Controversy and Integrity
Luke Miller, CEO/CCO – Moment Creative
I recently posted something to LinkedIn that ended up being a bit controversial. The truth is, it wasn’t controversial…or at least it shouldn’t be. The sad thing for me is that it cost my company the chance to pitch for what could have been some big business with a major brand. Yes, I flew 3 members of my team into an undisclosed city to meet with an undisclosed potential client…only to be cancelled on 2 hours prior to our meeting. We were prepped and ready – adorned in our Sunday best, new deck ready to reveal – and then the rug was pulled out from underneath us. The reason: my LinkedIn post lacked “professionalism and integrity.”
First and foremost, HERE is the post…judge for yourself. I got a lot of positive offline comments on this post – likely due to its everyone thinks it, but no one wants to say it out loud nature. I stand by what I posted, I would 100% post again knowing what it cost me, and I will continue to be the loudest voice possible to inspire change in my industry.
We don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of the post itself or the fact that we were sanctimoniously cancelled on mere minutes before our pitch.
Here is the email I sent to our contact at that company as soon as I was informed of the cancellation. Like the post that inspired this blog, I have redacted all names and companies to protect the privacy of those involved.
Feeling pretty shell-shocked right now and just felt the need to initiate some dialog. I hope you will be willing to have a conversation with me. I realize your mind has been made up about me/my business, so I won’t try to push. But I do feel I owe you an explanation and in return, I would like a couple minutes of your time – as nothing more than two humans trying to make our way through life.
I am a small business owner. A business in a historically catty industry. I have worked really hard to establish a business that challenges the status quo of the industry: one that challenges all of us to be more open, transparent, and honest. I have worked for numerous agencies that have some really bad traits and my mission when I started Moment was to leave those traits in the dust and usher in a new era of agency. I know I have done that, just ask our current clients.
We get bombarded with requests for bids, RFPs, ideas, etc., but, because we are a smaller operation, we often get requests that are extremely unrealistic. Whether it’s someone asking for more than their budget allows, someone asking for pro bono strategy, someone shocked by the cost of live engagement, or someone fishing for the best bid, we see our fair share of difficult requests. Sadly, as a smaller operation, we have to respond to a lot of these. These responses are high risk, low reward and we know it. They are low percentage hail Mary passes. They take us away from other work and put us into prospective, high leverage situations: drop everything and pray.
I think one thing that may be missed on a lot of people who saw my post is the underlying context. When “Becky” first reached out to me, her intentions were unclear. Through a series of exchanges, we were able to get a better grasp on what she wanted, but it was still very preliminary. We sent her our brief document, which helps clients think through their problem and provide us with a lot of the context necessary for us to come up with a baseline. Additionally, we have created a document that outlines our work process. With these documents in hand, she knew what to expect from us. She returned the brief without acknowledging the process document. I replied with a question to make sure she had reviewed it. This is when she chose to respond the way she did.
Becky was expecting us to provide her the secret sauce – for free. We have watched our ideas get executed without us in the past. We have witnessed first-hand another agency taking our thoughts and bringing them to life. It’s a horrible feeling and one without repercussions. Sure we have NDAs, sure we have language in decks…but it doesn’t matter. We’d spend every last dollar and every waking minute defending it in court. We would certainly go under if we fought it.
I stand by what I posted. I stand by it 100%. All identifying information was redacted and Becky was framed as Jane Doe (we are not connected on LinkedIn). I knew as I posted it, that it might ruffle some feathers. That’s great and exactly what I intended for it to do. I must say, I didn’t expect it to ruffle your feathers – as you understand this industry intimately. The truth is; you are the only person who expressed any level of negativity towards it. In fact, I got tons of text messages and emails supporting my position. But it struck a chord for you and that’s all that matters – clearly the consequences for me are grave. I will admit that the word “scum” may have been excessive, but when you bleed, sweat, and cry over a business for 5+ years and constantly run into people who dangle the carrot and are expecting free work – it hurts and that person feels like scum to you. I am the sole provider for my family and also the glue that keeps my employees employed. My wife and daughter rely on me. My colleagues rely on me. I have spent long nights, extended days, and tireless weeks away from the people I love and care about – trying to build something. Not for me, but for them. My hearts aches with every ebb and flow this business encounters. I have nearly shut it down 3 times, because it is that hard to succeed here. But I have never given up and I never intend to do so.
You don’t initiate change if you don’t ruffle some feathers, history illustrates that perfectly. Women have the right to vote, because someone, somewhere decided to stand up against conventional thinking. Slavery was abolished, because somebody stood up for equality.
Now, I am not comparing what I am doing to suffrage or slavery abolition, but rather to illustrate that someone has to stand up for change. I work my ass off every single day and it’s pretty insulting to be asked for work without compensation. Just because ideas aren’t tangible, just because strategy can’t be touched – doesn’t mean it’s not worth a dime. My employees, my colleagues, my family and myself are worth something and for those that don’t agree – well I guess there are plenty of agencies willing to be exploited. Not me. That’s my definition of integrity.
For reference: I edited the LinkedIn post to remove the word “scum.” I do feel that “scum” could be conceived as harsh to some. I am willing to admit that. I removed “scum,” not because I don’t think it, because I don’t want to give anyone the chance to misread my post by being hung up on word choice.
I may not always fit the standard definition of professionalism and that’s fine with me. I am unabashedly me – you either love it or hate it. Did my post lack professionalism? Well, that’s for you to decide. One thing it definitely didn’t lack was integrity, but if I were forced to choose between professionalism and integrity; I choose integrity.
My business is built on integrity. Moment is built to change this industry, to create comraderies instead of enemies, to be an open book, to shift thinking. My post didn’t lack integrity, it had more integrity than most people will ever realize. Stand for something or fall for anything. I choose to stand, no matter the cost.