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Op/ed: Big business — Reputation vs. reality


By Scott Harris on September 6, 2013

Sometimes what we’re told of the world goes so against our own experiences that we’re left to wonder if we’re in a twilight zone, or if maybe what we’re told is wrong. Or at least not the whole story.

After a series of markedly positive business meetings and interactions with four huge corporations, I’m left wondering if the image of big, bad businesses taking all that they can get and leaving little for anyone else isn’t as outdated as “the world is flat,” or at least in need of some serious rethinking.

I know I’m only one person and this is only one week, but that’s how all the negative stories start, too — one person interacts with another person and they have a negative experience, and because it’s negative (and, in this case, because it’s a negative experience regarding big business), it snowballs into news. Hopefully, my snowball is taken just as seriously.

This particularly good week started with the nasty side of doing business: dealing with an ongoing dispute with a client regarding some invoices that were more than a year overdue. Our back and forth escalated to the point that I received a call from the firm’s senior counsel. It seemed like overkill for the amount that was due, but within two minutes of our call she acknowledged the validity of my claim and offered to

FedEx a check the next day — if that worked for me. She went on to further apologize for the situation.

The next day brought a meeting with the head of marketing for a new client acknowledging that they were entirely responsible for a large “project creep,” and asked that we raise our fees accordingly; she also explained that since we would be doing more work with them, and emphasized that we be candid with her if we run into a similar problem in the future, and she will handle it directly.

The next few days led to another client acknowledging that the projects we delivered proved far more challenging than initially quoted and asked us to adjust our invoice accordingly and, though it doesn’t relate to my company personally, a service manager at a local car shop informing me that I didn’t need the full tune-up I came in for, but rather a simple oil change.

Any of these stories taken individually would have been seen as a little bit surprising and, of course, positive. Collectively, I had to ask myself why I was surprised. Had I been faced with more negativity or hostility or unpaid invoices by larger corporations than the smaller, more local clients I work with? Or had I just allowed myself to jump on the bandwagon and come to expect the worst from big businesses?

Upon reflection, throughout the course of my 25-plus years of owning a marketing company, I find that my dealings with clients have been pretty consistent (both good and bad) with companies large and small. I realize how easy it is for the media to jump on every mistake large businesses make, but do they really make them any more often than small businesses, or is it just more newsworthy because they’re big?

In the end, a “big business” is simply a collection of people, just like a small business.  And in any collection of business people, regardless of size, you’ll find good people, ethical people and sadly, some less than ethical people.

That being said, it does belie the idea that all big businesses are out to fight for every penny they have, in spite of their considerably larger collection of pennies. And while I don’t pretend that all “big businesses are great, or even good” — I do think it’s worth pointing out that there may not be much of a pattern: there might just be ethical business owners and unethical business owners, and that they can exist in large and small companies.

What I do know with absolute certainty is some of the best, most honest and most ethical treatment I have received in my 25-plus years of doing business has come within the last week, and they have all come from big business. Maybe that’s a narrative that can gain some traction.

• Scott Harris is the owner of Thousand Oak-based Mustang Marketing. Contact him at scott@mustangmktg.com.