Stolen Mailing List

114: Scaring Your Competition

I recently had an email exchange with one of my clients who suspected that a former employee had not only taken their in-house mailing list with them to their next employer but had also given it to a third company.

In the auction industry, mailing list secrecy is a big deal. I regularly need to assure a client that I don’t share their lists with other companies. My mail production vendor trashes all address lists following each mailing to ensure something nefarious doesn’t happen. We respect that worry—even if I don’t understand it.

I’ve never once in 3,000± advertising campaigns had an auctioneer worry that their ad might be in the same publication as one or more from another auction company or real estate firm. Not once have I been told to avoid an asset-based listing website because other auctions or properties were being advertised there, too. Nobody seems concerned that there are other ads on the radio and TV.

So, it seems curious to me that we, as an industry, worry about sharing a mailbox with other auctioneers.

My advice to my client wasn’t about suing the former employee or sending a cease and desist letter. No, I wrote him something along the lines of, “Our job is to make them afraid to be in the same mailbox with us.”

Really, that’s our job in any medium: to have advertising that

  1. clearly communicates our message in the most efficient manner
  2. looks the most professional.

That’s not every auction company’s goal—or at least the end product. On days when I’m insecure about the value of what I bring to the table professionally, I look over to a stack of industry samples on my desk that illustrate what my clients’ competitors are putting in print publications and on direct mail pieces. (I subscribe to various auction company email blasts for the same reason.)

I would be out of work if the entire auction industry already

  1. showed restraint in the amount of content in their media,
  2. designed media for easy reading,
  3. took professional, high-resolution photographs,
  4. used larger pictures instead of a collage of small pictures,
  5. sold the asset first, the event second, and the company third, and
  6. crafted design templates and design guides.

Much of the industry doesn’t, though.

There is a cluster of companies who share the goal of raising the bar for what culture should expect from auction advertising. And, thankfully, some in that cluster hire me. They realize that they are competing against the marketplace, not just the rest of the auction industry. It does not matter whether our competition’s brochure is in the mail box with ours, because there’s a lot of other mail in that same mail box—mailed by companies who don’t care what the auction industry’s standards for design and communication are.

I find that a lot of auctioneers blame small budgets for the quality of their advertising. They don’t realize that many of the changes necessary to upgrade their advertising don’t cost much extra money, if any.

  1. Choosing a more readable font and higher-contrast text area costs nothing.
  2. Getting out of your vehicle to take real estate pictures takes only an extra few minutes.
  3. Cutting content for off-line advertising demands self-control but no debit or credit card.
  4. Changing the order of text in a document according to reader need requires minutes at most.
  5. Killing redundant information actually saves paper space and maybe even budget space.
  6. High-resolution images come from the toggle of a button on the same camera.

Regardless of whether your advertising arrives in mailboxes, on newspaper stands, in websites, or between sign posts, your content has competition. Are you confident it’s winning that competition? If not, what would need to change to be the best?

Taking it Personally

My competitive nature emerges awkwardly, especially at stop lights and around board games—and sadly, even in my marriage. I like to keep score. I like to measure my progress. I’m not kidding: I have graded every week on a numeric scorecard for years and saved the scores on an monthly average basis for year-to-year analysis. In college, I even did a poorly-supported research paper on whether Jesus was competitive, too.

For some reason, that competitive aggression is usually not the case at my morning basketball environment at the YMCA. I play with a a group of guys that have had various interactions with church and Jesus, and my goal with all of them is to leave them a touch closer to him than when they met me. While swearing is something I struggle to cut out of my daily vocabulary, on that court I find it easier to keep my speech clean. I rarely argue when someone else calls a foul, travel, double dribble, or out of bounds on me. In fact, at times, I’ve been asked, “What team are you on?”

It’s more than trying to be a nice guy. It’s more than being a jester. (When someone yells, “Shit!” I answer, “I already did this morning.” I’ll answer “Jesus!” with “Saves!”) It’s trying to be a good influence, a peacemaker, an ambassador.

While I’m often the one that calls out the score on the court—or at least asks what the score is, I’m finding a different way to view my time on and around the court.  I might never see the box score or even know how things are scored. It’s okay: heaven’s Sovereignty is never wrong and never needs instant replay.

Stock image purchased from

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