In the Wake of a Cheat
Diane is the President and Owner of Accurate Design and Communication, an innovative team of account managers, designers and writers specializing in turn-key communication solutions. To reach Diane, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My reputation, both personal and professional, is everything to me. After all, you are nothing if you are not true to your word. I don’t believe there’s such thing as “business ethics.” You can’t typecast ethics in a category. Ethics are ethics whether it’s personal or business. It astounds me that some people can and do differentiate between the two in the name of profit.
I’ve run Accurate Design and Communication, a marketing and communications agency, successfully for 20 years. A couple of years ago, the reality of my naiveté to backroom deals, golf course camaraderie and nepotism tainted my view of human kind— but only briefly.
My firm forms alliances with companies that offer complementary services. This often includes communication strategists and commercial writers. About eight years ago, I invited a firm to join me in a bid for a substantial, annual government-funded contract. We were the lead in the bid and they were our sub-contractors. With some mutual hard work, we won.
During the next few years we’d win, lose, win, lose— always against the same firm, our friendly rivals. My alliance with this writing firm grew strong, and we were close. Then, in 2007, the project grew into an even more sizeable account both in deliverables and dollar value. The deadline to submit the proposal response was also ridiculously tight. Because the stakes were so high, some underhanded activities ensued on the part of the client, my sub-contractor and our rival firm.
As I tried to write our proposal submission, our sub-contractor dropped us to join our rival firm; I got phone calls from the client’s staff attempting to “level the playing field”; and I received a late-night, not-so-sober call from a remorseful, former writing sub-contractor. What I considered to be odder, though, was that I received calls from my sub-contractor’s employees who were upset at what was unfolding. As it went, some of their former employees who had expertise on the file called and joined me as the new sub-contractor on the bid.
It was a messy affair, to say the least. And yet, I pressed on knowing that there was a selection committee, and not just a single person, signing off on the winning firm. Despite the fact that our rivals were getting “extra guidance” and information for their bid, I put together the best proposal I could have ever penned. I was proud of what I had accomplished, and better yet, how I went about accomplishing it. In the end, the rival firm won. That was it. There was no Hollywood ending. I didn’t walk off into the sunset. There was no cordial pat on the back. I had lost the bid.
It has been a couple of years now. The wound in my back has healed but there is still a scar. In the wake of this cheat, I’ve come to realize how money can make nice people do not-so-nice things. Our rival won the job, but was it at a higher cost— the cost of their integrity?
For me trust is a little tougher to come by, and I look over my shoulder a little more often now. We no longer deal with our onceclose corporate writer friends, and today I’m far more selective regarding with whom I will associate. In the end, I realized that there are some things you can afford to lose, but your integrity is not one of them.