3 Ways Jimmy Carr's Tax Avoidance Apology Can Make You Better At SEO

Iain Bartholomew

Although it's never been said out loud, I know that many of the people I meet in my day-to-day life believe I would be an exceptional stand-up comedian. My witty turn of phrase, combined with an extraordinary natural charm and mastery of the art of the pun leave friends and strangers alike so stunned that they are unable to articulate their appreciation of my exceptional natural talent. I'm just a funny guy.


Sadly, it's a skill I am unable to teach. Each element of my comedic genius occurs naturally and cannot be learned, mimicked or otherwise acquired. I am truly humble in this regard and partly in awe of my own magnificence. Fortunately not all funny guys have nothing to teach us and this week Jimmy Carr provided lessons for us all.


Most people, certainly in the UK, will be aware of the furore caused this week when Carr, a popular comedian, was outed by the Times (I'd link to the story, but they operate a paywall) and thereafter painted as a morally bankrupt tax avoiding hypocrite by Prime Minister David Cameron, amongst others. Carr quickly became the public face of millionaire tax-avoiders throughout the UK, but has largely survived with his image intact thanks in large part to a well-constructed statement delivered at an early opportunity. Close examination of the statement reveals three key elements that those of us in the SEO industry would be wise to note for future reference.


"This is obviously a serious matter"

In the second of six tweets, Carr empathises with his critics, acknowledging that their feelings are valid, avoiding any temptation to play down the severity of the story. He expresses his understanding of the outrage and the criticism he has received without reservation, assuaging the anger he recognises people are feeling.


Empathy, as Dan Shure  wrote this week, is an underappreciated skill. Taking the heat out of a situation allows cooler heads to prevail and smarter decisions to be made. By taking the time to understand where a client or critic is coming from you will put yourself in the best position to offer the advice or response they need, rather than that which first occurs to you.


This isn't something that can be faked and there is no value in pretending to listen before carrying on as you otherwise would. The benefit to truly empathising with the client is not unidirectional. Rather, both you and they will win because you will be able to offer better guidance having understood the problem than you would by simply assuming you knew what the concerns were.


Carr's statement is a perfect example of a response produced with understanding of the level and nature of the concern. A clear contrast can be drawn with Carr's premature, careless response to a heckler shortly after the story broke: "I pay what I have to and not a penny more". Clearly this statement would be more likely to antagonise and irritate those who challenged his position, leading to further negative publicity. The value of the considered response is only emphasised by the juxtaposition of the two.


"I've made a terrible error of judgement"

Although some of his other comments refer to the legality of the scheme he participated in and the fact he was acting on advice, in this fourth tweet Carr takes ownership of the situation and responsibility for what has been happening. This step not only plays well to the public galleries, but also empowers him to take restitutive action.


Similarly in our line of work there will always be opportunities to place blame on others or shirk responsibility, both after things have gone wrong and before that stage is reached. Whether it is pointing elbows in Google's general direction, fingering a colleague who has fallen short of our expectations or turning the tables back on the client themselves, there is likely to be a convenient scapegoat if we choose to use them.


Taking ownership of a project makes it clear, to you and to others, precisely where the buck stops. In turn this responsibility frees you from the hesitation, uncertainty and lethargy that can sap the momentum from any project. If your name is on it and people know your name is on it you will be driven to deliver to the best of your ability, to motivate others and to demand results or responses before they are needed. No more waiting three days for a colleague to provide data; no more watching the phone, hoping the client is going to call with an update on the content you need; and no more finger pointing. Your colleagues get their data to you on time because you keep on top of them; your clients provide the content because you call them (and they probably appreciate your attention to the matter); and there is no need to decide who's fault it is that the job didn't get done, because the job did get done. Because your name was on it.


"[I] will in future conduct my financial affairs much more responsibly."

The final tweet of the day from Carr contained an apology and a promise to alter his behaviour in the future. As SEOs we will get things wrong from time to time, despite our best efforts. There is no shame in making a mistake, but failing to learn from our mistakes is a major faux pas.


It is a well-worn sporting cliché that defeat is a greater teacher than victory, and the same applies to our industry. Whether it is a failure to educate the client adequately, a practical error in the application of our work, or - heaven forbid - a major error that causes (or could have caused) significant harm, it becomes part of our makeup and we are better at what we do because we have had that experience.


Failure to learn from our mistakes, however, dooms us to repeat them. This, in turn, can damage our credibility and in the worst cases can end a career or a business. Whether the error is objectively apparent, specific to our own business or the result of a new diktat from Google that changed the playing-field in a way we did not anticipate, making it over and over again undermines trust, perhaps in ability, perhaps in honesty, perhaps worse.


Making a public statement of intent is one way to ensure you are held to a higher standard and this is an approach that can be replicated within a company, whether through adherence to an overall policy like SEOmoz's TAGFEE tenets or through individual targets and challenges. Ultimately, learning from mistakes is part of a process of continual education which ought to be wide ranging and ambitious.



Empathy -    understand what a client is trying to say before assuming you know the answer. This will lead to better advice and happier clients and can salve potential disputes before they ignite;


Ownership -  putting your name on a project will drive you to take the necessary steps to deliver a positive outcome. Stripping away the potential for finger pointing forces an individual to take positive responsibility;


Education -   learning from your mistakes is important for your growth as a professional. Failure can be painful, but it is often a powerful teacher.

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