your trip with friends to a Nevada brothel or smoking enough weed to leave you with a week-long case of the munchies isn't going to be career suicide if you limit profile access to your college buddies, but it will be a monumental mistake if you're using it as a business networking tool.

As a hiring manager, I Google all prospective hires to see if they have any information listed in online profiles that will give me a greater insight into their personality. In addition, we monitor for any times when our brand is mentioned online. If you identify yourself as an AccuQuote employee within one of your profiles, and then post something that could be severely detrimental to our brand, we're going to have an interesting conversation. We're not alone, as more and more companies have the same monitoring process. Also, if you're connected through social media sites with other people at your company or within the interactive community in general, think twice before posting anything that will take away from generating business for you in the future.

As a company, you do not want people working for you to sabotage their own reputations because it also affects your reputation as a company. With more and more companies using this information in their hiring decisions, revealing the wrong information online can seriously hinder your employability factor.

I realize that the ways to ruin your industry reputation I have illustrated just scratch the surface, so I encourage you to share your stories within the comments section below in an effort to steer people in the right direction and avoid major career pitfalls.

Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.

Sean Cheyney currently serves as VP, Audience Extension, at Triad Retail Media, where he oversees sales, strategy, training, positioning, implementation and growth of audience extension sales and solutions for Triad’s clients including Sears,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Joseph Porcellini

2008, July 22


Well said. Companies need to spend more time training and retaining there sales teams.

As a publisher, we continue to stress the importance on Positively Outstanding Service & Treatment. In order to succeed the #1 thing we need to do is listen to our customers!

Thank you for your insights.

Commenter: Zohra Parnell

2008, June 21


I am so empressed by the comments of the Author Sean Cheyney that even if you have made mistakes before, But as long you maintain your integrity and ethics to rebuild yourself a better and stronger way, that is amazing, never to give up, continue to walk until you get there.

Very positive notes.

Thank you,


Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2008, June 18

Excellent points. It's easy to forget that job candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. The same tactics that I use as a hiring manager I'm sure are being used to some degree by the people that I'm hiring.

Commenter: Adam Kmiec

2008, June 18


Don't forget about personal reputation as it comes to working with/for people. If you don't honor your word when you manage someone that information travels fast. It's a sure fire way to have top talent look the other way.


Commenter: Gillian Kelly

2008, June 18

Great article! As a personal branding strategist I continually talk about the value of your personal reputation to your business and career. Everything you do should be analysed to ensure that it enhances your reputation in the long term. Don't get caught up in short-term gain at the risk of long term loss. I think everyone should live by the 'first do no harm' principle. Act ethically and authentically everyday and the rest will follow.

Commenter: Denise Zimmerman

2008, June 18

Hi Sean,

I thought this was a great article and a topic that rarely if ever is addressed publicly. Valuable advice! Bravo!

-- Denise

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2008, June 18

Thanks John. I appreciate your supportive comments. You and everyone at your agency have always been a stellar example of how to do things the right way and your continued success is proof positive.

Commenter: John Durham

2008, June 18

should be must reading for all entry level people at brands, agencies and publishers. Sean, as usual, you drive points home in a smart and engaging way

i have already sent this to several agency and publisher people with a note to go over in meetings, valuable stuff

and sent to everyone in our office and during our weekly staff meeting, will discuss!

Commenter: John Durham

2008, June 18

should be must reading for all entry level people at brands, agencies and publishers. Sean, as usual, you drive points home in a smart and engaging way

i have already sent this to several agency and publisher people with a note to go over in meetings, valuable stuff

and sent to everyone in our office and during our weekly staff meeting, will discuss!

Commenter: Tim Bottiglieri

2008, June 18

Mr Cheyney, well said sir, lesson in business ethics, let's also include personal lives. Those that throw stones, eventually end up bruised themselves.

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2008, June 18

Kip, Thanks for pointing that one out. You're right on the money. At least 2-3 times per week I get an introduction email from someone that includes an attachment so big that it clogs my inbox. The result is an immediate delete of future emails and voice mails from those people.

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2008, June 18

Steve, I couldn't agree more with your assessment. Partnership is about the long term.

Commenter: Kip Edwardson

2008, June 18

And don't send attachments or use email to introduce yourself. To me, email is still very impersonal. A phone call always is best, and when you call ask if the person on the other end has 3-5 minutes to talk. If not now, set up a time later and then ask PERMISSION to send an email. When I was in PR, the rule of thumb when calling a reporter was to always ask how they like to get information from your company, and respect deadlines.

Commenter: steve jacoby

2008, June 18

RIGHT ON! I think if more people pay close attention to these key insights, we'll all be much better off. Doing the right "things” will earn trust and respect, doing the wrong "things” will lose you respect and business. These key qualities make up great partnerships, and great partnerships usually make for good business.