Bad Advice Night at the Mixer

By: Guest | March 1, 2011 | 

Davina K. Brewer is doing solo PR as 3Hats Communications, helping Atlanta small businesses with marketing, design, dog washing or whatever hat she wears that day.

I was at a networking thingy the other night, one of those business card swap meets with everyone trolling for new customers. Yes that includes myself as, shockingly enough, Apple and Coke aren’t beating down my door, wanting to give me piles of cash.

I met someone who had a new business venture and I gave her some ideas. Lots of them.  Good ones. She liked them, she wrote them down and took my card.

Also in the conversation was an SEO marketer who was, based upon my five-minute impression:

  • A hack.
  • A scourge preying upon small business owners.
  • A blight upon smart social media marketing and PR professionals.

The elevator pitch:

“I’ll do local for $300, state for $500. Totally AUTOMATED tweets and Facebook and YouTube. You never have to get involved or do a thing yourself. We’ll push out your stuff, blow up the Internet with your presence,…” Word vomit.

I wanted to run away, before someone noticed the blood dripping from my ears.

I wanted to scream “NOOOOOO! That’s wrong,” at a glass-shattering volume.

I wanted to help the person hearing this crap, thinking this is how it’s really done.

A taste for shoe leather

The more comfortable I am around you, the more I speak my mind. (Hostess with the mostess Gini Dietrich can speak for that, much to her regret.) I’ve started calling it my WYSIWYG marketing approach, and it hurts as much as it helps.

“Open mouth, insert foot” is my go-to move, but I was going for impressive.

Do you tell someone they got some bad advice? Pull them aside and politely redirect them to better sources on marketing integration and social media strategy?

For the hack, I professionally mentioned that my approach is different, casually dropping the obligatory “strategic, organic, authentic engagement, inbound marketing” buzzwords. I made sure the small business owner had my card, wished her well with my suggestions.

Then like a chicken, I crossed over to a conversation well on the other side of the room.

Time or Place?

I am the first to quip all blah blah “TEHO; more than one way to better mousetrap a skinned cat; if it works for you, then it works” blah.

As I read horror stories of sucky PR pitches or terrible tool-based social efforts void of any strategy, I’m also apt to point out via blogs and comments that there are ways that are right and ways very, very wrong.

But it didn’t seem the proper time or place.

What would you have done? Let me have it.

Davina K. Brewer is doing solo PR as 3Hats Communications, helping Atlanta small businesses with marketing, design, dog washing or whatever hat she wears that day. She blogs, she tweets, and she works to support her addiction to shiny, new Apple products.

  • KenMueller

    Tough call. I’ve been in that situation a number of times. More often than not I’m working with a client or prospective client and they mention who their web designer or SEO guy is, and I cringe. I think I’m being subtle, but I’m sure they can see it. At times I’ve mentioned it, at other times I haven’t. Depends on how comfortable I am with the client. I like to look out for my friends and clients (who are sometimes one and the same). On the other hand, I feel like I’m hearing more and more of this and I don’t wanna sound like “that guy.” You know, the person who is always complaining about the hacks.

    And unfortunately, that’s what a lot of companies want. I was handed a rather lengthy proposal to bid on….and then I read things like “During the months of Feb/March you will tweet for us three times a week” and much more.

    You get what you pay for, and sometimes you get what you deserve.

  • Oh Gawd, that person sounds horribly gauche, Davina. I’d probably have done what you did, though I have to watch my temper… not that I start yelling or everything, but my horror tends to show quite quicky in my face/eyes. I’m glad you gave your card to the “prospect,” and if she calls you, you’ll know she’s someone who can see through chaff to wheat.

    As to the proper time and place… no, it probably wasn’t, and I think you did the right thing. It’s different on, say, a panel discussion where I have, at times, openly disagreed with panelists, though always politely. Hmm…. maybe that’s why I didn’t get asked back. :p Even though networking events have business purposes, they’re still social events, and I think you probably scored points with the business owner for being graceful and professional.

    And thank you for the link love. 🙂

  • Neicolec

    I understand. You don’t want to get into a debate that might evolve into an argument when you’re networking and in front of a potential customer. I think the best thing might be to have some data, studies and research, in your back pocket. When something like this happens, you can quote data about how people respond to automated versus personal engagement. That kind of information is hard to refute.

  • dino_dogan

    Tough call indeed. My reaction would probably depend on how I feel at that moment, but I’ve been known to slap people upside the head to snap them out of bad directions…and as far as bad directions go, SEO advice from a guy in a selling it from the back of his van is as bad as directions get 🙂

  • jennwhinnem

    I love your story Davina! And since you asked…I’m always running into bad advice, shoddy thinking, strange political ideas, etc. And my coping mechanism is to ASK QUESTIONS. Because, how do you “local” and “state” SEO? I’m really curious now. I’d definitely like to know how that would work! I’d also like to know how “blowing up the internet” will help that business owner! I would try to get them to tell me as much as possible, while I expose them along the way.

    As for the “blow up the internet with your presence”…all I can say diplomatically is that I’ve run into people who think this is the way to approach social media, and I’ve never been able to dissuade them. So if your potential-client thinks this is the way to go…better to let her.

  • KevinVandever

    You say, “Dude, the used car salesman networking event is down the street!” Then you throw your watered-down drink and small plate of fried wontons in his face and turn to the potential client, who by now is searching for a pen to sign a contract with you, and say, “Anyway, strategic, organic, authentic engagement, inbound marketing…”

    OK, that might be what would go through my head, but I probably wouldn’t act out in that manner. I believe you handled the situation professionally and civilized (yes, I used the word civilized in a business context). As difficult as it may have been, I don’t think it would have helped you, or the potential client, if you debated with Mr. SEO. Handing the woman a card, letting her know that you do things differently and wishing her well was the cool, and right, thing to do. She may end up going down the wrong path, but she might remember your brief conversation and call you to fix things. You could also add a passive aggressive approach to your arsenal and follow up with more information on how your approach is better for the woman’s business than that of Mr. SEO’s.

  • thewhalehunters

    @KenMueller Priceless closing line Ken. Reminds me of “you don’t always get what you want.”

    Davinia, you were tactful and appropriate. People are going to make their own decisions, and if they are new and naive, they will either fail or they will soon get smarter. Not so hard to spot those guys.

  • 3HatsComm

    @thewhalehunters @KenMueller Comfort level is a big thing, as is trust and credibility. If you know the clients and friends well, they know you’re looking after their interests. If it’s strangers like this, they may not trust that you’re criticising someone else just in your own interests. Think the advice for folks is always, due dilligence.

  • 3HatsComm

    @Shonali Exactly, had it been a panel I’d have debated, talked ROI, asked how many credible leads that autospamblasting really earned, more than just “presence” and just talked about the fact there may be different, better approaches. Sadly I have not heard from the prospect (who didn’t have cards of her own to share that evening otherwise I’d have followed up with her on my suggestions). C’est la vie, I’m still glad I gave some actionable, smart advice and ideas which she noted; that’s my best “sales pitch” vs. jargon and babblespeak.

  • 3HatsComm

    @Neicolec True, the IME argument is a good one. Or maybe, since she didn’t have a card I should have gotten her email address to send her some links to such case studies and research. I will have to bookmark some facts for future sharing, thanks for the suggestion.

  • 3HatsComm

    @dino_dogan Ha. There was this yardstick incident in high school.. but I digress. The roaming SEO black hat should be as obviously bad as someone with “Snakeoil Inc.” on their name tags, but alas not always.

  • 3HatsComm

    @jennwhinnem Yeah, it’s the pitch… part trendy – Twitter! Facebook! – with the kicker – “we do all the WORK for you!” That’s what reels them in I think, it’s so easy. Contrast to my hardest sell: your PR, your social media still requires YOUR input, resources, time and effort for it to work, to earn measureable results.

    Asking questions?! Why did I not think of that, I will try that next time.. press for details, really try to get a sense of what that means when I hear such blather. Just sounded like black hat SEO stuff, with some added “social media” and I don’t get what this person was really selling. Next time, I’ll ask.

  • 3HatsComm

    @KevinVandever Har! Like @Shonali I was worried my poker face (I have none) betrayed me, wheels in my head turning and they’d see my forehead was about to start flashing neon red “fail overload.” If anything I try to be civil, respectful, courteous, professional. And pragmatic: there are times a healthy debate is actually productive, helpful; this did not feel like one of those times. FWIW.

  • HowieSPM

    That guy wasn’t the minority viewpoint sadly. I struggle whether to scream and yell and humiliate people like that. But if I change everyone’s viewpoint to my own, then my unqiue valuable insight is much less valuable. I think I would of given my card to each person that guy pitched since I think it would be easier to win business with ‘that’ as my competition. Not forgetting to ensure I undercut his price too $250 local $500 state 8)

  • MimiMeredith

    I think you did a great job. If ever you’re in a situation where you need an out that doesn’t place your feet on your tonsils, (a condition with which I am very familiar) try one of these lines:

    “That’s one approach.”
    “That’s a thought.”

    I find myself offering these when the topic of politics arises (I live in Arizona–help me) and I want to a) remind myself that an opinion is just an opinion–not cause for me to sound the alarm on my arsenal of acidic articuation and b) to be honest. Because I’m not going to say “That’s an ‘interesting’ approach” when its not. No one ever seems to catch on to the absence of flattery, and I feel better having this little moment of self-awareness that acts as my emotional safety valve. Of course, I don’t remember to do this all the time. Many are the moments I have gotten in the car following those lovely events (mixers…another Mimi Irritant!) and called my husband or a friend spluttering in outrage over the type of scene you described. But that’s not a bad release valve either : )!

  • balemar

    @MimiMeredith Mimi! I love the “that’s one approach” line. I think I might be using that one from now on.

  • 3HatsComm

    @HowieSPM True the bad examples make us look better, give us opportunities to fix their crap mistakes. But as ginidietrich just wrote about that NYT piece, everyone gets lumped into the “bad” guilt by association tainting the whole industry. I’m not an SEO expert, but hearing PR, social media tools and tactics being thusly perverted, I was like – no wonder folks don’t get it, don’t trust it when they see so many doing it wrong. Or worse, don’t get how and why it’s wrong until it’s too late.

  • balemar


    Kudos for not blowing up in their face! I can’t stand it when I hear people give horribly bad advice – even worse when they MEAN it!

    Like @jennwhinnem , I would probably start asking questions. Those people tend to fall apart when they talk about their process (or lack of one), current clients, results, etc. Does it make me a horrible person to take comfort in their stuttering non-replies?

  • 3HatsComm

    @balemar @MimiMeredith Thanks. Yes to being honest. I too have drop the “interesting” when it’s not. Rather than imposing my opinion, I settle for “my approach is something that’s else.” I do need more lines like this, or to ask for examples like @Neicolec suggested or just ask questions like @jennwhinnem mentioned. And as you say, remind myself everyone has opinions, no need to hit panic mode.

  • 3HatsComm

    @balemar @jennwhinnem Not at all. My problem is knowing which questions to ask without being pointed or putting them on the spot, but I will certainly give it a try and see if I can make it work. What’s hard is when that bad advice pays off.. “well, we got 400 new followers.” That’s when you try to ask about who they are, where, will they comment, share, RT or actually buy the product? Posted it earlier about what clients need vs. what they want, and there are times they can’t answer either question. So like Jenn said, probably better to let them go at that point, wish them the luck they’ll surely need.

  • ginidietrich

    I’ve been thinking about this since I read it in the drafts folder. I think I would have handled it the exact, same way you did. I’m not a conflict person so it would never cross my mind to call him on his own BS…until later.

  • sydcon_mktg

    I think you handled it beautifully and I believe I would have done the same, hard as it may have been. I also agree with @balemar I would have definately started asking questions to throw them off.

    I think giving them your card and waiting for an opportune time was brilliant! Eventually you can show the poor soul what a d-bag she was talking too!

  • 3HatsComm

    @sydcon_mktg @balemar Yeah, the question thing… live and learn. I gave good examples of 1) how to easily expand the product line, customization options and 2) other places to sell her product that she hadn’t considered. She wrote them all down, seemed to really like them so I was surprised I didn’t get a call or email, at which point I would have just talked MY approach to blogging, social media and how that impacts SEO. I think we all run into this scenarios: we hear bad advice, read bad pitches, see bad design and wasted marketing efforts. Good to see how others respond in such cases.

  • 3HatsComm

    @ginidietrich Totally not a conflict person either, and in these cases, I flubb my lines, my facts and figures. I trip on my own words trying to make my point, end up sounding like an ass or idiot. Or both. 😉

  • jennwhinnem

    @3HatsComm @balemar I’m terrible, I’d say “400 new followers? real people ones? that’s great.” I don’t know how I manage to pull this off!

  • jennwhinnem

    @3HatsComm Honestly Davina I thought you did great. I just tend to ask questions to really draw people out and then well we see what happens from there 🙂

    Let’s just say I find it disheartening how many people believe someone can really automate social for them – but more so how many people are willing to sell it.

  • 3HatsComm

    @jennwhinnem @balemar Depends on the scenario I could do that .. as a joke. “Oh real people or just porn and pithy quote feeds?” har har. Then if they don’t get the joke, that there’s a difference in “real people” friends and followers vs. the noise, another red flag to move on. Food for thought.

  • ginidietrich

    @3HatsComm This makes me want to provoke you next time I see you. Just to see you flub.

  • ginidietrich

    @KevinVandever And this is why we love Kevin!

  • Davina, pumped to see you guest post on here . Hopefully you’ll get tons of cross-overs to your blog so they can get a taste of why I never miss your articles.

    Getting to your fun little story, and although we’re all apparent geniuses with hindsight, I would have confronted the hack, likely with some statement like:

    “Wow genius web guy, your services are amazing. I must know how you’re going to accomplish this incrrdible, guaranteed service with your Wal-Mart prices???”


    “Wow genius web guy, I thought hacks like you only sent out generic emails to 50,000 businesses at one time. You mean to tell me their is such a thing as ‘living spam’???”


    “I’m curious web guy, does your soul ever eat at you at night when you lie in bed??”

    OK, I’ll stop now 😉

    You rock Davina.

  • bdorman264

    I think toe to toe, finger in the chest gets their attention, or you can stand behind them so the person they are talking to can still see you and put your finger to your mouth like you are gagging………..I know ‘that guy’ all too well as I attend enough Chamber type events to spot them.

    I too am non-confrontational and will typically listen (for a short while) and then disengage. I’m not going to call anyone out unless a serious BS alarm goes off.

    I approach these events as an opportunity to meet people, expand your network and see if there are any opporunities to help each other out somewhere down the road. I view myself as a connector so I don’t think you can know too many people.

    I think you did the right thing w/ your 30 second commercial because it’s who you are and as long as it is sincere and credible the cream will truly rise to the top.

    Don’t be too hard on him though, you gotta have some stories to tell afterwards………

  • 3HatsComm

    @Marcus_Sheridan Har! I’ll have to add these barbs to my arsenal, I want to mix it up if ever I’m feeling confrontational. My fear there is that 1) this search engine marketing tech person would not GET that sending out 50K generic emails is BAD and 2) neither would the SMB. So you’re already debating from behind the eight ball. FWIW.

  • 3HatsComm

    @bdorman264 If it’s something I KNOW I can discuss with knowledge, authority then yeah I’ll call b.s. when that alarm goes off. Sadly that’s Disney, TV, my wine preferences and maybe SEC football (Geaux Tigers). Even then there’s always someone who may know more. 😉 “My 30 second commercial” love that. I’m trying to refine that, really listen to how others describe their practice so I can put into context what I do. Give examples, suggestions rather than a hard sell.

    As to being hard on this person, the stories to tell afterward, lessons to be learned from the bad example… I’m pleasantly surprised this little moment resonates. I think across any industry, this basic of networking is anything but basic, important to consider all sides, how to handle oneself in these kinds of situations. And learn from others mistakes. FWIW.

  • @MimiMeredith … or you could say, “Imagina te” – don’t know how that’s spelled, but I believe it’s Spanish for “Imagine that!” Apparently it was a favorite saying of my husband’s late mom, when she was completely uninterested in what someone was saying to her. :p