It's a crisis when the disorder negatively affects great amounts of people -- and I think the business credibility crisis dominating the news will trickle into your daily professional lives inside an online publishing organization. This crisis can yield a great opportunity, however, if you play your cards straight.
Credibility is leaking everywhere.
Clients and buyers are people. They are affected by what they read, see and hear in the national business headlines. They know AT&T got caught faking the number of bars the network actually delivers. They know Apple got caught selling a product that stops working when you hold it (it is a phone, remember). They understand Toyota sold cars with faulty brakes, watched BP spill everything, and can see financial institutions struggling to rebuild consumer trust from nothing.
In their business lives, clients and buyers have always viewed online publishing's credibility as suspect. Facebook's privacy miscues, malware running rapidly through fake ads sold by ad networks, and click fraud costing advertisers millions of wasted dollars are just the tip of the online publishing credibility iceberg. I don't believe we as a publishing industry are getting any better. Rather, we're getting more comfortable behaving worse.
Insert case in point.
After receiving an email from a well-regarded, reputable media association promoting a conference that prominently featured the conference sponsors, I replied with a question I did not expect answered: "How did you obtain my email address for this mailing?"
Surprisingly, I got a very professional and polite response explaining that my name was added back when this organization initiated email dialogue inviting me to participate on one of their panels. I'm pretty sure there was no user agreement offered during this professional yet personal email dialogue stating my email address would now contribute to their ad inventory.
With Congress drafting bills to prevent further dents in our industry's credibility, and the headlines outside the industry our clients and buyers read, it would be smart to assume buyers and clients come to the table to meet with you looking for deceit.
This may not be fair, but it does present a great opportunity. Your company can benefit from simply making credibility a vocal focus point, so you can be seen standing far away from the rail as the crisis train travels through.
This kind of change starts with "the man in the mirror." You, personally, may approach your job with the utmost intentions of delivering transparent credibility, but there may be some practices that don't drive home that impression. From a pure sales perspective, there are ways to present and sell your site that increase your credibility with every call. For example:
1. Present the most recent month's metrics for your site and source them right away. Averaging your monthly uniques to show a larger number is not a step towards greater credibility -- and how can you "average" monthly uniques anyway? Being statistically current and transparent selling online buys you credibility because so many out there are playing a game with their numbers.
2. Don't under-deliver on sold campaigns, ever. At this point, you should understand your inventory capacity threshold. Under-delivering shows a lack of this knowledge and could be perceived as selfish as you try to make up for agreeing to lower CPMs by closing more dollars than you can actually deliver. If any doubt exists from the get-go, take in less money and tell your buyer why. That earns immediate credibility.
3. Stop making promises without breathing them through. We all tend to stop breathing on sales calls when a buyer asks for something and then we gasp for air as we promise whatever they asked. Instead, breathe, listen -- and then say yes only if what is asked is absolutely doable. If not, respond with why you would have trouble delivering on that promise the way it was asked, and offer back something else that is doable and achieves similar goals. Saying no the right way earns credibility; saying yes to everything makes you sound like everyone else.
I think extreme and transparent credibility will be the new black in online publishing. As a salesperson, you can directly influence how your organization is perceived. So ask yourself, if you were paid commissions based on the trust you earned and not the dollars you closed, how would you approach your job differently?