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May 16, 2011
The New Low in Business Etiquette: Stealing Without Aplomb
Like you, everything I do is personal. But when folks start ripping off business from me and making my industry look bad by the manner in which the thievery is committed, I decide to take action.
Here, then, is a dissertation on being stolen from by someone lower on the food chain.
It’s okay to steal biz; it’s sweet that someone thinks you are worth lifting from. Yes, everyone gets the urge to eat the lunch of a competitor. But doing it in a way that makes everyone look tawdry and insignificant brings us all down.
One lady from Biz Dev at another PR firm asked a client of mine, a known CEO of an upstart tech firm, for his money. But in doing so, she used a form letter with no couth, details, ideas, or imagination, and so the CEO wrote her and me to say that it was the worst letter he’d ever gotten: poorly written, devoid of ideas, and particularly trite, without research or backup. He even used a word that made me flinch: generic. Talk about busted.
Oh, and let me tell you how she did it:
I recently noticed some news on your company which caught my eye. I apologize for the impersonal e-mail, but I want to introduce you to my firm. [Full names are left in to hurt the criminal—see Laermer.com for more.] ...We have been in business for over 20 years and are creative in spinning our clients’ stories to the media...If you would like tohear some of our PR ideas, I can contact you. For more information about...please visit our Web site.
Did you laugh at “I can contact you”? It’s like “Please do me a big favor, as if my client doesn’t get a letter like this one once a week at least. Drop everything and respond because you are the PR love of my life.”
This gal embarrassed the two of us and our mutual profession with such a ham-fisted approach to doing me in. Here’s the overriding question: why is everything just tossed off these days? Whether it’s lazy emails or vapid communication or CYA to clients (“Sounds good!” “I’m with you!”) or the letters we send to prospects like this poopy-head above, it’s as if we’re playing a game of numbers instead of putting thought onto the monitor.

Are we so busy that we simply want to “git ’er done” instead of putting in the real mental energy? Have approach and grammar become so damn unimportant in these fast-paced, voweldropping, texted-to-death times of ours?
In service businesses, the latest scheme run amok is our letting technology override how we target the communications we send out: with our heads and not our hands.
If it’s all form and formality, then what good is the communication? Let’s just get Hal (dastardly machine in Kubrick’s 2001), because I know he’s not working! Besides, if you start a relationship with a form letter, how will you ever get her phone number?
The BD person in question swore that she didn’t know my client had public relations representation. Alas, when she looked up the CEO’s email on his site, she could just as easily have clicked on Press Contact and figured this out. But it bugs me more that someone outside the agency saw the crud being filed by my peers, and so this CEO-for-life type will think twice before letting “people like me” at his boardroom table in the near future.
It comes down to elegance, style, and caring. To send a letter that you would delete at first glance shows clueless behavior put forth by consequence-forgetting folks, and worse, someone who claims to be representing her firm as a developer of new clientele!
It’s harder than ever to get through to anyone with our own carefully chosen words — so isn’t the idea to put thought into any and all messages sent out, regardless of what form and to what, who, or where?
Twitter @laermer. And try out www.yeahwhatever.com.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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