by Gary S. Nellis

I came across a recent posting in one of the several online company rating sites that really got my attention.  From time to time I check into these sites to keep tabs on the ebb & flow of human capital within my industry.  Current salaries & candidate searches, company reviews, etc.

Though I’m not in the job search market, I find such information to be one measure, however broad, of insurance companies and related product trends that are gaining or losing traction within the worksite benefits marketplace.  The thought being that a high degree of professional turnover may point to concerns to bear in mind.

What stood out about that particular posting were not only its rather extreme negativity (it certainly was that), but also its specificity. Written, apparently, by a current company rep in the Midwest, reviewing career opportunities with the company he represented for the benefit of others.

So this fellow writes the following… “My own family and friends will not do business with me as a result of their past experiences with (this company). Internally the joke is (the name stands) for ‘Alcoholics finally land a career.’ They are proud to have been banned from the JW Marriott for violating (the hotel’s) liquor license by providing their own booze at a party/conference they threw there. By far the most unprofessional bunch of “benefits advisors” around. You will not be able to distinguish yourself from the hoard/swarm of other agents “just stopping in” to businesses unannounced.”

Ouch. And, if I’m honest, pretty, pretty, pretty humorous. No, alcoholism is not funny. And, full disclosure, as an employee benefits broker I had successfully introduced the company’s products to clients in the earlier phase of my insurance career. Indeed, I happily received many a production award at company events, though always left early enough to miss any such activities described by the disappointed poster.

Still, there was power in the message and the ring of an authentic gripe. In the nexus of brand marketing meets disgruntled-company-rep, twisting successful branding for negative effect. Was I alone in this perception? The ten or so people I shared the story with had spontaneous and identical gut-laugh reactions to it.

The experience of reading that review brought to mind another online rating institution and you, dear reader, may be well ahead of me. About a year ago, I was asked to contribute to a piece featured in The Policy Tree entitled “Dinner for One and Two AC Outlets for my Digital Devices”. The subject seems almost quaint now – the growing and distracting use of smart phones by diners in restaurants.

The author of the article, a friend, was aware of my prior career as director of operations for a national restaurant chain. Having shared my experience with first encountering a dining room full of brick-cellphone users in 1990, I concluded with the following:

Perhaps there is a silver lining. Perhaps it can be reasoned that many a tantrum due to late-seated guests-with-reso’s has been averted by the now much smaller electronic pacifier in hand. Of course, such reasoning comes with the awareness of a threat much more sinister than yesterday’s version of “may I speak to the manager”…YELP!

Safe to say the irony of that last statement lies in Yelp’s own statistics – 59% of its searches are now conducted on mobile devices. Instant crowd-sourced judgification.

Yes, we love to judge. OMG, do we love to judge. Which is another way of saying we want to be heard. Online crowd sourcing has legitimized, marketized and monetized the Opinion of the Personal Experience. One of the partners of a very successful hospitality-consulting firm based in NYC once confided to me “every time a restaurant closes, a consultant is born”. Truer words were never spoken though the power of social media seems to have removed the prerequisite of a relevant career to empower the New Expert.

Of course, while we may come to agree or disagree with conclusions posted online, the consumers of crowd-sourced opinion have proven to be resiliently savvy in finding the median ground. Yelpers and glassdoor.com’ers will likely tell you they throw out the best and worst reviews when gathering information. We are an averaging society, on average. To the relief and frustration of the companies and businesses reviewed, consumers will ultimately disregard the very worst but also the very best experiences in evidence. Though it must be said that the very worst can be entertaining in that guilty-pleasure sort of way.

Should the good folks at Alcoholics Finally Land A Career be concerned about a specific negative review or any similar? Possibly not, though I would imagine that, as a recruiting tool, that particular post may have given pause to any job searchers within the region described. True, you can’t please all the people all the time, however it is preferable to avoid practices that get your company banned from other businesses.

The best defense against the negative is the positive. In the business world, the Golden Rule still applies. Talk about quaint. In my own practice as a broker providing Life insurance, Long Term Care insurance and other asset-protection products, this boils down to transparency and full disclosure of commissions prior to sale. If one doubts the import of that act, one need only ask another prospective broker to do likewise.

As Ricky Roma uncharacteristically utters in Glengarry Glen Ross, the infamous film about the rank dishonesty of shady realtors, “Always tell the truth… it’s the easiest thing to remember.”

In 2012, Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at Media.com, wrote “Half a century ago David Ogilvy said: “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife”. Now she is an expert with a smartphone who can find out as much as she wants about a brand in a matter of minutes. If that doesn’t match what the advertising says then the brand hasn’t just lost a sale, it has potentially lost a customer for a lifetime, and the implications of this are enormous.”

Caveat venditor, O clever corporate mad men. Your unintended brand may be showing.

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The original content contained in this self-funded report may not be used unless authorized by the author.

Date: September 4, 2014

Gary S. Nellis

Gary S. Nellis is a Long Term Care insurance & asset-protection Specialist, employee benefit Broker,  worksite benefit Expert, contemporary art & photography Collector based in Los Angeles.

Please Note: If any original content in this report is used without written permission from the author (Gary S. Nellis) strong legal action will be taken by law firm retained by the author.