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Expert Marketing Irritates Seniors Insulted by SEO

spn_exclusive1The doorbell rings. It’s 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. At the door is the mailman with a registered letter.

In my experience, this is usually bad news. But I have to admit, this one took me completely by surprise.

Let me explain.

About six months ago, our local paper had printed a story about a writing award I had won. As a result, I had received a phone call from an older professional gentleman who represented a group of senior citizens in need of marketing. He told me that, due to internal strife, the governing body could no longer make objective decisions concerning the organization’s future and failure seemed likely. He said the group desperately needed a marketing expert to take the helm and lead the way forward.

I responded with a comprehensive marketing proposal which included a number of painfully candid suggestions, the brunt of which mentioned the need for a new name, logo, website and overall marketing plan. Not only did they agree to all, they added the need for a series of ads as well. A deposit arrived within days and I got started immediately.

Doomed from the Beginning

While initial negotiations and payment were handled by the member of the board who had first contacted me, he quickly declined further participation, delegating responsibility to the group’s president.

Our first discussion included an overview of her expectations, some websites to review and a vision of their future that left me with a distinct impression of her chilly reception to my involvement. Apparently, resentment about the board’s criticism of her management skills was a thorn in her side, something of which I was a constant reminder.

Although the members of this group are a handful of rather affluent seniors who had banded together to create a non-profit, “aging-in-place” organization, funds for marketing were quite limited. As part of a national trend, such groups enable members to live independently in their own homes despite the impediments of age. With such services as transportation, social outings, help around the house, and medical referrals mostly provided by volunteers, they expected this entity to address their own long-term needs at a very economical rate. Despite plans for costs to be covered by other members, their management decisions were rife with errors. First, they constrained their service area to a very small region conveniently close to where they lived. Then, they restricted their hours of operation to just a short time on irregular days. Clearly, serving the needs of members other than themselves was not part of the game plan.

The Mistakes They Made

To this point, their rather questionable accomplishments included a misguided name, an amateurishly designed logo and a poorly conceived website devoid of any SEO, all of which had brought in no new members. Disgruntled by the need to spend money on marketing, group leaders responded to my comprehensive marketing plan along with a free list of possible name replacements with cantankerous roadblocks. Since I sensed that most of these older people were highly defensive about their lack of familiarity with today’s complicated technology, there was little understanding regarding my very simplistic explanation of SEO. Furthermore, many seemed to feel marketing was best handled by those holding the purse strings.

Too Close to the Subject to be Objective

With no consensus about a suitable name replacement, the original name was retained despite its failure to define the group’s purpose. My criticism that it seemed more suitable for a real estate or home improvement company was well documented, so I relented. The customer is always right. Ha!

However, I developed several logo redesigns for their review using the original name, attempting to clarify the group’s goal through graphics. Again, uncharacteristic of my entire career where my work is normally embraced with accolades, I met with obstinacy and rancor. Incensed by my use of a rocking chair as a suggested trademark, they said I failed to understand their objectives.

Ironically, probably several decades older than I, they surely must have lived through the era of President John F. Kennedy, who had affectionately embraced the use of a rocking chair during his term to comfort a sore back. Soon, every home in America boasted a rocking chair, including that of my parents.

As one of the youngest presidents of our time, he changed the image of that piece of furniture to one appropriate for any age group, particularly those in middle age. And, that is exactly the target of this senior group, age 50 and up. Yet, they apparently cling to a biased opinion of its symbolism, taking such deep insult from its use.

After a few more generic artistic rejections, it was suggested that we use no symbol and merely retain the harmless typography I had designed for them as their logo. Fine.

A Comedy of Errors

Although the website was in my opinion a more pressing matter, they insisted that I next attack the series of three ads for their use in the local newspaper. Having extensively researched other leading national organizations for suitable content and priorities, I designed six striking ads for them using my own award-winning photographs of handsome seniors I had taken some years prior, all of which I owned full rights to use. Since this group would never approve expenditures for the use of comparable, high-quality stock photos, I generously donated all of my images for their campaign, a value easily worth thousands.

These ads were sized to run in color on Sundays in our large local newspaper. I advocated on their behalf to negotiate a discounted net rate they could pay directly so they would know no commission would be coming my way.

Their first reaction was to inquire about making the ads smaller to reduce the cost. As a second cost-saving suggestion, they asked about eliminating color until they learned that color was thrown in for free. Finally, after finding nothing further to complain about, they suddenly realized the ad needed to include upcoming events with multiple dates and locations.

A small space to begin with, this ad could hardly accommodate such a huge last-minute revision. But, I reworked the six ads to incorporate their event schedule at no extra charge, making sure to retain the integrity of the impressive, original design.

Without any acknowledgement about my donations, media cost savings or excellent work, three ads were selected and I submitted them to the paper. During a period of stormy weather, one Sunday paper could not print in color and their ad ran on Monday instead. I intervened by getting them an additional free run on a Sunday to make up for that. Another ad appeared with color off register and again I was able to get them an additional free Sunday run.

Embarking on the Final Frontier

After much deliberation, feet-dragging and trepidation, they notified me that they were ready to proceed into the website project. However, they didn’t want to give me access to their precious current website for fear I might alter it in some way. I suggested that I register a new domain name and set up new hosting for the site I would develop before replacing their original, once approved. Their website deposit arrived with a note that they would not be ready for further payments for several months. That gave me free rein to provide them with a cutting-edge site using the latest technology I would teach myself at a relaxed pace during its development. My career has often been enriched in this way, where I am paid to gain a hands-on technological education for the benefit of all, now and in the future.

And in this day and age of self-taught geeks, I am probably not alone.

True to my word, I created a website that would surely gain page-one ranking while thrilling visitors of all ages. Brimming over with not just an encyclopedic breadth of information, it offered wonderful interactive graphics to delight the inquisitive as well as the demure, to awaken the timid and satisfy the bold. Every concern was addressed from a spam-deterring contact form, to a way to join or donate online, to registrations with Google’s Webmaster Tools and Analytics.

The Path to a Client’s Heart is Clearly Not Through Insult

With the goal of capturing as many online searches through Google’s need for pertinent keywords, I included a number of appropriate terms within interesting on-page text to entertain and inform the reader. Knowing that the adult children of seniors would be as much a part of this group as the seniors

themselves, I used such words as “aging,” “elderly,” “older,” and similar synonyms to try to second-guess how they would search. Unfortunately, my due diligence backfired.

The registered letter laid me out in lavender, the gist of which was that I should be ashamed of myself.

Not only had they spent the good part of two months reviewing this proposed website, which they could not accept, nor could they tell me one detail about how it should be changed, they were insisting on a total refund. What?

Does advanced age contribute to a failure to comprehend a contract that clearly stipulates if a client specifically orders work, payment for such work is expected? This, from supposed professional people now in their retirement years?

My take on this was they had found someone who would do the job for less money and they wanted to be rid of me as quickly as possible. While I had put my heart and soul into trying to give them a website designed to provide the success they so desperately needed, I know some things just don’t work out as planned and ultimately are a lost cause. As they say, “the chemistry wasn’t right.”

Unfortunately, this client was incapable of seeing the value of my efforts and the sincerity of my concerns — misconstruing my motivations and misunderstanding my goals. Luckily, with a long list of active, appreciative and totally respectful clients to keep me busy, I chalk this one up to a mere blip on the radar and am happily moving on.


Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at midhudsonmarketing.com. Connect with Marilyn Bontempo on Google+.

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Marilyn Bontempo

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 45 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at https://www.midhudsonmarketing.com

8 Comments

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  • I agree this definitely happens but one should always try and learn from mistakes rather then getting degraded by his mistakes so that he can counter on these mistakes and make progess.

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  • You can satisfy some of the people some of the time, but you can not satisfy ALL the people all of the time. Most businesses have clients that are not worth working for , they should always be few and far between. Every business has had their share of clients that do not understand Marketing, since the client views themselves as the Market. It is hard to teach an Old Dog new tricks.

  • In your story, obviously written from hindsight, you describe several instances where the ‘Red Flags’ were up to warn you this client really did not want your help. Too often people seek out help to confirm their own ideas and when other ideas from the adviser get in the way of the originators views things seldom go well. Sounds like you were lucky to get out of a bad situation intact even if frustrated and feeling unappreciated.

  • Oh dear. The writing was on the wall pretty well from the start. Decision by committee, when the committee clearly can’t agree on anything, is almost certain to come to grief.

    I think you did really well to persevere as you did. You deserve a medal!

    • Barbara,
      Thanks for your empathy. It makes me feel better to know you and many of the other readers can appreciate my side of the story.

  • Oh dear – I can well and truly say that I’ve walked along a very similar path, this time, for a relative of mine, who asked for my knowledge (having over 20 years in the computer field), yet, to this day, didn’t appreciate my help with his website. This despite the fact that, through my work, it’s now rated as No. 1 on the first page of Google for several keywords.

    So, you’re not alone in fighting loosing battles such as this…