Sir Martin’s approach is the right one

Public mudslinging almost never works (unless, of course, you’re Ann Coulter and looking to hype sales for your latest liberal-bashing book).

The latest example comes from the other side of the world where, after disengaging his firm from a partnership with WPP and switching instead to Omnicom, Yan Gang, ceo of Citic Guon Group in China, said WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell "had absolutely no manners, no upbringing and no culture." Ouch!

Those are pretty harsh words, to say the least. Happily, Sir Martin has not taken the bait and retaliated. Instead, a WPP spokesperson would only say the mega holding company "….is very bullish about its prospects" in China. Well done, Sir Martin. Your non-response leaves Gang-san dangling in the wind, and portrays you as being above the fray. In my opinion, it’s the smart and sophisticated way to win the image and reputation wars.

We almost always advise clients to take the high road a la Sir Martin, and avoid slinging mud back-and-forth with a foul-mouthed competitor. Of course, though, there are exceptions. Especially if the client’s competitor is spreading vicious lies or half-truths that, if left uncorrected, could hurt the client’s business.

Comparative advertising, direct mail and public relations that extol the benefits of one client’s product or service over a competitor’s is standard operating procedure. It’s always existed and always will. Mudslinging has no place in marketing communications, and never will. Unless, of course, you’re looking to hype sales of a new book and decide to pick on the 9/11 widows. Then, it works like a charm.

19 thoughts on “Sir Martin’s approach is the right one

  1. Jimbo- did you enjoy the game last night? The Phils defense looked so bad it reminded me of watching my son’s T-Ball league.
    Rep- you are right, this season is looking very magical!

  2. Jimbo, that’s a great idea for a blog as we get closer to the midterm elections. But, I’d be hard pressed to say anything positive about either party’s image and reputation. As for the Mets, it’s beginning to look a lot like 1986.

  3. Understood, Rep.
    Although, I would like to hear your thoughts about the image and reputation problems of the two major parties. Maybe sometime in the future?
    That would promise to be one helluva a blog debate.
    PS – I will be booing your Mets tongiht with all my might! Look for me right above their bullpen.

  4. My intent with the original blog was to praise Sir Martin’s restraint. That’s one trait I think everyone can agree is not one of Ms. Coulter’s strong suits. Re: liberal bashing, can we reserve it for someone else’s blog? This is supposed to be about image and reputation, guys.

  5. Give a Liberal a thought and he’ll repeat it mindlessly all day. Teach a Liberal to think for himself and he’ll vote Republican (or Libertarian) for the rest of his life.

  6. These are just a few of Coulter’s opinions you seem to be supporting. I like to think of her as a Pez dispenser of hate speech.
    (Courtesy of Digby at
    Coulter has been a shrieking harpy for years, saying the most vile things imaginable and making a good profit at it. What in the world has changed?
    They supported her when she said:
    “When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.”
    and this:
    “[The] backbone of the Democratic Party [is a] typical fat, implacable welfare recipient”
    and this:
    “it’s far preferable to fight [terrorists] in the streets of Baghdad than in the streets of New York where the residents would immediately surrender.”
    and this:
    “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”
    or this:
    “Liberals can’t just come out and say they want to take our money, kill babies and discriminate on the basis of race.”
    and this:
    “Name-calling has been the principal argument liberals have deployed against conservative arguments”.
    Lovely stuff, really. Really adds value to the debate.

  7. Comparing Coulter to Hitler is a wee strong, don’t you think? I don’t by any means agree with everything she says/writes, but I support her right to express her opinions. And by the by, I also support the REAL heroes who are risking their lives so we all can disagree peacefully.

  8. Ted’s comment about David Carr’s column is dead on. Carr summed it up perfectly, what is most disturbing about Coulter is not what she said on the “Today Show,” but rather the fact that her books are flying off the shelves. What does that say about us as a society?
    I’m not sure that I agree with you Bev that we should defend Coulter’s right to go against the grain. All Coulter is doing is preying upon the fear and jealousy of those who already feel they’ve been slighted by society in some way. Didn’t Hitler get his start that way?

  9. I agree with Ted. And it isn’t about being anti-Republican or pro-Democrat. For whatever set of reasons, we’re witnessing a continuing devolution of civility in our society. What Coulter writes is trash. Sordid, muckracking trash that serves no other purpose than to tear down other people. What is to be gained by that, Bev?

  10. What did I say that made you think I didn’t know her Today Show appearance was as scripted and rehearsed as a soap opera? And of course every author wants his/her book to sell. Are we discussing her marketing tactics or her beliefs? I am not defending her process. But I am defending her ability to run smack against the grain of popular thought.

  11. Bev-
    It’s really pretty simple. Ann Coulter probably doesn’t believe half the stuff that comes out of her mouth. It’s an act that is meticulously designed to sell as many books as possible. Her sound bite on the Today show about the widows of 9/11 was pre-written, rehearsed and delivered with great success.
    Why was it so successful? Because there are millions of Bev’s out there that fall for it hook, line and sinker.
    Everyone should read David Carr’s column in yesterday’s NY Times. He nails the story and potrays Coulter (and others like her on both the left and the right) perfectly.

  12. The widows are saying that their husbands are heroes. I know myself well enought to know that if God forbid I ever suffer such a loss I would not wallow in my grief, inflict it upon others or think that my loved one had done anything worth honoring. Wrong place. Wrong time. Period.

  13. bev-
    no one is saying the widows are heroes. but no one should profit off of their sorrow and loss. i am pretty sure you wouldn’t make such comments if you lost a loved one on 9/11.

  14. Sorry guys, but I think Ann Coulter is spot on. The people who died on 9/11 were not heroes by any stretch of the imagination. They were innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time. To regale them and compare them to soldiers is juvenile. These widows are wallowing in their grief, have no interest in getting on with their lives or helping their children grow into emotionally healthy adults. They are attempting to wrest the spotlight from those who truly deserve it and I say more power to Coulter and those like her.

  15. I agree with I-man and Rep Jr. What does it say about our society that a person like Ann Coulter not only survives, but thrives by attacking the 9/11 widows? Sadly, I-man, I do think you’re wrong about one thing: her book is going to fly off the shelves.

  16. Rep Jr.- excellent point on jane. i think what she did is not only reprehensible, but also a crime. I don’t see any bookstore clearing it off their shelves, b/c as you said, it makes them money. It’s up to the American people to boycott the book.
    All of that said, your last point is what it is all about. Sadly, our society, essentially forces poor decisions to be made in favor of the almighty’s the reason MLB turned a blind eye to steroids in the past, it’s the reason for this book, and it’s the reason that such decisions will be made in the future. i know rep sr. is all about proper decisions, but i think we all know that while its a great idea in theory, sadly, it likely won’t happen.

  17. Steve
    Indeed Sir Martin Sorrell is playing this very well, as one could only expect. What surprises me more is the outburst from his former partner. Having dealt with many Chinese people I was really surprised as he would have to have been seriously offended to say something like this.
    Confucius, China’s greatest sage established a system of ethics, morals, hierarchy and behavior, setting the rules for people dealing with other people, and establishing each person’s proper place in society.
    Mianxi is one of these:: Face – Losing face, saving face and giving face is very important. Losing your temper, confronting someone, putting someone on the spot, arrogant behavior, or failing to accord proper respect can cause a loss of face.
    Lijie and surface harmony is another. li is translated as the art of being polite and courteous. Proper etiquette preserves harmony and face. Therefore, the true emotions of a person do not matter as long as surface harmony is maintained.
    For example, a public argument, or a boss reprimanding a staff member in front of others would disturb surface harmony and cause a loss of face. This is why the Chinese often use an intermediary to deliver bad news or unpleasant messages.
    So my point is this – while applauding Sir Martin for the lack of public mudslinging maybe we should consider what he did to so offend a colleague? For a man of his stature, and I personally admire him for his achievements, I find it very surprising that he is in this situation.

  18. Good Stuff, Repman. I just wanted to comment further on Ann Coulter and her reprehensible “literature.” What she has written is the exact opposite of taking the high road. She is merely taking cheap shots at the many women who became widows on 9/11. Her book is slanderous material that should be banned from bookstore shelves. But, like you said, her mudslinging is certainly producing money.