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AgentMatch launches, objections appear to be anti-consumer

AgentMatch by realtor.com has launched to mixed responses, but much of the criticism is unfounded and based on misinformation.

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AgentMatch launches, world keeps spinning

(AGENT/GENIUS) – Recently, Realtor.com has put some of their acquired talent and technology to work in an extremely beta product called AgentMatch, piloting in the Las Vegas Valley and Northern Colorado. Performance data is fed directly from the MLS, bios are populated from agents’ SocialBios profiles, and the site unveils the top performing agents in any given area – a bone of contention for a small group of real estate professionals.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey, 91 percent of consumers did not directly find their agent online, a high number that has been a tremendous part of AgentMatch’s birth, the company tells AGBeat.

Ernie Graham, Director of Product Management for realtor.com said that technology has empowered consumers, especially Millennials, want to use technology to find an agent, meanwhile agents are best served by spending less time with poorly suited prospects.

AgentMatch has spent the last year in an endless loop of focus groups and use monitoring, and consumers overwhelmingly love it. Graham said, “I wouldn’t be working on this right now if I didn’t see consumers’ eyes light up.” He asserts that they are very early on in the project and are all ears to objections as well as ideas and support. In fact, they’ve already formed an Advisory Board after calling out and inviting the loudest critics to the table.

We reached out to non-realtor consumers for their feedback, and in each case, the responses were positive, even when we noted that the data may not account for teams or new home specialists. These individuals could not understand why anyone would protest it. They liked that there were not reviews, it was simply raw, unbiased data and immediate (read: real) contact information that they had been thirsting for.

Enter the objections

Upon launching, a number of Realtors took to the web to speak out against AgentMatch, and while it isn’t surprising, much of it is based on misinformation and a basic misunderstanding of how internet users use the internet today.

Any time a website launches that adds transparency to a real estate professional’s transaction history, a nuclear explosion goes off and agents lose their mind. Why? Some of them are far less busy than they feign on Twitter, while others are, in fairness, successful regardless of transaction numbers (lead gen folks, teams, and so forth). Buyers’ agents fail to study the site and instantly claim the deck is stacked against them, but in reality, it’s not just the number of homes on the market shown in an agent’s bio; the number of homes sold appears right next to it, unlike most sites featuring agents. This has been one of the more common misunderstandings we’ve seen.

agentmatch

Picking bones over wording

The “Find Realtors” feature already exists on Realtor.com, but the truth is that while the bones are good, it has a lot of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to getting consumers to engage more. So, after endless testing, they launched AgentMatch, and the very word “match” seems to have set the industry off.

The landing page of the site currently reads “Sell Your Home,” then “Compare and connect with the best performing agents in your neighborhood.” The word best has been a contentious word with agents who have falsely assumed that realtor.com is playing favorites with top producers, or ranking agents – but you’ll see no stars, no thumbs up, no ratings, and no stickers with words like “top producer” or “number one agent.” The truth is that the word simply tested better and increased engagement with consumers – kind of important when consumers are vetting agents.

Not seeking to influence MLS policies

Because agents cannot upload any listings to the site, and because the data is 100 percent from the MLS, some have protested. First of all, third party agent ratings sites that allow uploads often have no way of verifying the validity, leading to inaccurate data and a lack of transparency.

Graham asserted that this product will never seek to change policy at the MLS level, and agents that wish for their transactions to be fully recorded by the MLS should petition their local board (which AgentMatch says they’ll help with if requested). It makes sense to use one and only one data source in this case, as it is truly the only reliable source when you look at it on a national level, and because rules are so different between each MLS, it makes sense for realtor.com to keep their nose out of it – if they did seek to change the rules, imagine the outrage then!

What you may not be aware of is that this product wasn’t just birthed by faceless code jockeys at realtor.com, it has been headed up by the founder of SocialBios (acquired by realtor.com), and Graham spent years as a broker and a MLS Director, so his understanding of agents’ needs and objections are first hand – yet the product still has his endorsement and his acknowledgement that influencing MLS policy from their position isn’t wise or useful for anyone.

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No charge for agent’s email to be featured up front

Additionally, AgentMatch features agents’ phone numbers and email address front and center without forcing consumers to register to get it (thus, they don’t act as a middle man, they instantly get to their agents of choice), and they don’t charge agents to feature their information on the site – a far cry from their competitors, who agents have complained for years about their featuring competitors’ information on their listings pages. None of that, just simple contact information. This fact has been wildly overlooked, particularly by the people who railed against their information being hidden or sold by other companies.

What agents protesting this site have missed is that consumers are more sophisticated today than a decade ago, and they have diverse goals. Agents, so often wrapped up in the mentality of the industry, assume that consumers only want an agent who has the most listings in town, but the truth is that many look to the agent with a smaller number, assuming they’ll get more attention and have more time devoted to their listing. Consumers aren’t stupid and there is an inadvertent belief under agents’ breath that they are. Without being guided, the consumers we spoke with all deemed the anti-AgentMatch agents to be anti-consumer. Ouch.

I’m not 100% a fan. Yet.

Although we partner with realtor.com on a select number of events, they are not past scrutiny, so let me be clear – there are holes in the product, and the creators can blame the MLS, but the holes remain. Agents that specialize in pocket listings are out of luck, and brokerages that focus on new home builders’ listings (which sometimes don’t ever touch the MLS) are not accounted for. That’s a meaningful chunk of the industry.

Another hole, and a big huge fat one, is that there is currently no way to opt out of being featured – Graham tells us they would consider it if users requested it, but for now, agents cannot opt out. That probably should have been built in from day one and made easy for agents who object.

In addition to the holes, I have to jump in to say that this is not that big of a deal. It’s one website. It’s a simple tool in a buyer or seller’s massive toolbox. The few outraged agents remind me of real estate professionals who were wildly opposed to lockboxes going digital or the MLS going online.

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What the industry must do

The industry must be more consumer-driven and quit giving the opportunities to third party sites that don’t have industry affiliations. If real estate technology innovates at the pace that some of the naysayers prefer, the MLS would still be exclusively on paper. If the few loud objections overrule the potential national launch of this tool, it will eventually be mastered by a third party company that has no industry affiliation, no ramifications for not following the rules, and no requirement to follow the Code of Ethics.

While AgentMatch is actively listening, objections should be aired, but what is presently making the rounds is riddled with misinformation, and honestly, is actually anti-consumer. People want to research agents, and realtor.com has met them where they’re looking.

My fear is that the industry is going to wail about this and miss an opportunity to provide something meaningful to consumers, letting third parties find a way to make it happen and then charge agents to be featured or get leads, and the next generation of agents will then scream at realtor.com for not doing this in the first place. #backfire

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. egraham2

    November 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Great post Lani. Thanks for shining a light on the big gaps in the public discussions. The “off-mls solds” (e.g. pocket, new homes) issue is a good one…and it varies widely by market. Like every other data accuracy/consistency/gaming concern, I believe it’s a local issue that should be solved by the local agents with their mls. This is nothing new, this is what MLS’s “do”, and I think they do it better than anyone else. A good example of this are MLS’s that import non-mls solds into their systems from public records to provide agents a more complete data set for doing CMA’s. If agents want “credit” for these transactions, why not find a way to get them in the MLS?

    • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

      November 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      That’s a great point. If the MLSs include and regulate this off-market sold data, it will create an even larger, more accurate feed to a portal.

  2. Marc Davison

    November 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    In the grand history of the real estate industry, nothing to my knowledge has displaced the agent. Not the Web. Not Google. Not eBay. Not Microsoft. Not Zestimates. Not new models such as Redfin. Not even the great economic disaster of the last 6 years.

    As you stated Lani, hysterics occur when new things hit the market. When anything launches that attempts to move the real estate needle forward and present itself in the most progressive manner to the consumer.

    Not sure why. It just is. And probably will be for years to come. It’s the nature of this industry.

    But history has shown us that all worst fears and staunch objections never pan out and don’t stop progress. Like all those things, AgentMatch will be refined and improve and takes its rightful place as a different color thread in the overall fabric of the industry.

    Nice coverage Lani.

  3. Daniel Bates

    November 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    LOL, Your basic argument for why not to sweat it is that NAR / Realtor.com aren’t very good at driving traffic anyway, which is true, Love it! :-p It sounds like you got to speak with Mr. Graham, did you happen to ask him what their long-term plans were for the site? How long before they start charging due-paying members to be included in this service? How long before they start allowing agents with lower numbers to pay to be “featured” in the top 5? How long until agents can just send them a suitcase of money and ask for their contact info to be switched with a member of their choice? Those are my concerns as NAR has proven time and time again that they only care about bringing in more bucks for themselves.

    This tool COULD actually be a good thing if it served the roll of educating the public and helping our customers make educated and informed decisions about who they work with. Inform the general public that quantity isn’t everything in this business. Make an argument about choosing an agent that is a good match for you. How about educating them on what DOM and Sold / Ask Price actually mean (nothing in my opinion). I worked pretty damn hard this year and I too am shocked at how few homes I’ve got to show for it. I don’t mind the public seeing that at all, but it’s be nice to show more than the numbers and make an argument for each of our unique services. I am more than my SOLDS, I’ve helped people make their dreams come true.

  4. Russ Bergeron

    November 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    It doesn’t work. I contacted an agent whose average price point was $1.2 million. I figured I could get $1 million for my home. But they said it was only worth $300,000. Forget about it.

    My brother needed to sell his house quickly so he picked an agent with the lowest days on market
    numbers. It took 30 days longer than average to sell his house. These numbers just don’t help.

    Of course I am being facetious. But what any of the ratings sites never offer is a true picture of each and every transaction – because they are all different. And cold, hard numbers only show just that – there is nothing to grade the responsiveness or professionalism of the agent or the broker. Nothing to gauge the effectiveness of all the other players involved in each transaction – title, escrow, legal, lending, etc.

    And what happens when an agent changes offices – their past performance has been wiped out and they have to start over.

  5. Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

    November 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Many of us are open to more transparency, but glossing over the MLS issue doesn’t change it. Yes, it’s a problem. No, you can’t produce a downstream product based on that data and say “Well, the MLS was inaccurate, so we’re displaying an inaccurate product to the consumer but it’s still good.” Accountability and truth are not created by displaying inaccurate data to the consumer. That may be frustrating, but it’s the truth.

    • agbenn

      November 27, 2013 at 10:57 am

      You’re right Sam, which is why I said, if you’ve got MLS inaccuracies then you have the responsibility of addressing it directly with your board. If the mls is not accurate, again, your region has an even larger problem, it’s the only tool that separates you a R from just an A – It has to be right 24/7.

      • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        November 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm

        Two problems with that. First, the MLS doesn’t separate an R from an A. Many MLSs allow both, and some, like mine, MLS aren’t even Realtor-owned.

        Second, an MLS board has no responsibility to change its data for a 3rd party who’d like to create a product for it. The data is accurate in its current intended form: tracked MLS sales for agents’ and brokers’ use. Now, a portal wants to change that data’s use as a consumer education project, and to do so correctly it will need the MLS to add off-MLS sales to its database.

        The MLS can absolutely do that if it sees value, but to insinuate that they have a responsibility to a portal’s new product is just incorrect. It’s backwards, in fact.

  6. Bill Fowler

    December 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I don’t completely grasp the counter point here. MLS data will create arbitrary rankings? A seller simply wants to know who has experience and a track record of success in a given area. What other means besides the numbers that express actual performance (MLS data) could provide a good snapshot of who is good and who isn’t? OK, so there are holes. Well, let’s fill them with data from other sources if necessary.

    Reviews are a part of the consumer’s research process – for any purchase. It’ a fact of life. Transparency will ultimately win here just like it has in other industries. I’d think that more real estate people would be willing to engage realtor.com on this point and help shape what they feel is broken with AgentMatch instead of an outright boycott.

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Opinion Editorials

The cringe inducing and lesson learning tale of Poor Jennifer

(EDITORIAL) Video conferencing is becoming the norm, so make sure you don’t end up like poor Jennifer. Take some extra time and precautions against exposure.

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Ever had that bad dream where you were giving a speech, but realized you were totally naked? If so, you’ll join us in cringing at the true life tale of “Poor Jennifer.”

We are all Poor Jennifer. We love Poor Jennifer. We stand with Poor Jennifer. Take a deep breath and prepare to relate far too well to a story this mortifying. You’ll want to tell her you feel for her and perhaps even offer up your own embarrassing anecdotes to let her know she’s not alone. Jennifer’s story serves as the ultimate cautionary tale for Zoom calls.

Working from home is a luxury/burden that was still surprisingly rare until the COVID-19 crisis sent office workers home in droves. IT departments across the country–and across the world–scrambled to ensure they had solid firewalls and valid VPNs locked and loaded on everyone’s computer. Everyone signed up for video conferencing tools. Zoom became a household name overnight, though other options are available, too.

Nearly everyone’s reality has drastically changed over the past several weeks due to the novel coronavirus–and in some cases overnight. With this global pandemic comes uncertainty, anxiety, and dread, meaning few of us are working at our own full mental capacity. Many professionals find themselves working at home, using new tools, and with new, often rambunctious, noisy, or needy coworkers, AKA children, pets, or life partners. It can be jarring, disconcerting.

If you’re used to participating in conference calls in an office environment, whether video or audio, you take them at your desk. Working from home can tempt one to mute the audio call and do some multi-tasking. Nobody can see you or hear you once you mute the phone, after all, and not every part of every call is important for your particular piece of the puzzle.

I’m not proud of it, but I’ve walked the dog or loaded the dishwasher while I muted a conference call during another department’s report. It’s not ideal, but I have to tell you…it happens. I am thanking my lucky stars today that we kept video conferences to a bare minimum at work.

What does this have to do with Poor Jennifer? Well, Poor Jennifer was on a team video conference call when she answered another call: nature’s. Yikes. Zoom caught it all, and her colleagues’ faces told the story. We see confusion, discomfort, then disbelief. By the time one of her colleagues tries to tell her, she obviously already caught a glimpse of herself on the porcelain throne and took care of the problem.

The whole scenario was over practically before it began, yet it’s a moment that will live on forever, because one of Poor Jennifer’s inconsiderate coworkers went ahead and posted the Zoom feed online. NOT COOL, BRO. As for Poor Jennifer, please know we get it. The world is coming to a standstill, and this weighs heavy on our heads. Your accident serves as a warning to all of us coping with a strange new world. And yes, we laughed a little, awkwardly, because we were taken by surprise and felt uncomfortable for you.

Please know, Poor Jennifer, that it could happen to anyone. Know that we’re on your side. Know that we think your coworker is in the wrong 100% for posting it. Most importantly, know that any minute now, some other unsuspecting soul will unseat you from your internet throne of ignominy. This is the beauty of the internet and our ridiculously short attention spans.

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Opinion Editorials

How to combat the viral spread of COVID-19 anxieties

(EDITORIAL) As if work stress wasn’t enough, no work, with a viral pandemic sweeping the globe can be way worse. Here’s some tips to deal with COVID-19 related anxiety.

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When the CDC has a page about managing anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, you know there’s a serious problem. The uncertainty of the situation is enough to put anyone in a tailspin, but when you add financial issues, health problems and social distancing, the stress can be overwhelming.

Fear, anxiety and panic are contagions just as dangerous and damaging as the COVID-19 virus. When you see other people panic-buying, it increases your stress level. When you act on it by shopping and stockpiling groceries, it doesn’t absolve your stress. It simply makes you even more stressed.

Anxiety is hard enough to deal with during normal times. During times of crisis, we have to be even more aware of our response to stress. It’s not that you can take away the stress. It’s about how you cope with stress. Unhealthy coping mechanisms include drinking too much, smoking, overworking and poor sleep habits.

How can you deal with anxiety during this time?

I’ve dealt with anxiety for years. When it’s gotten real bad, I’ve taken medication to help me find balance, but currently, I’m relying on what I’ve learned in therapy. When I start to spiral, I try to find ways that help me shut down my unhealthy responses.

  • I take it one moment at a time. Sometimes, that means only thinking about one hour or even the next 10 minutes. I try to remember that I can only control so much. What do I need to do to get through the day?
  • I am sticking to my schedule. I get up and make my bed. At the end of the day, I try to put work away. I keep lunch easy, just as if I were going to my co-working office. I clean up the kitchen before I go to bed. A routine is comforting for me and reduces my anxiety.
  • I’ve muted people on FB who are panicking. I’m also limiting my time on social media and the news. I believe nothing unless it is verified against a reliable source.
  • I work crosswords, but any activity that takes your mind off what’s going on in the world works.
  • I’ve made sure to connect with others. With some people, I’ve talked about my concerns. With others, I’ve tried to be lighthearted and talk about other things. No matter what, I’ve tried to make sure that I only share accurate information.
  • Try to find ways to get out of your four walls without violating any recommendations. Go for a drive. Sit outside on your patio. Play with your dog in the backyard.

We don’t know how long this situation will last. You’re going to have to deal with some stressful problems. Finding your calm in the midst of the storm will help you move forward instead of feeling paralyzed with fear.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call:

  • 911
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or
  • Text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)

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Opinion Editorials

Sequoia ‘Black Swan’ memo could steer companies off of the COVID-19 cliff

(EDITORIAL) Venture capital firm, Sequoia sent out a memo to their companies, but also to the world. And the echoes are about to cause tech companies to make irresponsible layoffs that will cripple their brand when this crisis is over.

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Nearly two weeks ago, venture capital (VC) company, Sequoia Capital sent a note, “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020” to all founders of companies currently in their portfolio to offer insight into how they should handle the new business environment in the midst of a global pandemic.

Much of the advice was fairly standard “hunker down” advice – plan, prepare, and perform. Move quickly and be decisive. Be “bold,” they say in the memo. Anyone who took an intro business course in college knows the drill.

There are the predictable anti-capitalism responses in comments on the original post and across social media, but simultaneously a realistically dark and recklessly invisible reaction spreading in the tech world.

In their actionable advice, one point was the shortest, but loudest statement: “5. Headcount. Given all of the above stress points on your finances, this might be a time to evaluate critically whether you can do more with less and raise productivity.”

We are now being told that boards are meeting behind closed doors and referencing the “Black Swan” memo, and they’re seeking to act “clinically realistic,” as Sequoia instructed. Even if they’re not in Sequoia’s portfolio, the weight of the VC firm’s influence has rippled across the nation and pushed companies to put real thought into mass layoffs. In the middle of a global pandemic.

Why is that the takeaway from the memo when so many other points were made? Because we’re all panicking, and it feels like one of the only immediately actionable moves. Hunker down, trim the fat, keep as much cash on hand, be brutal, keep the company afloat. It makes sense, but it’s wildly tone-deaf and instead of leading on the topic (offering insights into how NOT to lose the loyalty and “culture” brands have so heavily invested in), it is cold. Clinical.

“5. Headcount” is echoing in boardrooms across America.

Bret Starr, Founder & CEO of B2B marketing agency, The Starr Conspiracy wrote a scathing point-by-point takedown of the Black Swan memo, also taking issue with pressuring their portfolio to review their headcount. “There it is. This is Sequoia at its core. Why wait to fire people? Go ahead and fire them now! And while you’re at it, see if you can squeeze the people left behind to be more “productive.” (Remember that part at the beginning of the memo when they talked about how much they care about people? Come on. Sequoia doesn’t care about people. They care about money.)”

Just yesterday, we wrote an open letter to employers struggling with sending their teams home or not, noting, “now is not the time to shut down your hiring pipelines, in fact, right now is the exact time you need to fire up your efforts, because remote work is going to reveal a lot about your team, and some folks are going to shine more than you ever knew they could. But in this sink or swim scenario, some are going to sink and you need to have a deep roster to pull from. If you don’t keep that pipeline full, your sinkers could drag your whole company down.

Starr concluded, “Sequoia had an opportunity (like the rest of us) to reassure their portfolio companies and demonstrate their care for our people, our communities, and our country. Instead, they whipped up fear and uncertainty, gave bad marketing advice, recommended firing some people and making others work harder, told folks to hoard cash, said some stupid shit about Darwin, mansplained a bunch of stuff using jargon, and trotted out Alfred Lin so he could once again compare shit to Zappos. None of us are selling shoes, dude! And we wonder why people are pissed at Silicon Valley.”

This would be the time to confess that I personally believe capitalism is beautiful. Truly. But even “bold” leaders and “clinical” thinkers who also believe in capitalism have an opportunity to do the right thing here without losing their companies.

And maybe that’s the Austin tech geek inside of me raging at the idea of taking an axe to something that requires a scalpel and a steady hand. A native of the nation’s most philanthropic city, I’m surrounded by people that give as much time, talent, and treasure (money) as possible. We’re used to coming together and helping each other out.

And one defining characteristic of Austin tech companies is thinking creatively – something others look to us for. And a top reason firms like Sequoia flop their thick wallets around our town.

So here’s what I hope Austin tech companies will do instead of use an axe to blindly chop down headcount – pick up a scalpel, take a deep breath, and make small cuts.

As teams work remotely, some are going to sink while others swim, so do a productivity audit, do a leadership audit.

Look at how people are working right this very minute – are there managers going above and beyond to make sure the transition to remote is seamless? Keep ’em. Are there support staff spotting challenges and offering ideas on fixing them? Keep ’em. Is there anyone on the team looking at budgets without being asked and sending in suggestions for how to mitigate the pandemic onslaught? Keep ’em. Are there sales staff that are dragging their feet and offering excuses while others are digging in and thinking outside of the box? You know what to do.

Leaders that can’t take the time to pick up the scalpel are going to have a hard time recruiting QUALITY talent after this pandemic is under control.

Can companies afford to take that kind of hit? Can Sequoia companies take that hit? Did Sequoia just put their portfolio companies in a negative spotlight by association with their Black Swan memo?

When layoffs begin (and of course they will, it’s inevitable), how awful will the headlines about each company be? Will it be clear whether a compassionate scalpel was used, or if the Board pressured a CEO into indiscriminately flailing an axe around the corporate offices for two minutes then staring at the fallout?

Sequoia’s advice isn’t just in conflict with Austin tech culture, it is the worst kind of useless “business advice” that people are going to listen to, be they a 5-person graphic design shop in Dallas, or a 1,500-person SaaS company in San Francisco.

Because Sequoia is the source, the generic advice will be followed blindly.

It speaks volumes about Sequoia that the memo wasn’t their fund offering to chip in a bit to help mitigate the impact of layoffs and offer staff severance packages to make sure those impacted don’t literally starve during this pandemic. There was no mention of mental health. There were no whispers of mentoring their portfolio companies through this storm to make sure their long term brand name survives this potential PR hit. Nothing about doing the right thing or being American, or anything about a rising tide lifting all boats.

Instead, it was a list of platitudes that could have been written by a high schooler assigned a paper on “how to do business during a crisis.”

Of course it is prudent to prepare for the worst right now, because it’s looking like a serious possibility, but thinking more creatively (doing a productivity and leadership audit (scalpel) versus aimlessly cutting higher paid or underutilized staff (axe)) is the only way to protect the company’s reputation long-term.

Trust me, people won’t forget how EVERY company acted during the COVID-19 crisis. In this current environment, the world is news obsessed, they’re taking stock, and can you blame them?

News organizations like ours won’t be deleting stories about companies using the axe when they could have used the scalpel. Or not made cuts at all.

America is watching business leaders right now more than ever, and companies’ futures rely on the decisions they make right this minute.

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