This isn't an ECHOES FROM THE BACKYARD letter; I didn't receive it at my "Echoes" address, or in conjunction with this column. But I have received this email, and so have several other videographers around the country, including EIGHT DAYS A WEEK columnist John Goolsby.
Why is the "hometown of" left blank? Well, that's probably the only difference among the emails. Every-thing else about them is identical. Everything. How can this be? There ought to be a law!
When I told John I was going to write about this sort of thing (a prob-lem with which he's all too familiar) in my next column, here was his take:
In this business, colleagues can be your best source of marketing and technical information, not to mention motivation. Approach industry veterans with an upfront and honest manner, and you're "in." Be deceitful and you will miss out on useful information that was free for the taking. Why handicap yourself at the start? Why not just get a gun and shoot yourself in the foot?
I couldn't agree more. But back to the legal issue: is Jason Doe guilty of a crime? After contacting several members of the law enforcement community, even they don't seem so sure. How about attempted theft? For every demo and brochure that he actually received, he is guilty of a count of actual theft, according to one source. But the tough part is convincing local law enforcement.
Now, this may seem like a stretch, but is it? He is using the promise of potential gain (which he knows does not exist) in order to get something without paying for it.
In short, this is a fraud. A con. A scam. Jason Doe (not his real name— or even the name he used as an alias) is likely a new videographer trying to break into the business.
The funny thing is, at least five of the videographers on whom he attempted this scam are some of the most giving and helpful people in this industry. What does it say when a new videographer's first contact with established members of this industry is one built on lies and deception?
Sadly, this is a tactic employed by many inexperienced entrepreneurs looking to gain an insight on the marketplace or industry they are entering. It's called "Shopping the Competition" and on the surface, it's fairly harmless.
Grocery and big chain retailers employ the "Secret Shopper" strategy all the time. Usually it involves simply walking into a store or reading a news-paper ad and comparing prices. Why shop? Simply put, to gain knowledge.
Many opponents to Shopping will say, "If others want to know some-thing, all they have to do is ask me." This is all well and good, but doesn't address the full range of information that Shopping provides. It's not just about the answer to "What are your package rates?" It's about how the answer is delivered.
Take a look in the mirror: if another videographer asked, you might answer point blank, "I charge $2,000." But for a potential client, how would you answer that same question? How much finesse and polish might you put on your reply? How much "sell" might you include leading up to the ultimate revelation of the price?
Again, it's not about the answer, but the delivery. And there's really no other way to sample other videographers' delivery besides Shopping. It's standard business practice in other businesses, so how could it be "wrong" in ours?
Well, the grocer's version of Shopping doesn't involve a loss of revenue. But when the shopper asks the shopped to mail a demo under false pretenses, the shopped suffers a loss of revenue. First is the time the videographer has spent compiling the demo. Second is the consumables used. Third is the time spent fulfilling the request, and finally, the shipping costs involved.
We all know getting into this business can be scary. I certainly do. I've been there. So, what's the right way to go about gaining some knowledge?
How about honesty? Even if the Shopping approach is not illegal, at the very least it's about ethics. Once again, John Goolsby puts it best:
After 20 years in the business, you just get a feel for videographers pre-tending to be prospective clients. The sad part is that if they would just be up-front with me, I would invite them to my studio, show them many samples, and give them all sorts of insider information—for free! Several times when they have called pretending to be clients, I will do a call return. When they answer, "Bob's Video," and I say, "Hi, this is John Goolsby," you can hear a pin drop. That is when I suggest they just be up-front with other videographers, join a local group along with WEVA, come over, and visit. No hard feelings.
I have been involved with all sorts of different trade associations and I can tell you, videographers are the most open, caring, and willing to share. There is no benefit to being deceptive.