No More Public Call Outs

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Image by Josh Hallet

Over the past years, I’ve taken a hard approach to public criticism, disagreeing with marketing bloggers and voices by name. While the argument that a publicly stated idea merits debate still holds weight in my mind, these moments have been too costly on several levels. Here’s why:

1) The people criticized feel hurt. This is not universal as some folks have taken the posts in the spirit of debate, but most don’t. Instead they are very upset by such criticism.

While I, too, receive criticism publicly, it’s not my intent to hurt people. I certainly understand their feelings. It has taken me years not to react negatively towards public criticism and to this day, I don’t always succeed. Frankly, it’s not worth it when criticism can be levied in a general way about a topic or an idea.

Some may say these individuals are too sensitive. Perhaps, but it’s not my job to toughen them up or “teach them a lesson.” Instead, if a differing point of view should be aired then let it be done without names (or direct link) instead only discussing the idea. Even better, demonstrate better ways through a positive action and/or example.

2) When there is drama, it inevitably becomes a distraction. In one such instance when a top ranked blogger flipped his lid, I was writing a proposal for a project with Google that was due the next day. We did win the bid, but it was a serious temptation to mix it up with the blogger. I had to really focus, block out the nastygrams I was receiving, and lock down my feelings.

Other call-outs have produced similar moments of retribution from voices mentioned, and in one case a rumored effort to blackball this blog. Again, responding to or summoning the mental fortitude to ignore an angry response is not a good use of my time (or the offended party’s time).

3) Being right and being happy. You know, often those conversations are about being right or wrong. And while I still see some of these arguments as one way or another, who cares? Are lives on the line? Is it worth it? Do I really need to prove to the world that my marketing ideas are better? Or does my track record speak for itself?

Some fights aren’t worth it. They are meaningless trivial debates in the grand scheme of things. I have plenty of inquiries for business, and I’d rather spend the time on my family, clients and more positive and creative projects.

4) Legacy and contribution. Will these arguments about marketing concepts truly be valued by the marketplace? No, the only thing that people tend to remember is that I am the jerk that called so and so out.

I have been very intentional over the past few years about where my career energies have been invested. For the most part, this has been towards helping others through nonprofits and mindful companies. My words need to better support those actions. It’s about focusing on what matters: Contributing to society in a meaningful way.

Is this tact less saucy? Will the posts be less “controversial” and thus not read? Am I selling out? Giving up? Maybe, maybe not. You can still count on ideas being questioned here. At the same time becoming a better man and investing my energy more intelligently is what matters. Let the results and posts that discuss these issues in a general fashion speak for my marketing savoir faire.

And to those who have been offended, I am sorry for any pain I have caused you. I will not be calling people (even Malcolm Gladwell) out by name (or via direct link) anymore with this blog. Good luck in your endeavors.



  • Geoff – I’m calling You out – peacefully :) “Let there be peace on earth and let it be begin with me” :) there’s another saying that goes “What other people think of me is none of my business” – Love It! – Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving dear :) 

    • I agree with that saying (what people think of me). Ironically, it drives PR people crazy!  Happy holidays, Cate.

  • Great post Geoff. A great reminder to live and let live. 
    Drama is the key word in it all. Some folks live for it, others can’t let anything slide without it.

    This goes in cycles for each of us, but let us say for today, we are on the side of less drama.

    Focus on positive forward actions.

  • While I’m squarely in the camp that believes that questioning someone’s ideas does not equate to a personal insult  — and I also believe that no one in our space is above questioning or criticism, regardless of what some fawning minions might argue — I do agree with you that these kinds of things too easily turn into silly distractions that all too often mirror high school instead of professional debate. I don’t blame you for choosing to no longer engage in them — your ideas are too strong to have them overlooked by those who would focus on dramas rather than ideas. 

    Wishing you even greater success in your endeavors, without the distractions.

    • I’d rather be appreciated for a well built car that seems to avoid accident then for a consistent train wreck.  Looking forward to deeper conversations.

  • It must be the Swiss in me always being diplomatic. I have had a hard time calling anyone out. Disagree, yes. But always with the spirit of understanding first. I have to admit that I admire people who are strong in their convictions and willing to lay it out there. It seems to stimulate conversation much more than my approach.  

  • I think that one can effectively communicate without the name calling or as Barger aptly says, mirroring high school. At the same time, I do believe in healthy debate that is not driven by ego but by common sense and humility and sometimes individuals benefit by taken down a notch or two.

    I’ve sat by the sidelines of the SM space for some time now, bemused, amused and sometimes downright astonished by the audacious ego that often exists without a foundation. At the same time, I’m also of the mindset the the web is a breeding ground for bad behaviour and a lack of decorum so I’m becoming numb to it all. 

    So while I admire this new path, I similarly admire the old. 

    • You are a good friend, Liz.  I think I have lost the energy for the old path. In some ways, Soleil’s presence in my life has made me different.  I wonder as I teach her little things like how to pet the cat, how I can possibly preach to her some methods of interaction when I don’t practice them myself.  This is a big unmentioned factor in my motivations. 

      Generally, I am beginning to give up on the SM space. I think some folks like you are great, and they want to have real discourse, and they are the ones to focus on.  The rest can build their Klout scores without my attention or interest.

  • Now that you’re done with the old Geoff, can I have him?

  • This is why I’ve never done it Geoff, it’s a no win. It also looks like posturing, link baiting for attention which as you say will totally detract from your message (no matter how good it may be). And for me, not who I am as a professional. I’ll call out a bad idea, criticize what consider a brainless tactic, debate the problem – not the person; leave that to the unfed trolls. FWIW.

    • I am not really concerned with how it looks to other people, e.g. posturing and the troll reference, though I do see it as contrary to the overall impact I’d like to make per the post.  I am much more concerned about how it impacts the other person, as well as the negative impact on me and my time.

  • I’m a big believer in professional discourse and debate. I think attacking the idea, and not the person, is healthy. I say if you can still provide wisdom by attacking an idea without calling out a person, more power to you!

    • Hopefully, I can move from attacking an idea to debating an idea’s merits.  That will be true discourse and progress!

  • I tend to call folks out for being smart.  Even when I may not agree with people at times I still think they are smart.  You and I disagree about things at times but I always tell people to listen to you.  You have said some things that most people should listen to and this is definitely one of them.  God bless you and your family this holiday season Geoff and I hope we get to see each other soon!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Jim.  It has been a long time since we hung out in the SxSW Blogger Lounge in 2009!  Looking forward to our next hang out!

  • Geoff, I’ll applaud this. Be warned, some will see your attack the “general idea” posts as lacking transparency. I’ve been accused of this many times. I say, who cares. Ideas either have value or they don’t. 

    Ideas can stir people up without having to seek out controversy. Individuals don’t need to be their collateral damage. Good on ya. 

    • Indeed.  I have been called passive aggressive before for bringing up points without a link.  But given the alternative, rather that than the discussed negatives.  Thanks for your support, Respres!

  • It made me really happy to read this Geoff. I’ve seen more and more posts out there that have an ‘us vs them’ mentality, and it really, really bothers me. Also, I’ve had many bloggers/readers mention to me how they’re so perplexed with the anti a-list approach found on certain blogs or articles.

    Is debate great? Yes, absolutely, but I think we just need to always remember that ultimately we’re on the same team, and most people, although sometimes misinformed or misguided have nothing but the best intentions.


    • Thanks, Marcus.  I wish I had your optimism about everybody being on the same team with good intentions. I do think we are all in the same market.

  • I am entirely in love with this post and concept, Geoff. I have never understood the benefits of calling BS or calling out, although I know that I seem to be in the minority there. Even if you write the most eloquent post with the best supported information against someone, inevitably the question will arise, “Well, why spend so much time on a person whom you think is a turd?” It’s a no-win proposition and often, the real tragedy is that everyone who even touches the conversation looks bad.

    I applaud this loudly and strongly and will not cease to support your new approach to the bloggy world.

    • Thanks, Marjorie.  Not to be too much of a downer, but like I said in another comment, what other people think of me is not so much my concern.  There is way too much focus today on  “looking good” and “looking bad.”  Rather, it is the impact on the person criticized, the impact on me and my time, and the misdirection it creates towards the goals.  

      If I was concerned about looking good, I would deploy a personal branding strategy or the like.  I am who I am, and sometimes that is an angry person who thinks others ideas and practices are full of it. Brutal truth. But the low road is a dirty one that no longer suits my purposes or my goals.  It has been weighing on me for some time.

      • Well, that’s cool by me. I’ve thought of you as brilliant for about as long as I’ve been in the online world, so sadly you’re stuck with me regardless.

        Sorry ’bout that :)

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