But badmouthing competitors isn’t good business for everybody, career experts warn
Former Vice President Joe Biden had tongues wagging after taking a public swing at Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
“I never thought she was a great candidate. I thought I was a great candidate,” said the famously blunt Biden at a Las Vegas hedge fund conference.
Better yet, his viral dig also opened the door for his own 2020 White House bid, with him saying “Could I? Yes. Would I? Probably not.” But it’s still on the table.
Throwing shade has become the M.O. of power players in business and politics. T-Mobile CEO John Legere freely admitted that he turned trash-talking rivals AT&T and Verizon into a winning business strategy. T-Mobile will add 2.8 million to 3.5 million customers this year, while AT&T reported a loss of 191,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2017, and Verizon lost 307,000.
“The era when CEOs needed to have every statement cleared by the legal team is over—and good riddance,” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “People want authenticity from leaders, not canned phrases full of legalese.”
He’s got a point – the country elected Donald Trump president, and he’s the commander-in-tweet of swiping at anyone who opposes him.
And after Google announced its new job-hunting search engine in partnership with LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor and Monster on Wednesday, Chris Hyams, the president of employment listing site Indeed, sniped to the New York Times that, “We are happy to see that 13 years after Indeed launched, Google has woken up to the fact that searching for jobs is one of the most important searches in anyone’s life.” Burn.
But what plays well for bombastic CEOs, pro athletes and politicians on the global stage won’t work for the rest of us.
Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.com, agrees that Biden, Trump and these other examples are gaining traction for saying the things most of us are thinking, but would never utter out loud. But she still advises against the average employee following their lead.
“It comes across as unprofessional and disrespectful,” she told Moneyish. “If you trash talk someone in your workplace when you’re talking to a boss, or a colleague, or a potential client, they may start thinking, ‘Is he/she going to do that to me eventually?’ It makes people question your trustworthiness, and doesn’t put you in the most favorable light.”
Mark Zablow, CEO of Cogent Entertainment Marketing, agreed. “As a service provider, we stick to the ‘better, faster, cheaper’ message as pillars of our communication when discussing competitors and our point of differentiation,” he told Moneyish. If they get sucked into dissing their competitors beyond that, “we can risk bragging our way into a loss of business, or getting the Evil Eye from industry colleagues.”
But there are ways to showcase your skills without sounding like a jerk.
Instead of merely playground boasting that you’re the best, Salemi recommends beating your rivals in a straight-up numbers game. “Show, don’t tell” she said. “If you’re vying with your coworkers for a project, point out that you saved the company 30% in expenses last year, or that you’ve been the sales team’s top performer by pulling in x-amount every quarter.” Like Mohammed Ali said, it’s not bragging if it’s true.
That’s part of the approach Wendy’s has taken in its entertaining Twitter beef with competitors this year, such as sharing its history of using fresh meat over rivals like McDonald’s known for using frozen. The salty tweets even spurred competitor Burger King to get in the game. After Wendy’s posted an ad showing their four-piece meal for $4, the home of the Whopper clapped back with its own shot of a five-piece meal for $4, tweeting, “5 for $4, because 5 is better than 4.”
5 for $4, because 5 is better than 4. pic.twitter.com/BZe8JFbKjm
— Burger King (@BurgerKing) January 21, 2016
And that’s fine. “You’re not disparaging someone’s character by pointing out this burger has half the grams of fat of that burger, or that your product costs less than another one,” said Salemi.
The snarky strategy works better in some industries than others.
“In the advertising and creative fields, you have more leverage and flexibility than if you’re working for a law firm, or in finance,” noted Salemi. “But typically trash talk looks like a desperate cry to divert attention from something, like a skill set you don’t have. When you’re busy badmouthing your competitor, you’re wasting valuable time that could be spent pitching yourself.”
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