My friend Blaine Parker publishes a weekly screed (his term) called Hot Points. It’s always worth reading (subscribe here), but this week’s is so good I’ve asked Blaine for permission to republish here, which he has granted.
HOT POINTS for The Week of August 16, 2010
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HERE NOW, YOUR WRITER ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA
This week’s screed gives a little jab at advertisers who are mortified by the word “free.”
And it also yanks the rug part way out from under yours truly.
The reason this is happening is because of an interesting item in Entrepreneur Magazine this month.
Under the heading, “Doing Good: Entrepreneurs Who Give Back,” isthe story of a house painter named Matt in Loveland, Colorado, which is about 50 miles north of Denver.
Some time ago, Matt received a call from a woman who had to cancel a pending job because her husband died of a heart attack.
Matt returned her deposit and offered his condolences.
Then a couple of days later, he did something unusual.
HE DECIDED TO PAINT HER HOUSE FOR FREE
Like I said: unusual.
There aren’t a lot of businesses out there who would just up and decide to donate a couple thousand bucks in supplies and labor to a recently minted widow. (I’m sure that right now, avid Hot Points reader Russell Friedman of The Grief Recovery Institute is turning this whole thing over in his agile, grief-counselor’s mind and getting ready to fire off a missive about the wisdom of this move. We’ll wait and see.)
And this charitable gesture led Mr. Matt to an idea…
He and his wife (who is also part of the business) decided to publicize their effort, searching for people in need of home makeovers.
Now, understand, they’re not suddenly donating paint jobs to everyone who wants one.
They’re making it known publicly that for people in extreme circumstances, they’ll make things just a little better.
THEY’VE COMMITTED THEMSELVES TO MAKING THIS PART OF THEIR ANNUAL CHARITABLE EFFORTS
Matt decided to get the word out and let the community know he wanted to paint a home for a deserving family.
They started contacting local media, which resulted in news stories. They have a YouTube video. On their website is this blurb:
Free Paint Makeover
M & E Painting is always looking to hear the stories of people and
families in our community that need our help. Unfortunately, life can
throw some curve balls that leave people in a tough financial situation.
We are looking for nominations of people and families in the community
that are in need of painting but do not have the means to make it
happen. Please email their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
M & E Painting’s 2010 goal is to provide painting services for six
families in need completely FREE!! So far we have 3 projects
What might be most impressive about this is that it’s costing him much less than anticipated–because his painting crews volunteered to donate their time.
And as the company grows, Matt gives away proportionately more paint jobs. If next year’s business is up 30%, he’ll do 30% more free painting.
SO, WHAT HAS THIS ACCOMPLISHED FOR MATT’S PAINTING COMPANY?
Of course, you mean besides the joy of doing good for people in need. (While you’re not a cynic, and are entirely compassionate, you’re still wondering about the bottom line.)
The result is untold thousands of dollars in free advertising. (That would be the “free money” in the subject line tease, friends.)
M&E Painting has had a couple of TV stories done on them, had hundreds of hits at their YouTube video on this topic, and the word of mouth has been exceptional.
(I will admit: there are several YouTube videos of the guy who holds a sign for Matt’s company at the side of the road–and those videos have received thousands more views than the charitable painting video. But I digress.)
And, of course, now there’s the national story in Entrepreneur, which will no doubt generate much more word of mouth and some further news in Loveland.
THIS CAN BE PERCEIVED AS UNDERMINING THINGS I’VE TOLD MY OWN CLIENTS
Back in the day when I worked with radio station advertisers, there were frequent stories about these businessfolks helping out customers in need.
And I always told these people that while the stories were good, we couldn’t use them in their advertising.
One, you appear self-aggrandizing and calculating if you talk about the good you do and then say, “Buy from me.” (This is different than advertisers who tell their charitable stories as institutional, “feel good” messages instead of as sales messages.)
And two, who wants to be bombarded with calls from people looking for handouts? If you portray your business as a charity, you start getting calls from charity cases.
Now, I will stand by those assertions.
But, what I never did, was tell these advertisers how they COULD use these stories.
And Matt the painter has used these stories the right way.
He performed out of the goodness of his heart, and has decided he likes doing it. As a result, he lets people know that he’s always looking for worthy families.
And as far as I can tell, Matt never says, “Look at the good I do, call me to paint your house.”
Instead he says, “Call me to paint your house,” or he says, “Give me the name of someone who deserves a paint job.” Two distinctly different messages–one of them sales-based and found in his advertising, the other charity-based and found largely in his PR materials.
FEAR OF “FREE?”
This does provide a bit of amusement about business that are mortified by the word, “Free.”
Understand, this isn’t to say that all businesses should be giving things away.
But there have been times when advertisers whose products were ripe for a free sample were horrified at the idea of giving anything away.
There is, of course, the disingenuous car dealer cliché of “free floor mats,” which is possibly one of the most moronic and cynical free offers known to man.
But we’re talking about things more like the time-honored “free taste” or “free consultation.”
I’ve had businesses unwilling to lower the bar for entry in any way–and here we have a company giving away entire jobs.
Now, granted, Matt isn’t giving away anything free to potentially paying customers.
But he is parting with his product in a way that (a) is truly generous, and (b) is excellent PR.
SO, DO I GIVE AWAY MY SERVICES?
I don’t advertise giving away anything for free.
But I certainly give away things of value.
You’re reading one of them right now. (If it wasn’t of value, would you even subscribe?)
I’ve given free consultations to prospects.
I’ve given clients more work than they paid for.
I don’t advertise giving things away because I don’t advertise. I already have more business than I can handle.
I also love what I do, and I feel compelled to (as voiceover legend Bob Souer puts it ) “love my clients.”
Would I give away an entire ad campaign to a n
eedy business? That remains to be seen. So far, nobody’s ever approached who’s been needy enough. The only people who’ve wanted me to work for free make more money than I do. (Explain that one…)
But we have certainly discussed taking on charity cases.
And Matt in Loveland has inspired me by sharing the love.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in