Would You Hire a Consultant that Regularly Bashes Brands?

We’ve all seen the posts online. The social media consultant (or consultancy or vendor) that always seems to be taking a brand to task for having an error online.

The question I think many of us face as brand marketers (as well as those of us who are consultants like me) is would we hire a person/ organization who regularly critiques brands?

Personally, when I hire consultants on behalf of my clients either directly or indirectly, I tend to see such approaches as vacuous. General brand bashing reflects poorly on the criticizer. Here are a few reasons why:

1) The brand bashers are building a reputation on seeming smarter than others.

2) Negative energy is used to create a need for their service, as opposed to a strong reputation of client successes and general thought leadership pieces. I prefer consultants that have built good brands, and focus on helping other brands succeed.

3) If the brand bashers were well vested in online brand management (beyond their own), they would understand how difficult such attacks are, both in the moment and long term via search.

Speaking from Experience

I’ve had to clean up my fair share of social media crises for brands over the past eight years. To be fair, I have also written a couple of these posts, though I stopped with rare exception in the past four years. So I’ve sat on both sides of the aisle.

A marketer/consultancy that routinely bashes brands online hasn’t had the hard experiences of cleaning up these messes. Generally, when you eat enough “mean tweets” you’re much less likely to spew them out. You realize that companies are not brands, rather they are comprised of people. Further, the online community managers rarely had anything to do with the original issue.

In reality, such attacks tend to be uncivil, creating conflict management and crisis communications issues.

I’m not sure I want to build the reputation of my consultancy as the one that shreds up major brands online. In fact, I had a friend in a Fortune 500 company who said in confidence that while she admired such consultants’ point of views, bringing them inside would be an act of reputation suicide.

My friend did note the value of well grounded brand criticisms. The ones that are strictly critiques are fair game, but in the case of voices that repeatedly bash brands, you have to look at their motive.

Putting Others Down to Look Good

Why would a consultancy regularly shred brands online? To make themselves look like experts, of course. In doing say, they often exaggerate the severity of the matter in that “oh so bloggy” way.

It reminds me a lot of a story I read in the old Business 2.0 magazine. It was a side bar from the cover story on The CEO’s Secret Handbook.

One of the anecdotes was to watch how a person treats the waitstaff at a restaurant. If they dress down the waiter/waitress, beware. Your business relationship may be a rocky one. The person slights others to make themselves seem superior.

If a consultant can’t look good as a result of their own works, should I really hire them? In the end, I always answer no.

Would you hire a consultant who regularly brand bashes?

This post is a series of blogs Geoff is publishing this week to support the Civilination Academy for Online Conflict Management. You can read Geoff’s take on the cause via his Punish Geoff Fundraiser initiative. The views expressed in this post are Geoff Livingston’s and not those of Vocus.

Image: akeg (Creative Commons)



  • Archer

    I think it would be good to use a brand basher as a consultant towards a nearly completed campaign as a ‘pulse’ check. Thinking critically is valuable, especially as most brand managers are too ‘close’ to their brand to be truly objective.

    However, I do agree around the negativity of brand bashers. But turn that negativity into a positive by privately showcasing a campaign in a board room and use their criticism to make your overall campaign stronger.

    Just my thoughts. Don’t think there is a right answer here.

    • geofflivingston

      I think you’re right. As a focus group or a paid critic? Lots of value there!

  • company2keep

    It is hard to imagine that there are individuals like this out there. Reading your post reminded me of the interviewer listening to the interviewee who believes it appropriate to reel on one about their current employer. – Cathie Guthrie

    • geofflivingston

      Boom, great example. And straight up, who wants to hire an employee trashing their last/current employer?

  • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

    Interesting.
    They would argue they are educating their readers on best practices. I think we sometimes get ridiculously petty when it comes to some of these social media gaffes or crises. Sure, we can learn from crisis, but I’d rather learn in a constructive way than in a rip them apart way.

    I’d take it sone step further. I don’t like to rant on social networks either – i’ve stopped myself on more than one occasion where I wanted to complain about a brand or something, and I thought – wait – I don’t want to be that person.

    • geofflivingston

      You know, I do the very best I can and sometimes I lapse on the ranting front, but yeah, rare is the rant that turns into a win for me. Usually I end up paying in some way.

      As to the lessons learned, I can see the values of plus and minus post mortems. What kills me is the over the top, how Disney is evil, or Chic-Fil-A is God awful, or Oracle is a terrible company posts froms marketers. And the ones who do this every week instead of a periodic, rare reflection. It makes me think they don’t have enough chops to stand on their own insights and experiences.

      And while those opinions may be valid as an individual, they have no place in a professional marketing conversation. A consumers’ opinion is not a professional marketers. I liken it to eating your own.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Unless it’s Klout. ;)

  • http://www.softship.com/ Ava Cristi

    Providing constructive criticism is one thing, but unwarranted comments is another story. A consultant should be offering advice to improve brand, he’s a consultant for a reason. It makes me think maybe their personal issues get in the way? We wouldn’t want a type of consultant like that on our business.

    • geofflivingston

      I’d have to agree with this. It does demonstrate a lack of common sense.

  • Steve Sasman

    Umm.. I find it ironic that Peter Shankman, the founder of HARO (a part of Vocus) does this quite often. I wonder what he would say? Does his brand suffer? It must not or why would he keep doing it?

    • geofflivingston

      I can’t answer for Peter, and this is my opinion alone. Peter stopped working with Vocus last spring.