For Whom the Shill Tolls

For Whom the Shill Tolls

Weekends are a time when I like to catch up on the events and discussions that help shape the direction of the data center industry. Like most of you, the weekdays get pretty hectic, so I don’t get a chance to keep up with things as often as I like, and a typical early Saturday morning will find me trying to catch up on who announced, said or did what in the data center business. This weekend was no exception. As the rest of the family slept away, I grabbed my laptop and a coffee and sat down in my recliner to read up on what I’d missed during the week. I turned the TV on to the World Cup soccer games—since the US Open hadn’t teed off yet—and began to read an article that included opinions from a variety of industry professionals on data center issues. Imagine my surprise when their insights were more along the lines of advertorial as opposed to informed commentary.

Folks, is it just me or does every presentation, webinar or interview these days seem to provide all the insight of a Sham-Wow or Ronco commercial? Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with tooting your own horn on occasion, but when your response to a question regarding the impact of AI on data center security begins with, “Well here at Giganto data centers…” you’ve crossed the line from informed industry observer to corporate shill. Indeed, there is a need for someone to serve in both of these roles, but lately, it seems like one has become synonymous with the other.

In virtually any public facing communication, it is more than acceptable to tell us “where you come from.” No one begrudges anyone the time it takes to complete the obligatory “About Us” slide at a tradeshow, for example, unless of course that time is longer than 120 seconds. However, unless it’s a new product announcement press release, we don’t want to hear about how the new FluxCapacitor can use untreated wastewater to perform evaporative cooling and finally get Michael J. Fox back to the future. What we are interested in is you. By your selection, or in the case of the article I read, inclusion, you’re someone with specific knowledge of the topic. In instances such as these, we want to hear your thoughts as an “impartial observer” and not a company spokesman. In fact, unless we disagree with you, your demonstrated expertise helps position your company positively in the minds of prospective customers.

I once wrote a tongue in cheek type article proposing that tradeshow presentations would be more exciting if a presenter had to be tazed each time he mentioned his company name—an idea that I still think has merit—but I think you get my drift. If that were a drinking game, the last conference I attended would have had a stomach pumping station outside the main hall. There should be a “firewall” between expert and company spokesman, even if that person is often called upon to fulfill both roles. Maybe the best way to think about the importance of the separation of roles is to realize that in a reader or audience member’s mind every company mention is a withdrawal from the “credibility” bank, and no one wants to go from Albert Einstein to a Kardashian in the time it takes to read 750 words of text.

The beauty of the roles of industry expert and corporate spokesman is that the same person can be both. The key is to know there is a time and a place for each. A better understanding of this dichotomy will ensure that your next presentation or interview falls within the realm of informative, rather than infomercial.