The old saying “any publicity is good publicity” may work for some but I don’t think that’s ever worked for the pest control industry. Not at a national level anyways. Recently the national head line news has been the horrific case of a family succumbing to pesticide poisoning while they were suppose to be enjoying a tropical vacation. It’s the lead story (as of this writing) of every outlet and I can’t tell how many of my clients have asked me if I heard of it. Just a few years back there was the Utah family who also suffered unspeakable losses also due to errant pesticide applications. So tragic, no amount of words can do these situations any justice.
Some may argue that these occurrences are rare and that these types of tragedies should not reflect on the industry as a whole. Much like flying an airplane is statistically far safer than taking your car to the corner store this is true…. but even in my little town where we have car accidents everyday you’d hardly ever know it unless it were a multi car pile up and fatalities were involved. However, let one tiny airplane go skidding off the runway and it’s on the 3, 6, and 10 o’clock news as the lead story. It’s much the same for our industry.
The media has a phrase, (whether they made it up or it’s just attributed to them-I don’t know) “If it bleeds it leads” and this quest for unique and sensational stories has them zeroed in on a few targets- the pest control industry is in that zone.
Providing The Rocks
I’m not gonna say this zone we find ourselves in is all our faults, (see below) but I gotta tell you that over-all, we do a pretty good job of giving the news and public a few stones to throw our way. Last year I was asked to put together a CEU (continuing education unit) course on safety. So I scoured the internet looking for examples I could use to teach with. One that quickly popped up was the story of a technician who used a child’s ‘sippy cup’ to apply pesticide granules. I guess he saw no problem with it until he one day forgot it in a home with small children. Thankfully the mother found the cup and when she tore off the paper cover he had put over the cup, she was horrified to see the cup adorned with lovable and familiar cartoon characters. While this story did not make the Good Morning America show, I was amazed that almost every tech in the room knew of this story…to boot, almost every customer I asked in my little business also knew. How?, The world wide web of course and while most only saw the banner feed on the side of their screen while checking their mail or what have you, the damage was already done. That rock was already airborne.
There are countless stories like this from the hijacked bug truck that went viral on youtube to the death of 50,000 bumble bees in Oregon. Most won’t be on 20/20 but they really don’t have to be. With bloggers and news feeds of every kind passing information around faster than the speed of light- any such story is going to get some play. And, if we as an industry don’t see this as a problem, well, it’s just not going to get any better on its own.
Being Set Up
If providing the rocks isn’t bad enough- let me tell you, many media outlets are not just sitting around waiting for their Google alerts to hit. They’re actually setting up scenarios where they can claim “gotcha” to unsuspecting pest control providers. Recently a TV show did just this for bed bugs. Of course even the ads for the show were very obvious as to what you were gonna see when the show aired. But, BED BUGS–oh yeah, you were gonna tune in because they raised the question about the industries ethics and possible scams run on the unsuspecting public. We all love shows like that. Ugh.
Now if you’re thinking I have some inside skinny on the news outfit and how predetermined they were in their presentation- I do…. but it’s besides the point. Their motives don’t change the outcome nor does it shed very much positive light at all on our industry. I will say, of the two bed bug experts they had on the show, they chose a guy who claimed spraying a “placebo” is what we should do to alleviate delusional parasitosis that sometimes accompanies the many worries of bed bugs and or things that bite. REALLY? This is the guy they gave the most time to and put credence to the words of? And while doing this they of course showed in slo mo the bed bug company rep who claimed he found bugs (that weren’t really there) hustling out the back door when caught. I have other thoughts on this show and those involved but I’ll leave it there. Add to this the nanny cams clients set up which are pretty common in the news and suffice to say– we are targets to get set up and look bad, even if we are just innocently going about our day.
Staying Vigilant and Remaining Steadfast
In our industry the buzzword has been education for many years. It’s a good word and a great mantra and one you’ll hear company spokesman tout when the media hounds hit their offices. While I agree education of our techs on safety, proper application and general pest control knowledge is good, and that education of our clients on IPM or the like is all good and needs to continue. Perhaps a little education on the cruel reality that we give ourselves too many black eyes and this needs to stop. Too many self inflicted wounds that do just as much damage as any outside force. Also, lest you forget- that the media doesn’t really like you and what you do. Green, blue, traditional or modern, pest control is a bad thing already in the eyes of much of the population and this gets fueled by fear mongering news hounds or short sighted activists who’ll stop at nothing to see your career be put to a stop. In their minds pesticides are already a bad thing and no matter the facts about the countless lives it/we have saved and made better, they are always on the prowl and are looking for a reason to cast doubt and darkness on the industry. To them, the ends justify the means.
Let’s not give it to them by being careless, in a hurry or taking shortcuts that may result in an extra dollar here and there. Instead, we as an industry must stand together and put “I’m better than you” aside – the examples in this article are from both mega conglomerates and the small firms. It really doesn’t matter the size of the company, the media is not your friend and if we, “all of us” don’t see this and take steps to quit providing them the ammo to take us down…..well, that’s exactly where we’ll be headed, and that story my friend, will make every head line there is.