After careers in journalism, marketing, writing books and a concurrent 50-year career in raising rabbits, octogenarian Bob Bennett of Shelburne – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – has made a bid for another career.
On Front Porch Forum he has offered his skills as a professional disparager.
“Because disparagement of a local business results in so many compliments and endorsements I am available (for a price) to post anything negative about any outfit,” Bennett wrote in his post. “I am known to be pretty good at it and actually I am a real pro.”
The idea proved so appealing that a second poster has gone into competition, disparaging Bennett’s skills as a disparager in waggish manner, and arguing he could be top trash-talker.
“I think I could give Bob Bennett a real run for the money and besides, variety in disparagement is valuable. So, if you’re ready to take that next step and engage professional negativity, send me cash or family valuables and I’ll really lay it on,” wrote Josh Simonds, also of Shelburne.
Simonds said he was disappointed in the response he had gotten in private email responses criticizing a post he made in jest.
“We’re so battened down by the political situation that people don’t have any sense of humor,” he said. “I was very disappointed that no one gets it.”
He thinks Bennett’s original disparager post was very clever.
“I thought he was 100 percent spot on,” Simonds said. “One of the good things about our community is that people chime in.”
He has heard people say that one shouldn’t say negative things about a business, but he thinks disparaging a business that deserves to be disparaged is a good thing.
“I was a little disappointed in that post that some of the responses I got were very dour,” Simonds said. “You are absolutely entitled to your opinion, even if you don’t agree with me.”
Simonds thinks he could compete with Bennett in a disparaging throwdown. “If we’ve got to go full negative, I could double down,” he said.
Better business through belittling
Bennett has a different perspective on disparaging a business — he thinks it’s good for business.
Bennett speaks from years of experience in media and public relations after starting his professional life raising rabbits in high school, but more about that later.
It was in the Air Force that Bennett went into journalism. He was an editor of military newspapers around the United States and the world, including Tokyo. While in the service, he worked part-time at civilian newspapers near bases where he was stationed like Atlanta and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was also a stringer for newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and The Atlanta Journal.
After the Air Force he worked at Rutland Herald as a reporter, photographer and editor.
Bennett said about 20 years ago he spent a year as the publisher of The Essex Reporter.
It was at Rutland Herald that Bennett made the decision to switch to marketing. “I had a wife and child and another one coming, and I was living in an apartment and I said you know I need to buy a house,” he said.
He looked around the newsroom and saw the editor was the only person there who could afford to own a home, and that was only because his wife was a teacher.
Pfizer, a company making headlines these days as one of the first to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, hired Bennett to work in New York many years ago.
At Pfizer he worked in public relations, advertising and marketing.
It paid a lot more than journalism, he said.
Books and bunnies
He had stints in marketing for electric company Central Vermont Public Service, which became Green Mountain Power, and the Howard Bank, which became TD Bank.
And he wrote 10 books. One of them came out of his 50-year side hustle raising rabbits.
His book “Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits,” has sold more than 375,000 copies in the United States and been translated into at least four languages.
“It’s the all-time, bestselling book on rabbit care and raising rabbits,” Bennett said.
His foray into rabbits began in high school.
“I started out trying to get a Boy Scout merit badge and ended up 20 years later writing the requirements for the merit badge,” he said.
Besides raising rabbits, Bennett raised writers. Both of his sons are part-time writers.
With son John, a social studies teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School, he wrote “Johnny Podres: Brooklyn’s Only Yankee Killer” in 2005.
In October 1955, Podres pitched the Dodgers to their first and only World Series win in Brooklyn.
Before Podres died in 2008, he lived across Lake Champlain, Bennett said.
So, Bennett knows a bit about writing and marketing and his theory is that disparaging a business can help it.
He offered examples of a Shelburne restaurant and a moving company criticized on Front Porch Forum. Both saw their businesses grow after being belittled on social media.
Bennett subscribes to the theory he attributed to Muhammad Ali: “I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they keep on talking.”
He said when people have criticized a business on Front Porch Forum it has been followed by more posts from other people talking about how much they like it.
However, Bennett said he’s not really a disparager for hire. He intended his post offering his disparaging services as a joke. Like Simonds, he’s found it’s a joke a lot of people didn’t get.
“I don’t want to disparage anybody and I’m not going to disparage anybody. It’s just something to say that’s all, to make a joke out of it,” Bennett said.
He’s also not a rabbit raiser for hire anymore. Recently he donated all of his remaining rabbits to a girls’ home in Virginia.
“I didn’t want to leave my wife with a bunch of rabbits she’s never been that thrilled with,” Bennett said. “It’s not her cup of tea. It would give her something else to remember me by.”
So, no rabbits and no disparaging. For Bennett it’s a much less hare-raising life.