I like GT Porsche magazine. The editorial staff work hard and it is laid out well. I even used to like Unity Media, the publisher, which I have been dealing with since it started in 1995. Here is the full sad story of how desperate advertising sales people are.
For many years I worked in the double glazing industry. Not in sales, I must add, but near enough to be familiar with the industry's trademark moral ambiguity. Despite prolonged exposure to a wide array of questionable sales practices, even I was surprised when I was recently stung by an advertising sales executive.
We don't advertise in traditional paper media because it costs too much and generally doesn't work for us. But I deal with each opportunity case by case and with classic car magazines I try to give it proper consideration because we work with them a lot. So when I was approached by GT Porsche offering a deal I was polite. I showed interest but asked, as I always do, for written confirmation of the offer so that I could consider it.
What I actually received was an email that said 'Thank you for your advert booking.' Just to be clear, I hadn't booked anything by phone or by email. I ignored it, as I have a business to run, reasoning that it would go no further if I didn't respond.
Unfortunately for this tale, shortly afterwards I went on holiday. In my absence the magazine contacted my fellow director and told him I'd booked an advert (just to be clear, I hadn't). He quite reasonably arranged copy for the advert because the deadline he was given was very tight and he had been told it was booked.
When I returned from holiday I discovered what had happened and contacted the magazine. I told them what I've explained above - that I hadn't booked anything and my partner only sent copy because they told him I had. I pointed out that it would hardly be worth my while making this story up. In return I received a letter which at best seemed to have been written in a parallel universe where truth and honesty are irrelevant. Despite writing again to make the facts and events clear, I was ignored and then, a few weeks later, sent Court papers to claim the sum plus legal costs.
As a result I have decided to settle. The magazine has got its money, I got an advert I didn't want and hours of wasted time.
So what is going on? I was scammed by a classic double glazing trick - the Assumptive Close. If you've ever found that you've bought something, often as part of a package, that you didn't intend to buy then you've been done by the Assumptive Close. The premise is simple - if you show interest in something but don't actively say 'no' then you end up buying it. This approach was adopted with considerable success by companies selling PPI. It is selling by 'opting out' - unless you actively opt out you've bought it. It is not only morally bankrupt but also illegal. The trouble is, trying to prove you didn't agree, particularly in advertising where many contracts are verbal, is extremely difficult as I have discovered.
Reputable organisations either require written confirmation or allow a cooling off period. But if you're selling something people don't want or need you have to resort to underhand tricks.
I respect the journalists who work on this publication and asked them for a comment. For the same reason I have also been reluctant to name the title. But for the sake of other advertisers I feel I have to. Sorry guys, but I did give you a chance to respond. The journalists do a fine job but I have zero respect for the disgraceful people who sell their advertising space.
At Great Escape we sell a lot of vouchers and gifts by phone. We provide a 7 day cooling off period and we honour it when we have to. We aren't perfect but I like to think we start from a place where we try to be. If only advertising sales people felt the same.
Rant over. But some things sometimes need to be said.
Since writing this blog post I have received an interesting letter from Unity Media. It's marked 'strictly private and confidential' undoubtedly because nobody at Unity Media wants me to tell you what it says. I can, however, tell you what it doesn't say. It doesn't apologise. It doesn't explain why I was duped. It doesn't imply I have a right to complain. It doesn't give me any reasons to believe that what I've said above isn't entirely fair and valid.
Merry Christmas to you joyful people in ad sales. And you too of course Unity Media.