Why are you trying to tell me what I don’t want to know?
Walking through the airport a few months ago, I noticed an advertising billboard. Half of it was black. Half of it was white. It was a message from Ernst & Young about ethics. You see, Ernst & Young was letting us know that when it comes to ethics we’re dealing with black or white.
Well, I remember thinking, “Who the hell are they trying to kid?”
Here’s an accounting firm, one of the largest in the world, selling me-er, telling me that they’re ethical. I guess this is in response to the fact that one of their fallen brethren, Arthur Andersen, had been caught so deep in the Enron debacle that they literally went out of business or merged out of business in a matter of weeks.
Then I began to see more and more of these billboards in airports all over the country. Everywhere I turned, I saw billboards with Ernst & Young boasting about how ethical they are. How they see ethics. How does everyone else see it?
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Suppose they were my accounting firm. Do I want them spending hundreds of thousands of my fee dollars on an ethics campaign? Who are they trying to reach with this message? What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to hide?
It’s almost a pathetic message. Why do I have to question the ethics of any business or businessperson? Why is that their lead statement?
As a potential customer (that’s the purpose of advertising – to brand and attract potential customers), I’m more interested in knowing how they can help my business financially. I want to know how they can guide me to profitability, or how they can save me a few tax dollars (legally)-or based on their experience-how they can help me understand my business, or a thousand other positive statements about me rather than an ethical bravado about them.
The ethics issue in this country is reaching its peak. When an accounting firm, perceived to be the foundation of accuracy and reliability, is advertising the fact that they have credibility, what’s next?
Is this going to be a trend? Are car dealers going to start advertising that they’re ethical? What about lawyers? Bankers? Doctors? It seems as though every business has taken an ethical hit over the last five years. It seems as if an ethics vigilante committee is looking in closets and cleaning house.
Where will it end? With little kids selling “ethical lemonade” on the street corner for 5 cents a glass?
At a recent large networking event, I saw a couple of big wigs from some other big accounting firm. I asked one of them if he had seen the Ernst & Young ethics advertising campaign. He said, “Yeah, I saw it. We ran our campaign months ago.”
What is that about? Are all the accounting firms going to follow suit now? The little ones, as well as the big ones? Will all big corporations finally come clean? How about the politicians? Well, let’s be realistic here.
It’s fair to say that unethical practices have been around for thousands of years. It’s also fair to say that Ernst & Young is a fine organization that has helped hundreds of thousands of businesses in every financial way possible. But instead of simply conducting their business the same way they’ve done for years and years-what they, and so many others have done, is react to market conditions and pressures.
Businesses have become so market sensitive that every time an event occurs, they feel as though they have to respond to it. I’m sure their ad agency thought it was a good idea. I’m sure the leadership of the company thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they ran it by focus groups that thought it was a good idea. But as a participant and observer of business around the world, I find it laughable and insulting.
If you have to tell me you are ethical-you aren’t-or you’re making me doubt it. Ethics is not a statement. Ethics is an action, a deed, and a philosophy that drives people. It’s a manner of conducting one’s self and of simply doing the right thing.
Let’s go back to the most ethical person you can imagine-your Mother. She may not have preached it, but she certainly wanted you to become the essence of it. She still stands as the true test as to whether something is or isn’t ethical.
Simply call her and tell her what you did. If she would be proud of you, it’s ethical. If not-well you know.
Free GitBit: Want a way to be ethical without having to say it? It’s yours for free by going to www.Gitomer.com – register if you’re a first time user, and enter the word ETHICS in the GitBit box.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, is now offering licensed training programs to corporations, as well as distributorships to individuals, based on his best-selling books and the TrainOne online learning series. This process is starting with his newest book The Patterson Principles of Selling. Jeffrey can be reached by phone: 704/333-1112 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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