When the media goes negative against an industry, it’s natural for leaders to react like a mother bear protecting her cubs. That’s exactly what happened after “Dateline NBC” broadcast its segment on annuity sales practices recently. The industry launched an aggressive defense, poking holes in the program’s methods, while also restating its commitment to ethical sales practices. But there’s a fine line between executives fighting the good fight and advisors getting preoccupied with the same battle.

So if you are replaying the broadcast in order to hone your perfect defense, I urge you to stop. In my view, advisors who dwell on bad press only hurt themselves. That’s because negativity is toxic. It saps your energy. It casts a negative vibe around you. It wastes time. And ultimately, it distracts you from your real work: serving clients.
A better approach: Promptly brush yourself off and learn from the experience. Here are five positive lessons you can draw from the “Dateline” episode:

  • First, practice full disclosure. Always explain interest rates and crediting methods; if, when and how they might change; and all fees and penalties associated with a product. Remember, your clients should have a lot of questions about their product’s moving parts. Even if they don’t, do your best to educate them.
  • Second, don’t misrepresent facts to close a sale. Rather, let your sales effort stand or fall on its own merits. If you have to distract a prospect by making overdrawn statements (example: the FDIC isn’t financially secure), then your sale will probably be unsuitable.
  • Third, don’t rely on fear as a sales tactic. Stop relying on old-school sales techniques in a new-school world. Buyers are more sophisticated today. They see right through such approaches. Plus, fear-based selling is like an anesthetic. It allows primal instincts to influence decisions. But when the ether wears off and the power of reason returns, clients will bail out of their fear-induced purchase. So if you want to build a long-term clientele, focus on solving your client’s rational needs rather than appealing to their fears.
  • Fourth, be careful about designations. Avoid using designations that are not legitimate educational offerings. If they smack of “sales scheme,” avoid them. Make sure your designations are still being offered and that you’re in compliance with the granting organization’s branding guidelines. And do I have to warn you never to use a designation that doesn’t actually exist? I didn’t think so.
  • Fifth, don’t claim to be someone you’re not. If you haven’t actually written a book or article (or collaborated with the ghostwriter), then don’t claim to be the author. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use them in your marketing effort. Intellectual dishonesty is not an attractive trait for professional advisors.

Finally, when the media launches negative attacks, stay focused on who you are and what you do. As long as you know you’re doing a great job for your clients, negative press is nothing more than an opportunity to learn. I’m positive of that.