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Audience: A Good Example of a Bad Choice

A friend of mine who works at a large, urban university on the West Coast shared an example of a business person who did NOT think about their audience. And the person’s choice led to the loss of a customer order.

The university’s Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion wanted to buy some swag (promotional items) for a student event. Keychains seemed like a good type of swag, and the university asked a vendor to send a sample for consideration. The vendor complied.

At first my friend was confused by the word 2nd on the keychain’s face, so she flipped to the other side. The image instantly clarified its meaning.

Second Amendment Key Chain My Rights Keychain

Was this “My Guns, My Right, My Country” Second Amendment keychain a good sample for the Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at a large, urban university in a blue (leans Democratic) state?

Nope, it doesn’t match the audience.

If you can imagine yourself as that potential customer, how would you feel about receiving that inappropriate sample? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

My friend burst out laughing when they saw the keychain. But then the group decided to abandon the idea of purchasing keychains–at least from that vendor.

Know your audience!

To those who are starting their academic year, I wish you great success and rich experiences. If you are an instructor of business writing, consider my free course curriculum as a resource.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

7 comments on “Audience: A Good Example of a Bad Choice”

  • Call me an old cynic, but I’m finding it hard to think of ANY gift that wouldn’t offend a “Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion”.

  • Such a strange name for a department…
    “OK guys. Remember we have 3 buzzwords in our title:
    Equity — everyone has to be the same.
    Diversity — everyone has to be different.
    Inclusion — don’t allow conservative speakers on campus.
    Have a productive day, comrades!”

  • My guess is the vendor was trying to make a point. Because in today’s divisive atmosphere, it’s perfectly OK to “take a stand” at the expense of a sale

  • @Nick: I can appreciate the attempt at sarcasm, but the department’s name includes the word “Equity,” not “Equality.” Equity implies fairness and impartiality, not sameness.

    @Lynn: This is a smart post–good reminder to be in tune with your audience at every point of contact.

  • Hi Nick, Michelle, and Emily,

    Thanks for weighing in on this subject.

    Nick, if I wanted the department’s business, I would search my collection of keychains we had produced to find something that would relate to them. It might be something we had done for a university team or program, for an organization with a global focus, or even just something funny and creative. I would not choose something like “My Guns, My Right, My Country,” which is already a divisive topic in the United States. It’s not a good fit for this customer. Indeed, I can think of only a few potential customers where this would DEFINITELY be a good sample product, places like gun clubs, NRA chapters, and maybe hunting clubs.

    Michelle, I don’t understand your point yet. Are you saying that the vendor did not want to work with the Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and therefore tried to lose the sale? Or is it that the vendor felt the keychain–which takes a stand–would relate to the department’s goals? If you see this comment, please elaborate.

    Emily, thank you for helpfully defining “equity.”


  • Thank you, Nick. You called it! The key chains would trigger all those Department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion snowflakes who’d pout and need cuddly toys, lollipops, and safe spaces to ease their offendedness. Other opinions cannot be tolerated.

  • Thinking of potential customers as “snowflakes” and making snide comments about them typically don’t lead to increased sales. Considering what would appeal to customers does.

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