The Business Vegetarian

Sandi is a business vegetarian. She knows everything about sizzle, but has never tasted steak.

The woman sitting across from me is a content marketer. She had called about a week ago and I hadn’t, at that moment, the time nor the patience to deal with her. I thought that she represented a Beachwood Chamber of Commerce member. As the immediate past president, I make time for all of our members. I agreed to an appointment and now she is here.

What is a content marketer? Her poorly written email, sent to whet my appetite for our meeting, had been filled with promises of success through buzzwords. Clearly, she wasn’t a writer. Yet, that’s what she is selling.

I knew that I was in trouble as soon as I learned that neither she nor her new employer were chamber members. Worse, for some reason she felt compelled to try to convince me of the virtues of COSE. She wasn’t listening, wasn’t processing what she was hearing, or was simply unable to let go of her preconceived notions. It was at this point that I realized that she could no longer tell the difference between reality and the BS she and her company produced.

Puff pieces. Sandi sells puff pieces. She and a crack team of faux journalists create articles and bogus interviews for one of our area’s many business magazines. You can find these publications in offices and waiting rooms all over town. The subscriptions are forever and the price is popular, free. Flip through the pages and you will see lots of smiling executives and news stories brimming with success and happiness. This is fine as long as you realize that you aren’t reading a real magazine while you are waiting for Doctor Coldhands.

My first experience with fake journalism was about eleven years ago. I had a chance to be in a special advertising section of the Sun Papers. If I bought a big enough ad, the Sun Papers would publish a nice story about me. How nice? It was great. There was a quarter page article extolling my virtues as an agent and member of the community. I wrote it. My mother was very proud.

Does anyone believe this stuff? Would you read or trust any publication with “Smart” or “True” in its name? You wouldn’t, but someone, other than the subjects’ mothers and the magazines’ staffs, must be buying the BS.

Or maybe not.

Does it matter if anyone opens these magazines or really reads the stories? The advertisers get certified audit reports that prove the distribution and educated guesses as to how many people were stuck in those waiting rooms. The news is always positive. The subjects of the articles and interviews are always happy with the product. Marketing executives and public relations specialists have a reliable partner, an outlet eager to spread a particular version of the truth. The only loser is the unsuspecting reader.

As our meeting ended, Sandi gave me her card but expressed doubts that I would remember our conversation. She speculated that I would throw out her card before she got to her car. Wrong again. I’m a steak guy. I will keep her business card. It is a permanent reminder about the dangers of getting caught up in the sizzle.