Click here to order the December 2013 issue in which this article appeared.
My little old Italian grandmother, Minnie, used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, don’t say anything.” It was advice she didn’t always keep. These days, I am having a hard time biting my tongue as well.
The ongoing attacks and criticisms of direct sellers from a small band of naysayers are self-interested and small-minded—and they completely miss the bigger picture. These unwarranted attacks come from short-selling investors who stand to make a lot of money if they succeed in convincing investors to abandon the stock of otherwise highly regarded companies. They also come from class-action attorneys who have profited handsomely in the past from a form of litigation blackmail against direct selling companies that are particularly sensitive to the perceptions of—and distractions to—their salesforce. And they come from bloggers, many of whom bear no credentials or journalistic background, and still more who look to blame someone else for their personal problems—divorces, lost jobs and the like—all of which have nothing to do with the two or three hours they devoted to “giving direct selling a try.”
Sorry, Grandmom. I did it again.
Despite the temptation to call these folks out on the basis of their true motivations, the Direct Selling Association (DSA) has a much more positive mission and message. Of course, we won’t allow the industry to stand idly by and have its reputation sullied or its executives and salesforce insulted. But it is also clear that we cannot and should not carry water for any one company. Instead, we are here to speak on behalf of the entire industry with a message that is constructive and reflects the positive reality of direct selling.
That is why it was so gratifying to have DSA do what only we can—deliver a truly uplifting message to lawmakers, policymakers and others during an amazing “Six Weeks of Contact” here in Washington, D.C., and across the country. Over the past several months, DSA representatives have met with the most senior representatives of the Federal Trade Commission—and not to talk about the Lilliputian critics of the industry. Instead, we highlighted our industry’s commitment to business ethics and self-regulation. We discussed the opportunity we offer to people of all backgrounds and experience. We also stressed the importance of the Association’s recently articulated commitment to diversity and empowerment and our heartfelt desire to serve underserved constituencies.
It was inspiring to see real direct sellers come to Washington to experience democracy firsthand, as sellers from many companies stood on the steps of the Capitol and proclaimed loudly their commitment to business ethics, diversity, self-regulation and opportunity. These direct sellers walked the halls of the Senate and House office buildings, which had just recently reopened for business, to talk to their Members of Congress and their staffs about how their direct selling business met their needs—however great or small—and how we, as an industry, create better lives for Americans. The message of these real people stands in stark contrast to the strategic attacks by billionaire hedge fund managers and the lobbyists they’ve hired to stoke federal regulation and investigation.
We experienced similar success as DSA representatives traveled to attorneys-general offices across the states over the past several months to discuss important direct selling issues of consumer protection, business ethics, self-regulation and pending law. The reception from these important law enforcers was overwhelmingly positive.
In addition, it was an honor for me to be able to celebrate the achievements of the 20 largest DSA members in a video release that generated more traffic to the DSA website than we’ve had in recent memory, and to highlight their business practices, charitable contributions and commitments to ethics and consumer responsiveness.
The DSA Communications Committee, our government relations advocates and Association leadership have all made it clear: We don’t have to get down in the mud with these naysayers and gadflies. All we need to do is tell our story and let the voices of 16 million or more people be heard above the factually unsupported and questionably motivated din of the small cadre of self-appointed critics who have used misrepresentation, myth and misunderstanding to try to feather their own nests.
Minnie, you would be proud.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.