They Buy Who You Are. | Bruce Turkel

Two things caught my eye this week: According to the old adage of journalism, when a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news. In Thursday’s paper there was an article about Kansas City Royals’ pitcher Gil Meeche who retired last week because of a chronically painful right shoulder. Now this sort of thing happens all the time. So why is Meeche’s retirement news? Because when the pitcher retired he also walked away from a $12 million contract.
“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meeche told The New York Times. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”

Meeche did not want any of the paycheck he was due. “No settlement, no buyout, no strings.” Nothing.

The article names other athletes who walked away from lucrative contracts, and a few more who continued to take their salaries even thought they were sidelined with injuries. It also points out that no one expects an injured athlete to just walk away. Yet, that’s exactly what Meeche is doing.

“This isn’t about being a hero,” he said. “That’s not even close to what it’s about. It’s just me getting back to a point in my life where I’m comfortable.”

It sounds both heroic and refreshing to me. And while most of us would agree that it’s the right thing to do, I think we’d also agree that the right path is not often the easiest route to take, nor the one most traveled.

While I was thinking about this, I received a letter from a client labeled “Personal and Confidential.”

Let me start by saying that business letters addressed that way don’t usually contain good news. And since this letter was from a client who owes us money, my expectation of good news wasn’t very high.

The letter was from the marketing director. He began by explaining that even though he had approved the work we had done and his company had used it, his bosses didn’t want to pay what they owed us. As he wrote, “The organization has chosen to take a position that these items were not as promised and thus not responsible for payment. I do not agree with this position and find it embarrassing… The materials delivered were as specified and completed.”

He continues, “This puts me in an uncomfortable position. I value my standing with my peers, vendors and friends and choose to be seen now and in the future as a person of integrity and one who believes that long-term relationships, both personal and professional, are more important that short-term financial or ego-driven positions.”

“Please accept, without contest, my position to honor the commitment that I made, first personally and second professionally.”

Folded within the letter was a personal check, made out to our firm, for $4,900.

A few weeks ago, in my blog post The Five Rules for Creative Success in 2011, point five was “They Don’t Buy What You Do. They Buy Who You Are.” In it I wrote, “…your consumers want much more than what you do for them. They want a relationship. They want you.”

Pitcher Gil Meeche and our client certainly understand this. What they proved by putting their money where their mouths are is that what matters to them are their relationships and the value of their own personal brands.

Meeche says that now that his baseball career is over he “has no specific plans, except to settle in his hometown and see his children whenever he wants.” My marketing director friend (name changed to protect the virtuous) has not indicated that he wants to make any career changes but if your firm is looking for a terrific marketing professional with proven integrity, let me know and I’ll inquire discreetly.

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