Pelland Blog

The Future is Always Connected: Netflix Nixes Offline Viewing

January 28th, 2015

As online video- and music-streaming becomes more and more advanced, many service providers and media portals have begun to roll out offline caching for videos and music. From Soundcloud to Spotify to Amazon Prime and Google’s brand-new YouTube Music Key, service after service has started to allow its users to store media locally, allowing for its later consumption. This feature turns out to be especially important for users on slower or bandwidth limited connections, who can locally store media on a WiFi connection to avoid long waits or bandwidth surcharges.

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With just about every service rolling out offline caching in some capacity or another, it seemed only a matter of time before the 800 pound video streaming gorilla in the room jumped on board. We’re talking about Netflix, of course. For a while now, rumors had been swirling that Netflix was planning to launch their own offline caching options.

Now, in the bright light of the New Year, these rumors have been unceremoniously dismissed by Netflix Public Relations Director Cliff Edwards. Techradar reports that Edwards bluntly stated that offline storage was “never going to happen.” Why is this?

Netflix, it turns out, treats the non-ubiquity of bandwidth and connectivity as a short term problem, one for which offline caching is nothing more than a quick band aid. Instead, Edwards predicts that within five years, bandwidth will be so cheap and universal that users won’t even remember that they ever wanted offline caching in the first place, and will regard local storage as an outdated and obsolete concept for technology.

This is a contentious stance for a company to take, since it essentially implies that Netflix is willing to offer an inferior service on the short term to save resources. Netflix seems willing to lose customers to whom offline storage is especially important. Amazon Prime streaming has been quick to affirm its commitment to providing consistent and universal service to its subscribers. Currently, offline viewing is available for Fire tablets, and Amazon has announced plans to extend this functionality to more of its devices in the future.

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Perhaps the case is that Netflix sees itself more and more as a content creator in addition to simple media provider. Like a more traditional TV station, Netflix is devoting more and more of its resources to the creation and curation of original video content, and perhaps sees its future as focusing more on this division of business. Netflix has already announced aims to debut at least 20 more original series in the next five years and is currently heavily promoting its new period drama called Marco Polo, following the adventures of the medieval Italian explorer.

No matter what you make of it, Netflix’s surprising decision about offline streaming belies a confidence that internet infrastructure will continue to be developed. Based on history, this is a safe bet, though it also shows a surprising self-confidence in their place in the market. Netflix seems to believe their position is unassailable. It will be interesting to see if this is the case.

Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago. He has consulted small and medium-sized enterprises for over twenty years. He has  contributed articles to Visual.ly, Entrepreneur, and TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas, or you can reach him at NickAndrewRojas@gmail.com.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Finding It on Google Does Not Mean It Is Yours to Use

July 23rd, 2014

It’s late at night, a tired driver pulls up in front of your house, walks in your unlocked front door, and proceeds to enjoy a sound night of sleep in your spare bedroom. How would you react? Confronting the stranger, he tells you that an unlocked door is an open invitation to guests. Another night, your door is locked, and another stranger climbs in through a window. This one brings his entire family, redecorates, changes the locks on the doors, and wants to know what you are doing in his house.

You might think that these stories are crazy, and you would be right; however, have you ever done an image search on Google when you were looking for a certain photo or illustration to use in your own promotional materials? Unless it is specifically marked as “freeware” or “open source” by the original artist, you are probably just as guilty as one of those uninvited guests.

Most people know that just about any image or text that is ever posted online will be shared, re-posted, and indexed by search engines. Even embarrassing personal information has a life of its own. In fact, it took a May 2014 ruling by the European Union’s top court to enforce the new “Right to Be Forgotten” policy that affects Google search results that are based upon an individual’s name. In the first month, according to The Wall Street Journal, over 40,000 removal requests were filed; however, the removal process is a slow and tedious procedure that is currently in effect only in EU member countries.

When it comes to that image search on Google, when you click on an individual image, the only disclaimer is the “images may be subject to copyright”, wording that is intended to relieve Google of liability, not to protect either you or the rights of artists. It is safe to assume that any use of an image found in this manner is a copyright violation and inherently illegal.

Put yourself in the shoes of an artist – or an author, in the case of text – and try to see the situation objectively. Nobody has a right to stay at your campground without paying a fee. Your campground is your livelihood. Well, the same thing applies to artists, illustrators, authors, and other people engaged in creative pursuits. They earn a living, put food on the table, and clothe their children by selling rights to their work.

One of our clients was mildly chastised recently for using a piece of artwork that he found in a Google search on one of his Facebook posts. Google did not clearly warn him that the artwork was copyrighted, but the artist did. It was a simple matter of apologizing and deleting the image; however, if the image had been used on printed materials, it could be another story with an entirely different outcome. Fortunately, most artwork found online is low resolution and unsuitable for use in print. Using artwork found online in printed materials could actually lead to a cease and desist order that could require any materials containing an unauthorized image to be recalled and destroyed.

 

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Another of our clients, Baker’s Acres Campground in New Jersey, has a very distinctive raccoon logo that we hired an artist to design on their behalf back in the 1980s. It is the campground’s registered trademark, they paid to have it created, and the original artwork is in our files. I just discovered that another campground has been using this artwork as its own logo, simply adding a feather to the back of the raccoon’s head. I spoke with the owner of the campground, and he sounded like a very nice individual who had no ill intent. He simply thought that he had used a piece of art that was in the public domain and then modified it. It apparently appears online and on his brochure, although I advised him to stop using it. Other instances may not result in such a friendly outcome.

If you require artwork for any purpose, there are two options. Either hire an artist to create custom artwork or buy usage rights to royalty-free stock images. Artists or illustrators can be easily found online through various resources such as www.elance.com; stock photography and illustrations are also readily available online through various resources such as www.shutterstock.com and www.123rf.com. Prices are remarkably affordable, and it is difficult to put a price on peace of mind.

The bottom line is that a Google search for images might be fine to provide ideas regarding what is already being used, perhaps helping you to avoid using something that is too similar to existing art; however, it should not be used as a resource for finding unique images that are free for the taking. In other instances, the search results might include watermarked stock images, with a link to the site where usage rights may be purchased.

Think about it: the reason that Google is indexing an image is because it is already online and being used, almost certainly by a business that has paid for that privilege. You do not want to act like that uninvited guest who is looking for a free place to spend the night.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Pelland Advertising Responds to GoUSACamping Announcement

June 19th, 2014

Rushed Decisions or Long-Term Plans?

So far this season, 2014 is turning out to be a year where campground owners are seeing many changes in the sea of vendors serving their industry. Following on the heels of the announcement by Evergreen USA RRG, the recent notice from GoUSACamping is certain to impact many campgrounds at the most inopportune time possible – at the height of the camping season in Northern states.

Pelland Advertising is not in the business of chasing ambulances, and we do not seek to profit from the misfortune of our fellow industry vendors; however, we also would like to assist individual park owners to take the time to make informed, long-term decisions rather than hurried choices that bear a semblance to panic attacks.

The notice that GoUSACamping sent to its clients included the advice, “If we designed and hosted your web site then contact a website hosting and web builder company such as ‘godaddy.com’ or ‘1&1.com’ to assist you with a new website.” We take strong exception to that advice, and would never advise any small business owner to turn to one of those Internet industry behemoths to provide website development or hosting services. There are several campground industry vendors who are small enough to know their clients by name, who understand the unique needs of your business, and who have a track record of serving the industry. Pelland Advertising is one of those companies.

Whether your park is directly impacted by the GoUSACamping announcement – or you simply feel that the time might be right for a change – Pelland Advertising would like to present an alternative to a rushed decision. We are one of the campground industry’s leading suppliers of website development and hosting services. Independent of any alliances with third-party online reservation services, the reservation engine of your choice may be embedded into or linked from your site. Many of our clients prefer a simpler online reservation request system that is highly effective, particularly for smaller parks, and free of transaction fees. We offer solutions and alternatives.

If your park is directly impacted by the GoUSACamping announcement, we would like to assist you in making a carefully considered decision that will provide an easy transition that will not interrupt your business and will also be as seamless as possible in the eyes of your customers. We will provide the following services:

  • Move your site to one of our dedicated servers at no charge.
  • Begin hosting your site at an annual rate that will reimburse you for 50% of the cost of any prepaid hosting fees that you may have already incurred for 2014.
  • Perform the necessary content revisions as specified by GoUSACamping, at no charge.
  • Build and install an online reservation request form onto your site for a discounted flat fee, allowing you to independently handle inquiries while you make an unrushed, intelligent long-term reservation software decision.
  • Get all of this done within the 30-day window (July 18, 2014) specified by GoUSACamping.

Afterward, when your unhurried decision has been made, we will replace the online reservation request form with the reservation engine of your choice, either embedded or linked (depending upon what is available from the third-party service provider that you will have chosen.) We will also provide a courtesy discount should you choose to have Pelland Advertising build a new site within the next 12 months.

The timing may not be ideal, but we are here to help park owners to maintain the type of continuity that is essential to their long-term success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Beware of Award Scams: An Update

June 4th, 2014

Back in early October of 2013, I blogged about an award scam being run by an outfit calling itself the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC). I had never before heard of the organization, and as far as I was able to determine, the company’s only “business” was sending out these awards. The award announcement that I received read, “Each year, the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC) panel identifies firms that have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields and achieved commercial recognition. Your firm has been one of those selected this year and this award exemplifies that distinguished accomplishment.” That vague announcement read like your horoscope. But wait, there was more! For only $358.00, you could get a framed certificate, a crystal award, and your own press release campaign (which, of course, cross promotes the SBIEC). In our instance, they would even correct our business name. Basically, they win, you lose.

Fast forward 8 months, and things have changed a bit. Thanks to that blog post and a related post on the Pelland Advertising Facebook Page, a Google search for the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce featured our blog post, our Facebook post, and several related consumer complaint sites more prominently than the website of the perpetrators themselves. In reaction to that reality, the outfit has now changed its name to the United States Trade and Commerce Institute (USTCI), disabled the original website, and has an otherwise identical website to be found under the new business name. In an effort to create an air of authenticity, the About Us page even outlines various “philanthropic outreach initiatives” such as helping to finance microloans on Kiva.org “since 2007.” Well, isn’t that special? Their business’s website was only created on March 13, 2014. In a Google search for the United States Trade and Commerce Institute, we are now dogging the new business name, too.

The spam e-mails that people receive claim that the USTCI has a “panel of industry executives and consultants” and a “Media Division”. That means that the USTCI is comprised of at least 2 people, who probably spend most of their time harvesting the e-mail addresses of small business owners and processing the credit cards of unwitting award winners. They are now targeting small businesses outside of the United States, particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain with the same award scam. Non-English speaking countries are bound to be targeted next.

The comments posted on our Facebook Page make it abundantly clear that it is very easy to qualify for this dubious award. At least two people posted that they had received 2013 “Business Excellence” awards for businesses that had closed in 2012! In a sad sort of way, the posts are quite entertaining. Complaints can also be found elsewhere online, on a variety of consumer complaint websites, including The Ripoff Report. Phone calls to the SBIEC reach an answering machine with an “out of office” message, and a check of their address with the U.S. Postal Service returns with, “The address you provided is not recognized by the US Postal Service as an address we serve. Mail sent to this address may be returned.” The address on the old website could also not be located on Google Maps, with the closest recognizable address being the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The new website lists an address of 212 North Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia. This is an image from Google Street View that shows the Knightsbridge Apartments that are located at that address. Hardly the location of such a respected and reputable company, is it?

Once again, how do you know if an award is a scam?

If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress. Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.

Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you type in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington, DC. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate financial contributions for the National Republican Party. I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to have their pockets carefully picked in the nation’s capital.

Is there an entry fee? We have received direct mailings on a regular basis in recent years, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail pieces typically look like they were designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that is just the first tell-tale sign that something is fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate.

We have also received similar direct mail pieces from the Telly Awards. According to their website, the organization receives 10,000 to 15,000 entries from small advertising agencies that are hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generates about $1,000,000.00 for its promoters … just from the entry fees. Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. This seems to be a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 113,000 results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon companies that are eager to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, or Grammy pays for their award?

Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams, there are many so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among the longest-running are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. Who’s Who directories are about as commonplace as Yellow Pages directories these days. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”

I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. These directories are useless in these days of online reference sources, and even most public library reference departments no longer purchase the worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same people who think that they were honored by being included. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are currently 47,500,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.

Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that fed the egos of early webmasters. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 1,780,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.

Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.

Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?

Let the Winner Beware

The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. Even recognition under legitimate competitions within an industry or a member association can be somewhat dubious because winners are only selected from among those who enter. Run your business properly, and your efforts will be acknowledged on a daily basis by your success and the satisfaction level of your clientele. This is the best recognition possible … and all that you really need.

Stay informed, because perpetrators of scams like the SBIEC and the USTCI will do their best to cover their tracks and change their appearances like chameleons. Spread the word to fellow small business owners. Information is our best defense against being scammed and exploited.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Respect – Rather Than Mislead – Your Customers

February 25th, 2014

I sometimes sense that some businesses think that they will profit by tricking customers into making purchases. We are all familiar with the types of practices that have given advertising a bad reputation since the days of P.T. Barnum. These include fine print disclaimers, “bait and switch” and its twin sibling “limited availability”, and hidden charges. With their short-term perspective, what these merchants fail to realize are the long-term benefits to be gained from satisfied customers who are treated with respect, integrity and appreciation.

If a misleading advertising campaign is accompanied by a measurable increase in sales from a small percentage of customers, its practitioners may be blind to the possibility that far greater numbers of more astute customers may recognize lipstick on a pig and might decide to permanently take their business elsewhere. Allow me to share a few examples.

In the days just prior to Valentine’s Day, I received three e-mails from FromYouFlowers.com – each with greater urgency – encouraging me to use a “$13.48 earned credit” before it expired (or before it was extended in subsequent e-mails). I realized that I did NOT have a credit in the amount of $13.48, or any other amount, with this online retailer; however, how many people ordered to take advantage of this bogus opportunity? This offer is misleading because the alleged credit is actually nothing but a discount. The random amount makes it look more believable, and most people are more likely to want to use a credit than to apply a comparable discount because a “credit” represents something that is due to you or an amount that you had already paid. Shame on ForYouFlowers.com!

Another recent e-mail advertising campaign was sent out by Uno Pizzeria & Grill, the week prior to the Super Bowl. The subject line was pretty clear: “A Free Pizza for Uno Fans”.


Only upon clicking through to the offer was it explained that the “free” pizza could only be redeemed with the purchase of an accompanying entrée of equal of greater value.


This should have been disclosed right up front, instead of wasting the time of their potential customers with a misleading subject line and a disclosure that required a visit to the Uno website. I suspect that the e-mail advertising campaign had a far greater click-thru rate than redemption rate. I certainly did not bother printing my coupon.

One of my favorites has to be SelectBlinds.com, a major online retailer of window treatments. Their website stresses “Free Shipping” right at the top of their Home page; however, if you place an order from their site, you will pay an “order processing fee” that they say allows them to maintain free shipping.



I need a set of mini-blinds, but I will not buy them here, strictly because of that fee. If you charge me a higher price, I will still order; if you insult my intelligence, I will not.

How does this all apply to your campground? I urge you to present your customers legitimate offers that represent true, measurable value. Avoid the “gotcha!” factor. It is fine to advertise “stay two nights, and the third night is free”, but you should not present this as “free camping” or include a hidden disclaimer such as “excluding weekends” or “based upon availability”.

When posting your rate schedule online, it is best to avoid showing base rates that require customers to use a calculator to determine the actual cost of a site with 50-amp electric on a weekend in your prime season. As much as the base rate may initially attract attention, what appear to be added fees will usually harbor resentment.

Do you charge a fee for wi-fi, or is your coverage area limited to certain sections of your park? Disclose that up front to avoid complaints and potential confrontations later.

In conclusion, it is best to advertise legitimate offers that are first intended to present opportunities to your customers and then secondarily intended to generate business. The two go hand-in-hand, and merchants who recognize this fact will be aptly rewarded.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Learn from the Best, Then Learn from the Worst

January 23rd, 2014

For years, I have been advising campground owners to look beyond the campground industry for inspiration and ideas on how to more effectively run their businesses. What your competitor down the highway is doing is far less important than what cruise lines, theme parks, ski resorts and boutique hotels are doing to not only meet evolving consumer expectations but to essentially raise the bar and redefine those very expectations. Companies like Viking River Cruises, Disney, Snowbird, and Marriott’s Renaissance and new Edition hotel groups are game-changers, not only within their industries but within the broader travel and leisure industries. With an emphasis on customer service, industry leaders rarely – if ever – need to compete on the basis of price. They have established themselves in a league of their own.

There are certainly campgrounds that have embraced this management philosophy, and they have been recognized as the leaders within their field. Particularly with the growing emphasis on luxury cabins and the overall concept of “glamping” (glamour camping, something that was certainly considered an oxymoron less than a generation ago), they are rebranding the camping experience as a superior alternative to the typical resort or hotel. As leaders within the industry, they set both the pricing thresholds and the consumer expectations for all parks, and they are profitable operations as a result.

There are certainly some infrastructural investments that help to differentiate the leading camping resorts from the rest of the pack. These include things like heated swimming pools, paved roadways, modern playgrounds, reliable wi-fi, 50-amp electric service, spacious pull-thru sites, and dog parks; however, most of what differentiates industry leaders has little to do with infrastructure and everything to do with attitude. Let me be clear that not every campground is destined to meet these new levels of consumer expectations, and not every camper is seeking out this type of experience. It is all about choices, and let’s be honest: have you ever worried about raising your rates by $1.00 per night, even though there are parks charging $20.00 or $30.00 more for a similar site?

It is easy to learn what sets certain businesses apart from others, and I encourage you to take the time – probably in your off-season – to personally investigate. Put your financial concerns aside for a weekend, and book a stay in a leading boutique hotel in a major American city. Take notes. Everything that you experience can be translated into an equivalent experience at your campground, from the doorman who welcomes you, to the valet parking attendant who parks your car, to the front desk clerk who puts you in a room with a view, to the concierge who gets the dinner reservations that you could not get on your own, to the front desk clerk again who calls to confirm that everything in the room meets your expectations, to the housekeeping staff member who knows when you are away and turns down the sheets and leaves a rose and chocolate (or the hand towel equivalent of a balloon animal) on your pillow. What they all have in common is friendly, personalized service that exceeds common expectations.

Yes, it is easy to learn from the examples of businesses that are setting themselves apart by doing things right. It is also possible to learn from businesses that consistently seem to be doing things wrong. Let me relate my recent personal experience with United Airlines, when returning from a family vacation in Mexico on a one-stop flight to Boston.

When we arrived at Guanajuato International Airport for the first leg of our flight, we were told that our departure would be delayed by about 45 minutes, leaving us plenty of time to make our connecting flight in Houston. We were told that the incoming flight had returned to Houston with some sort of mechanical trouble. Shortly afterward, we were told the delay would be three and a half hours, because the plane was being replaced with another aircraft. Nobody wants to argue with delays that are based upon mechanical issues, true or untrue, and we had no choice but to wait. In the meantime, the United Airlines ticket agent hand-wrote new connecting flight numbers on our tickets from Houston to Boston. Yes, that seemed a bit unusual. About two hours later, I returned to the ticket counter (of course, going through airport security checks each time) to ask for the assurance of real, printed tickets. Another desk clerk at that time admitted that the hand-written ticket revisions did not even represent an actual flight number! The new printed tickets contained the actual flight number and terminal but, suspiciously enough, no seat assignments. The connection time was tight, and our flight would arrive in Boston around midnight.

When we finally arrived in Houston, we knew that we had to keep moving in order to get to the correct terminal, get our bags checked, and make it through security. Even with TSA Pre-Check, we were not getting anywhere quickly, with perhaps 1,000 people bottlenecked in security and trying to get to their outbound flights. We could only presume that the airlines are aware of long lines in security and are aware of passengers who have not yet arrived at the gate. Being the last departing flight to Boston, and flying non-stop, you would think that the airline might delay the flight’s departure by 10 or 15 minutes. Think again.

When we arrived at our gate, the door was closed, and we were told to go to the United Airlines customer service counter. We were far from the only passengers who had missed our flight to Boston, and the counter was severely understaffed. When we finally got to speak with the customer service agent, he explained that 2 out of the 6 of us did not even have seats on the plane that had just departed! (Remember the tickets with no seat assignments?) The attendant was very nice (and seemed highly embarrassed by the United policies), but his hands were tied. He said that our bags made it out on that flight, leaving us without changes of clothing, personal items, or medications. We were also told that the next flight would be early the following morning, and were given hotel vouchers for a nearby Holiday Inn (we passed more desirable Hilton and Hyatt properties along the way on our shuttle), along with $7.00 meal vouchers for dinner and breakfast. In the meantime, our limo driver was already halfway to Boston, because United did not post the original flight delay online and we could not contact him until we were in Houston with the bad news. That incurred an understandable $300.00 charge. Thanks, United!

At this point, there were still people in line at the United Airlines customer service counter, including a young couple with two children in tow. It was 8:30, the lights were turned out, and the customer service clerks announced, “Sorry, we are now closed for the night.” Can you imagine having guests in line at your registration desk and telling them that you are closed?

 

Our dinners alone (nothing fancy, at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant) exceeded twice the value of all of our dinner and breakfast vouchers. Our displeasure with United Airlines was the primary topic of conversation during our meal. Toward the end, a man who had been dining at a nearby table stopped by, identifying himself as a United Airlines pilot. He empathized with our experience and urged us to complain as loudly as possible to and about the airline.

After four hours of sleep, we caught our flight the following morning and arrived in Boston. We went directly to the United Airlines baggage counter to retrieve our bags that we were told were on the flight the night before. Guess what? Half of our bags had arrived with us on the morning flight. I had earlier picked up a copy of USA Today in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. Interestingly enough, there was a graphic that displayed a summary of results for the 2013 American Consumer Satisfaction Index airline industry benchmarks. To nobody’s surprise, United Airlines occupies last place, with a consumer satisfaction index of only 62%, well below the industry average and far below first and second place airlines, JetBlue and Southwest (our airline of choice). Note that, a week or two later, JetBlue probably took a major hit, when they cancelled hundreds of flights during the so-called “polar vortex” cold snap. Consumers have a voice, and they will share their displeasure in as many ways as possible.

In the case of United Airlines, you would think that they had learned a lesson, with the “United Breaks Guitars” video having been viewed over 13,000,000 times on YouTube over the last 4 years, or the more recent “United Airlines Almost Killed My Greyhound” video that also involved a United Airlines flight from Houston to Boston. The power of the social media cannot be overemphasized or underestimated.

In one instance after another within our ordeal, the problem was not with United Airlines employees, but with the airline’s corporate policies. Ticket agents apologized, the pilot advised us to express our anger, flight attendants could not have been more cordial, and the customer service agent seemed highly embarrassed when he was told to turn out the lights at 8:30. As far as United Airlines is concerned, they fully met their responsibilities by putting us up in inexpensive hotel rooms for the night and providing us with $7.00 meal vouchers.

As a campground owner, you need to hire and train staff members who are friendly and obsessed with customer service; however, you must not interfere with the customer satisfaction process by implementing rigid standards that will be resented by your guests and lead to frustration amongst your staff. United Airlines seems unwilling to learn, but you – as a much smaller player within the travel and leisure industry – can clearly profit from their mistakes by implementing flexible policies that will always put your customers first.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Beware of Award Scams

October 2nd, 2013

It always seems to be the “award season”. You may have watched the Primetime Emmy Awards recently on CBS. We all know that there are some very legitimate awards and competitions. Probably the first to come into mind are the Nobel Prizes. Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation, presents awards for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Foundation has a nominating committee, and recipients receive a significant cash award (that many recipients, in turn, donate to charitable causes). The Nobel Prizes are very real. If you are a journalist, the Pulitzer Prize is the ultimate recognition. If you work in the film industry, it is an honor for your film to be presented in a major film festival from Cannes to Venice to Tribeca to Sundance, and one of the ultimate honors is to be presented an Academy Award.

Yes, there are many very legitimate awards; however, for every legitimate award, there are probably 100 scams, and scams breed on the Internet. The scams have been proliferating recently. About two weeks ago, I received an “award” notice from the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC). I had never before heard of the organization, and as far as I am able to determine, the company’s only “business” is sending out these awards. The award announcement that I received read, “Each year, the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC) panel identifies firms that have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields and achieved commercial recognition. Your firm has been one of those selected this year and this award exemplifies that distinguished accomplishment.” That vague announcement reads like your horoscope. But wait, there’s more! For only $358.00, you can get a framed certificate, a crystal award, and your own press release campaign (which, of course, cross promotes the SBIEC). In our instance, they would even correct our business name. Basically, they win, you lose.

How do you know if an award is a scam?

If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress. Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.

Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you type in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington, DC. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate financial contributions for the National Republican Party. I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to have their pockets carefully picked in the nation’s capital.

Is there an entry fee? We have received direct mailings on a regular basis in recent years, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail pieces typically look like they were designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that is just the first tell-tale sign that something is fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate.

We have also received similar direct mail pieces from the Telly Awards. According to their website, the organization receives 10,000 to 15,000 entries from small advertising agencies that are hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generates about $1,000,000.00 for its promoters … just from the entry fees. Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. This seems to be a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 113,000 results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon companies that are eager to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, or Grammy pays for their award?

Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams, there are many so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among the longest-running are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. Who’s Who directories are about as commonplace as Yellow Pages directories these days. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”

I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. These directories are useless in these days of online reference sources, and even most public library reference departments no longer purchase the worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same people who think that they were honored by being included. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are currently 47,500,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.

Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that fed the egos of early webmasters. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 1,780,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.

Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.

Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?

Let the Winner Beware

The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. Even recognition under legitimate competitions within an industry or a member association can be somewhat dubious because winners are only selected from among those who enter. Run your business properly, and your efforts will be acknowledged on a daily basis by your success and the satisfaction level of your clientele. This is the best recognition possible … and all that you really need.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Online Review Sites: Handle With Care

September 4th, 2013

In a recent post, I pointed out that it was necessary to take a proactive stance with regard to your business’ ranking on various consumer review sites. If you are lacking reviews on any particular online resource – or, worse yet, you have one or more unfounded negative reviews that are skewing readers’ opinions – you should make an effort to encourage positive input. The question is how to handle this task both properly and effectively.

Once again, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, campground owners should provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Encourage your happy campers to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. The most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

What Is Different?

When taking this proactive stance at encouraging positive reviews, be careful not to cross any lines that might violate the policies of the review sites.

I recently made what I thought was a reasonable attempt at promoting one of our non-campground clients on Yelp. The client’s business was listed on Yelp, but had no reviews and, subsequently, no ranking. I added missing information to the client’s listing and uploaded photos. I then posted the following on their Facebook page:

“If you love our (products) and have visited our retail store, please take a moment to share your thoughts by writing a review on Yelp. It will only take a minute or two. When we have 5 reviews, we will choose one at random and that person will receive a $25.00 gift certificate. Thanks!” I then included a direct link to the listings page on Yelp.

One customer immediately posted a very flattering and positive review, with a 5-star rating. On the basis of this first review, our client then showed an overall 5-star rating … very briefly. Later that day, Yelp “filtered” the review, suggesting that it was of questionable origin. Apparently, our offer of the gift certificate – or possibly simply including a link to the listing page – crossed an imaginary line with Yelp, giving them the impression that we were bribing customers for their comments … which, of course, was far from the truth. A day or two later, the review was reinstated, with another review submitted soon afterward, and our client once again has a 5-star rating with two reviews, both highly positive.

To avoid this problem yourself, refer to Yelp’s review policy:

“The best word of mouth is organic and unsolicited. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Yelp discourages business owners from asking people to write reviews about their businesses. It’s tough for an algorithm to tell the difference between a business owner aggressively putting a laptop in front of a client and saying, “Give me 5 stars!” and that same business owner flipping the laptop around and manufacturing a fake 5-star review about themselves.”

They continue, “As a general rule, Yelp has advised business owners not to offer incentives for reviews. It’s a slippery slope between the customer who is so delighted by her experience that she takes it upon herself to write a glowing review and the customer who is “encouraged” to write a favorable review in exchange for a special discount. In an effort to minimize spam and maximize trustworthiness of the site’s content, Yelp actively weeds out suspicious reviews through a combination of community self-policing and automated filtering; aggressively solicited reviews can ring hollow at times and end up flagged by users or the website for removal. The system is designed to ensure the reviews consumers rely on are as authentic and useful as possible.”

In other words, Yelp uses analytics to flag online review solicitations, and the worst case scenario could be the removal of your listing, not simply the filtering of the resulting review(s). Learn more about Yelp’s policy by following this link:
https://biz.yelp.com/support/common_questions.

How Do You Handle This?

Yelp encourages businesses to link to both their listing page and to individual reviews. When you have one or more positive reviews, provide links to them on your website and on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Let the power of subtle persuasion influence new reviewers. You may also hand out printed cards with the URL to guests as they check out and rave about their stay, but avoid directly asking for reviews in your online newsletter, on your website, or on your social media pages.

There is a similar policy in place at TripAdvisor, outlined in an extensive network of forum posts. One somewhat extreme example outlines a hotel in England that offered guests 10% discounts and free room upgrades in exchange for positive reviews on TripAdvisor, the Good Food Guide, or the Michelin Guide. Read more, following this link, shortened using Google URL Shortener:
http://goo.gl/cPmHxW

This scheme backfired and the property was red flagged, meaning that TripAdvisor posted that “individuals associated with this property may have interfered with traveler reviews” and showing users a record of the property’s alleged wrong-doing. How do you think that makes your listing look?

There are also companies that specialize in online reputation management, offering to repair damaged reputations for a fee, usually quite ineffectively. If you are considering a reputation management service, the damage has already been done, and you are no doubt at least indirectly responsible for the creation of that damage. There are even companies that will generate fake reviews for a fee, even though this practice is illegal in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. Quite naturally, those so-called “services” should never be considered. The best way to get positive reviews is to provide exemplary service that, in and of itself, will encourage people to share their enthusiasm!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?

April 17th, 2013

Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!

Check them out before signing a check.

If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!

Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)

Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!

There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Putting a Price on Business Loyalty

October 21st, 2012

Back in my college years, I earned a degree in Natural Resource Economics. That specialized field of economics allows its practitioners to calculate measurable values for intangibles such as environmental and social impacts. For example, the costs of nuclear power far exceed the mere costs of uranium and plant operation and must include a long list of associated impacts, not the least of which are the long-term costs of waste disposal. Conversely, the benefits of organic farming far exceed the wages earned by farm workers and the income generated from the sale of their produce. Those benefits include improvements to soil structure, fewer chemicals entering the soil and surrounding environment, and healthier lifestyles that are accompanied by a probable reduction in a wide range of illnesses.

As a small business owner, I often challenge myself to attach values (both costs and benefits) to day-to-day business decisions. Most often, there is not a need to painstakingly calculate the specifics of those values, instead simply recognizing that they exist and are an integral part of the equation. For example, there is something inherently intuitive that tells me that – whenever possible – I should choose to work with local small businesses rather than large, distant corporations. (In the world of virtual business, where transportation costs do not enter into the equation, distance may not be as much of a factor, and the best decision may be to work with the smallest possible business that can meet our needs and that shares our business philosophy and objectives.) My business purchases a significant volume of printing services on behalf of our clients, and we favor vendors who have made an ongoing commitment to green printing standards – everything from the highest practical recycled content in paper to the use of non-petroleum based inks to the lowest possible VOC (volatile organic compound) atmospheric emissions. Generally speaking, green printing standards also represent efficiencies in production and highly competitive pricing.

When a supplier consistently meets or exceeds our expectations with respect to quality standards, and provides us with personalized service at a fair price, another factor comes into play. That factor is perhaps the most important of all, and that factor is loyalty. Loyalty inherently works in two directions and is based upon mutual respect between both parties. It also operates through what is essentially a chain of custody. If I am loyal to one of my suppliers when purchasing goods or services on behalf of one of our clients, that loyalty is indirectly extended to the client. Loyalty has its rewards, typically in the form of preferential pricing, and the result is that everyone even indirectly involved benefits from its presence. It may seem odd that loyalty tends to take pricing out of the equation; however, the accompanying respect and trust ensure that the best possible pricing will always come into play.

When a business is fortunate enough to enjoy this type of arrangement, it is essential that it be consistently maintained and its fragility protected. Just as an instance of marital infidelity may be forgiven, the offense will remain unforgotten and it will forever change the dynamics and purity of the relationship. If you are fortunate enough to have built this type of relationship in your business dealings – and I like to believe that this is the only type of relationship in which my own business seeks to engage – do everything possible to see that it is protected and preserved.

It is the routine practice of my business to do everything possible to help our clients’ businesses to succeed. We try to proactively develop new ideas that will benefit our clients, we make ourselves readily accessible far in excess of what others might consider to be normal business hours, and we do our best to treat even the smallest client as our single most important account, with every project our latest opportunity to creatively excel. When a client needs us, we drop whatever we are doing to focus on that new top priority. We also make an ongoing effort to routinely provide services that have a significant and measurable value – without charge – to each client. Our business is not obsessed with billing at the expense of doing what is right.

As I have alluded right from the start, a tangible price can be attached to business loyalty. That price equates to the incremental business income that is generated as a result of the loyalty factor, compounded by the financial savings that result from this same special business relationship. We all like our efforts to be both appreciated and acknowledged, and loyalty is the perfect means of expression. Not surprisingly, we go far out of our way to do our best work for our most loyal clients, and that “best work” has a positive impact upon the bottom line of the clients’ businesses.

In summary, yes you can calculate and attach a price to business loyalty, but the value of the loyalty itself is totally immeasurable.

This post was written by Peter Pelland