19 February 2020
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Big business behaving badly

We produced an excellent title for a very large organisation about seven years ago and everyone at Switzer working on the project put their heart and soul into it. The result was a roaring success and the company won accolades for this, with their staff rewarded handsomely for such a fine result, or so we heard. They had approached us with a set budget, stratospheric expectations and that certain manner that is worn by those working for companies at the big end of town – you know, 'we’re BIG and you’re small and this is a great opportunity for you to be working with us'. They returned another time with another project – less money and even higher expectations after the success of the last. We obliged – this time a little cautious that we were perhaps falling into a discount pattern but we again produced an outstanding product. No further work ensued and the reasons why were the usual ones – budget cut backs, taking the business in a different direction, staff changes and other companies have been appointed. I know the story well.

However we had produced great products and we could show other clients what we could do for them – so we used these products as examples of our work when we were talking to other prospects. I remember the following story so well with one of them.

We had a meeting booked with a big four accounting firm with senior people from their marketing team. We showed our work and explained what we could do for them as we had identified a need for them for our product. I offered two of our books to the senior marketing person as gifts as she had said that her husband owned a small business. She turned to her assistant and told her to take these books to their internal design team. I didn’t know until then that they had an internal design team and I remember wondering why this instruction was given – and in front of me! I had been so explicit in what we could do for them, lured in by their love of our idea and not thinking for one moment that a big four accounting organisation would take us for a ride.

Time passed and despite our follow ups with this marketing person, we heard nothing. Some time later I opened an envelope from our former banker. Inside was a book – the very book that we had suggested to the accounting firm. The two organisations had paired up to produce this book that was promoting an award run by the accounting company – and the book, without word of a lie, looked exactly like the Switzer book. I was taken aback.

I never did anything although I did feel like writing to the two CEOs telling them that their marketing departments were doing things that I believed were unethical and not in line with what each organisation publicly states about ethics and fair dealing. But I didn’t. You get distracted by this sort of thing and I run a business that needs to have revenue flow in the door, not have me engaged with legal/ethical/moral debates.

Then the other day I read a press release put out by the Federal Small Business Minister Craig Emerson on unconscionable conduct and I said to Peter (Switzer), “You should have him on your TV show and make a real song and dance about this because these big end of town companies have all these supposed policies about being ethical and all they really do is rip small businesses off in whatever way they can and they don’t give a toss.”

Anyway, the invitation is out for the Minister to come on the show – and maybe we can then get this bullying big business issue out for public debate because I know I’m getting tired of hearing the line about how small business is the backbone of this country from the very governments and big end of town players who keep kicking small operators up the proverbial – just because they can.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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