Whose side are you on? Here’s a hint

Will you support Elliott Advocacy? We are here to help you!

One of the most common reader questions we get here is, “Whose side are you on?” It happens when my advocacy team, or I, gently turn down someone’s request for help — something we often do in our Case Dismissed posts.

The answer is: We’re on your side, of course. But we have to say “no” to make our “yeses” as effective as they can be.

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A “yes” is also what I need from you right now to this rare opportunity to becoming a supporter of the ad-free, no-holds-barred, straight-shootin’ consumer advocacy you see here every day. We’ve just started our most important fundraiser in the organization’s history, and without your “yes” we’re doomed. I only ask twice a year.

Why we have to say “no” in order to get to “yes”

A review of our fascinating Case Dismissed file reveals a trend. Our advocates would bend over backward to help someone in need. But they won’t help just anyone.

Some readers hate that. And when we say “no,” I can already predict the next line: “What kind of consumer advocate are you?”

That’s a good question. I think saying “no” to the cases gives us more credibility — both with companies and with you. It reinforces the fact that we are fair and objective. In fact, sometimes, I don’t think we say “no” enough, but that’s a topic for another day.

Make no mistake, my hard-working advocacy team will presume you have a valid case until proven otherwise. Behind the scenes, we work hard to help consumers prepare a valid paper trail, research terms, and conditions, and coach them on the right approach. But at the end of the day, if the case is unwinnable, it’s unwinnable.

That’s not how the other guys do it

I recently had an opportunity to speak with a vice president in charge of customer service. “You’re not like the other advocates,” he admitted. Basically, he said, they shoot first and ask questions later — listening to only one side of the story and then finally confronting the company at the end just before the story airs.

My advocates ask for the company’s side of the story at the beginning. Then we compare both versions to make sure they align. We use facts, not rhetoric, to advocate for our consumers.

And that makes us different.

I had a conversation with an editor a few weeks ago who was interested in running one of my syndicated columns. “People want fireworks,” he told me. “They want to see the guilty company dragged through the town square.”

Yes, it would be nice to publish daily takedowns of the worst companies in America. And in a sense, we do post some fairly embarrassing information, including the names, numbers and email addresses of top executives.

But revenge? No, after many years of consumer advocacy, revenge is the last thing on my mind. As a young journalist, I burned far too many bridges unnecessarily, and it’s just not worth it. Slow, steady pressure on the worst offenders is far more effective than “gotcha” journalism.

Our track record is impressive. A vast majority of companies try to help us when possible, thanks to our unflinchingly honest approach to advocacy. I’m not sure if you can say that about the other guys.

Becoming the public broadcasting of consumer advocacy

Our effort to become the most effective consumer advocacy organization has been an adventure. Deliberate, measured, and thoughtful consumer journalism doesn’t always make for riveting tabloid headlines, which means we’ve relied on a strong and broad base of underwriters like you to keep the site going.

The public broadcasting model may not capture our tone — I mean, we’re still advocates — but it does describe our commitment to public service journalism.

This site is here for you, period. Without you, it wouldn’t exist. And without your support, we would not be able to pay the bills. The lights would quickly get shut off here at our world headquarters, and the site would permanently go dark.

I know you don’t want that to happen.

You want a team of advocates that has your back and will give it to you straight. If you have a case, we’ll always try to take it.

If we can’t, we’ll tell you.

If you want a site that empowers you to solve your problems and helps you if you can’t, then it’s time to become an underwriter now, during our spring fundraiser.

I’m giving away lots of exciting premiums, including luggage, airline tickets, and other goodies. But don’t become a supporter because of that. Do it because you value the assistance this unique advocacy site provides — and could provide for you someday.