During years of editing this magazine and others in our industry, I’ve received various versions of this reply when asking a wholesaler for an interview: “We don’t like to talk about ourselves; we don’t want to bring attention to the business; we prefer flying below the clouds; or we don’t want to give away any secrets.” I’m a soft sell guy, and invariably my response was to say “thank you” and move on.
Fair enough. I’m a big First Amendment fellow, and having the right to say “no” is as important as granting an interview. I will confess the reason for declining an interview, especially when they spoke about not talking about themselves, surprised me, given that we all live in the internet age.
The idea that you can actually hide facts about your company is usually a misguided notion.
If someone really wants to know what you’re doing, there are Dun & Bradstreet reports and a plethora of other reporting agencies to which you can subscribe.
You can also create a Google alert on every competitor (some are doing it to you, I suspect) so that anything that someone posts on the internet about them will create a message sent to the email of your choice. And it’s free.
You can also employ a distinctly nondigital approach, and that’s watching (or following) your competitor's trucks or watching how many visit a competitor’s location. A bit distasteful but not illegal (provided you’re parked legally).
And then there’s Sam Richter (samrichter.com) … he’s a savant at uncovering more about you than you thought possible via the internet. (Richter spoke at HARDI’s annual conference, a few years ago offering tidbits of information about HARDI members during his speech. He did this with their permission.) You can hire someone like Sam Richter and really come up with a surprising amount of “insider” information or you can even do it yourself. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.
All of this is available to everyone, and it’s legal. (I’m not going over what is available if a competitor is willing to break the law.)
I’m suggesting that very few businesses have any real secrets that a competitor cannot uncover or deduce from information that is mostly available.
Why the secrecy, the low-profile answers I’ve gotten over the years? I’m unsure. Some of it is reflective of the personality at the top. Some owners shirk from publicity, and thus their companies do too, at times. I understand. Companies have culture and personalities, and when there is a leader at the top who’s media shy, the style trickles downward.
Other times, some owners deeply believe that they operate differently from their competitors and don’t want the “other guy” to duplicate their tactics, especially if it’s effective, inexpensive or easy to replicate. Maybe.
Finally, and I think this reason arises from experience: No one came out and told me point-blank that they had a bad experience with the press, but in a few instances, I inferred such an occurrence. Maybe they were misquoted, and possibly the journalist just got it wrong. It happens. I would only say that in the trade press, you don’t have investigative journalists writing stories. As my friend, the late Jeff Forker, told me when I started out in the HVACR business: “We work within the industry.”
All of these are valid reasons to balking at an interview.
However, because I have a public relations perspective on how businesses operate, I often wonder, isn’t it more prudent to get your story told the way you see it rather than leaving people in the dark about how you operate?
I firmly believe that the subject (that’s you) should frame the conversation and control the tone, pace and direction of any media coverage.
It might not end up being precisely what you would wish for, but it will be more reflective of how you want your companies and policies portrayed.
And that’s good for you, for the company and the employees, too.