When a “Does It Really Do That?” viewer (in our office shorthand we call the segments DIRDT — pronounced dirt) says the product doesn’t work, that might mean some money will be saved by other viewers who now don’t have to buy the product. What it means to me is that I have to call the company to get a response.
Journalism requires fairness, and it’s never my intention to knock anyone’s product. That’s why I spend a lot of time tracking down companies, and tracking is a key phrase. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult some companies make it to find them.
The first call goes to customer service. I can easily sit 5, 10, 15 minutes on hold, but the recording promises me that “my call is very important to them,” so I hold. When I finally get the service rep, I tell her who I am and why I’m calling and ask for someone who can speak to the media. I can’t think of the last time I was given that information. So I ask for a supervisor. Then I’m told to leave my name and number and someone will get back to me. I’m still waiting for that to happen.
So then I put on my detective hat and get to work. First I Google the company to find them. I look for company headquarters or other company names they use or for other consumers who have somehow found a name and phone number to contact. If that doesn’t work, I attempt to track them through their Web site registration. Sometimes I call the Electronic Retailing Association, the organization that represents direct marketing companies. They are very helpful, but not every direct marketer belongs to the association.
As a last resort, I have tracked down the actors and actresses who host the infomercials. Most of these people have agents, and I say I want to talk to the actor about their infomercial. Then I ask the actor how to contact the company. Oddly enough, by doing this I have become good telephone friends with Forbes Riley, who hosts lots of infomercials and is an absolute delight. We have a standing “meet you for a cup of coffee if you’re ever in Washington” meeting set up.
But as a consumer producer, it always bothers me when a company tries to hide. To me it says something about how it decided to do business, and how things will work out if there’s a problem. Fortunately, not all infomercial companies are like this, or I’d do nothing but play detective.
— Murray Schweitzer, News4 Consumer Unit
P.S. If you see Forbes, tell her I’m still up for coffee.