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.

5 thoughts on “The Business Vegetarian

  1. I hate when that happens. It’s happened to me plenty of times. People want to meet, they say all the right things, drop all the right names and businesses, and then… when we do meet… all of a sudden… they don’t know anyone, just saw them somewhere. I recently saw a website for some so called marketing professionals who have a building they want people to rent office space from. Well, they profess to be savvy business marketeers and want to help market other businesses and offer video as one of the services. Well, the video camera they were using was a built-in camera on a laptop – they walked around holding the laptop and I was dizzy just from watching him spin the laptop around to show himself and then the facility. Would I as a business want them handling MY marketing – heck no! That was a meeting that never happened and glad it didn’t!

  2. You could have used a different metaphor. I agree that Sandi needed to be grilled, but Vegetables Sizzle and Steaks Sizzle. You put down people who don’t want to eat things that have feelings. Your premise makes Vegetarians appear to be weak. On a lighter note, I would rather Sandi faked jouranlism than an orgasm.
    Michael – No Names Please

  3. Well stated, Dave. There’s a plethora of people who profess to be prolific professional prose producers who have neither a whit of creative talent nor fundamental grammatical skills. “Puff” journalism, indeed!

    If one chooses to make a living as a writer, try to write with passion, dedication, devotion to a cause or a principle… write to inspire and entertain, and don’t engage in ‘puff’ journalism.

  4. Dave, have I told you today I love you? Thanks for this piece.

    Having been a writer, I’ve dealt with all the issues you raise. Once upon a time, I made decent money and met many successful business people who valued my skills. I strove to distill (as opposed to dilute) their information down to copy and a-v presentations that got results. But the worm turned. By 1990, videos, for example, went from 8-10 min. presentations to . . uh, what? 4 minutes? I piped, “How can we convey enough about a company, service or concept in FOUR MINUTES?” Or, “The customer said she only needs one tri-fold – what’s with the expensive portfolio design with all this paper?” That got glares from the people who hired me. Ouch.

    Meanwhile, televised commercials were whittled down to mere frames. Eye candy. Computer graphics programs raised graphics to a new high art, yet killed jobs and gave way to hyphenate job requirements, such as writer/typesetter/proofer/graphics artist. Another way for companies to save money. Something is lost when one person does it all, though. So, concluding that my communications talent was wasted and nobody cared about anything REAL, I switched to technical writing (“just the facts, m’am”) which spelled higher earnings and no “puff.”

    The business “writers” like my near-namesake, Sandi, who spout sizzle and savvy buzzwords, and who are connected to some vertically integrated communications structure, are making careers as faux as the stories they write. I used to run “Writers Forum,” a monthly meeting for local writers. We saw opportunities dry up, pay go down, and competition get cutthroat. Fact is, few writers make a living at writing alone, whether it’s journalism or business writing. Average earnings for writing are poverty level. Yet people continue to dream of becoming writers.

    Maybe like I and my contemporaries did, today’s “writers” go to J-school or B-school hoping to make an impact using their verbal skills. They might be great writers in the making, even great copywriters. But until the market demands great writers and Americans demand truth, our communications “diet” is going to be mostly hot air.

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