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Ethics awareness: Doing things the SMART way

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As marketers, advisors often view the world through a narrow lens–whether a sales technique is effective. Although that’s an important consideration, equally crucial is whether the tactic is ethical. Unfortunately, too many advisors rush to adopt effective actions without considering their ethical implications. Here’s a case in point.

In a website posting, a senior market newbie requested feedback on a prospecting technique–sending marketing letters to the relatives of recently deceased people. (“Uh-oh,” I thought.) The agent tried sending 100 letters to people mentioned in a newspaper obituary but didn’t get any responses.

Why uh-oh? Because in this day and age, shouldn’t the impropriety of ambulance-chasing be self-evident? We’ve all read about personal injury attorneys trying to solicit clients at the scene of accidents. I believe most reasonable people view such behavior as morally repugnant. And bar associations often sanction attorneys who engage in this practice.

But the newbie was oblivious. He was 100 percent focused on marketing utility, not ethical practices. Even more shocking was the response of several of his peers. “You’re nuts with a capital N if you expect people to call you,” counseled one agent, who then, equally oblivious, recommended adding a follow-up phone call.

To their credit, several ethical agents chimed in. “Why not attend the funeral and put fliers on the windshield of all the cars?” said one, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Or better yet,” said another, “just stand up in the middle of the funeral and tell all of the people how happy you are that you helped set the widow up for life.”

I was glad to see them stand up for ethics during the exchange. But I’m haunted by the newbie’s total lack of ethical awareness. Fortunately for him, the lack of consumer response hopefully will prevent him from sending out more of these letters. But what about other agents–new and experienced–who adopt ethically questionable marketing tactics? Who will protect them from themselves?

Protect yourself by making decisions the SMART way. Here’s what to do:

Study your options carefully.

Make a mental note of anyone affected by each option.

Assess who benefits or suffers from each option.

Reflect on whether you’d be able to live with yourself after making each choice.

Total up all the factors and make a final (smart) decision.

Getting smart about your marketing choices prevents you from doing dumb things, like ambulance chasing. Leave that to the newbie agents and the you-know-whos.

Steven McCarty is executive director for the National Ethics Bureau.


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