Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Painful High Road

In the late 1990s, Cysive was a foundation client.  We played a lead role in building the company’s reputation, investing thousands of dollars in time each month above their retainer fee.

The company rode the dot com wave and was on a path to raise millions in the public markets.  All of our investment and loyalty was going to pay off in a six figure account for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) 

Or so I thought.  They hired a new hotshot VP, Marketing out of Intel who then proceeded to fire us for one of the big brand name communications firms.

When the Marketing VP phoned me to strike our death blow the final insult was his decision to have the new firm manage a press interview I had been working on for six months.

My response, “If you guys mess this up I am going to be f--king pissed.”

As soon as the words slipped from my mouth I knew the relationship between Cysive and Strategic was forever shot.  My response was emotional, unprofessional and immature.

Which brings me to a blog post recently published on a government-oriented social network called MeriTalk.  Entitled “The Sting," author Steve O’Keeffe of communications consultancy O’Keeffe & Company relates a sad and frustrating tale of his company’s soured business relationship with a partner on a key government contract.

Steve O'Keeffe - jilted partner
There’s no way I can verify O’Keeffe’s presentation of the events portrayed in the post.  If it is true, his company was certainly mistreated.  

Yet, his decision to openly call out another company in a social environment – which he justifies with his belief in transparency – is misguided.  Why?

For starters, O’Keeffe’s post may be perceived by many as merely the rants of a spoiled child.  Although penning this article probably felt good at the time (as did my dropping the f-bomb on Cysive), the impression he has created is inconsistent with the premium brand he has worked so hard to build for his firm.

Second, O’Keeffe is inappropriately using his position of influence and authority as a top flight business leader and content publisher.  In an Email to the CEO of his company’s now former partner, O’Keeffe subtly delivers a threat which he has now made good on:

“I am frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines – and generate a weekly blog which goes out to 85,000 in the government and contractor community.”

And finally (and perhaps most important), this post potentially damages his firm’s ability to identify teaming partners for future business opportunities.  Things sometimes sour in a relationship.  Would you want to hit a tough stretch with O’Keeffe as your partner?

As a business owner, I know that it can be painfully excruciating to remain on the high road.  It is important to do so though, especially when it comes to participation in social media.   


Disclosure:  My firm has competed for business against O'Keeffe & Company.  I've met Steve several times, yet we have no meaningful relationship or connection.  


Anonymous said...

Interesting that the blog post you reference isn't there any more. I would have liked to have read the story from his point of view.

Like you, I'm all for transparency, but I agree that there's some topics that are best not covered in public. Perhaps Steve O'Keeffe thought better of his airing of grievances?

Marc Hausman said...

It looks that way, Mark.

Indeed...Steve pulled his blog post off of MeriTalk, as well as Govloop. So much for transparency.