Posted by: Mark Nichols
15 Aug 2010
It's not like this is new, but I've personally experienced more of it recently: the sleazing up of business.
I met a politician a couple years ago that mentioned he was a lawyer. "What kind?" I asked. "Personal injury lawyer," he replied. "Sleazebag!" I jokingly yelled. Maybe it was an overreaction (I was assuming he was catering to people who probably shouldn't have been suing at all - like the person suing a restaurant because there weren't yellow lines painted on the sidewalk), but it definitely expressed my growing dissatisfaction with people's willingness to sell their souls.
I attended a seminar about online stores a couple years ago where the presenters promised to build you a website and then trotted out all sorts of testimonials about getting you to the top of the search results and getting you set up and ready to earn easy money. For a couple of thousand dollars, you'd be on your way! I don't recall the details, but I bet there were monthly or yearly maintenance fees that went along with that service. I sat there wanting to scream out to people about what it really costs to host a site (way less than they were charging). I'm sure there were other things that felt a little sleazy to me at the time, but granted, if you really had an idea but little ability to execute it, I suppose they were presenting a good option. It's just the success rate would be minimal and most of your costs would not be recouped (in my opinion). It felt a little sleazy.
And just a week ago, someone approached my wife and baby in the mall and said the baby should model. A couple of days later we got a follow-up call, scheduled an evaluation with a "director", and a few days later went in to see what would happen. We ended up waiting almost 2 hours before meeting with a person who said they envisioned our kid being great for commercials and print ads. It was then explained that they'd want to create a sort of photo business card for our kid and would then "market" us around to their contacts so we could get paying jobs. The kicker: we'd have to pay for the photo shoot, which would cost a minimum of $500. We expressed hesitation and they lowered the price for us in a classic "on sale now!" kind of move.
We offered to give the company a portion of whatever he made instead, but the company said they didn't get a commission for each job. We asked how they made their money. The answer: from the marketing (i.e., from the great photo shoot). We offered to use our own pictures, but we were told they didn't want to put their name on anything that wasn't theirs. Which makes sense given they only make money from the photo shoot. Which also means they would not have a reason to actually sell our kid to their "contacts" once they made their money.
Some of the lies we were told:
1) That we wouldn't be getting spoken to if they didn't think our kid had real potential (but they wouldn't make money off his potential at all - only from the shoot!).
2) When going quickly over the contract, I was told to initial sections of the contract indicating I understood what they said, but in fact she was describing the section beneath the initials, thus avoiding key points in a section called "Cancellation Policy".
3) My wife asked our "director" if she liked her job, and she actually hemmed and hawed a little before saying that she did and the hours were great. But this was after complaining that she had to work seven days a week (must be 2 hours a day if the hours are great!). Anyway, she was lying.
4) Under point 2-A-iv of the contract we are told: "This agreement does not entitle you to marketing or promotional services." Which is funny since we were told we'll be marketed to different agents/potential jobs.
Some of the ways we were quietly coerced:
1) Made us wait forever, thus increasing our "investment" in the process.
2) Told us they thought our kid was special - which of course we already think.
3) Showed us pictures of all sorts of children who were featured in recent campaigns (success stories).
4) Did not answer a question about how much each job might pay, but told us that agents who they'd get us in touch with would be making a commission - and that they aren't working for small change ("do you think a job is only going to pay $100 - that the agents are working for $15 a job?"). In tandem with this, they would not indicate how long it'd be before we earned back the cost of the photo shoot. Of course it'd be easy to say every situation is different, but surely a reputable company would have statistics, right? Well, they would if people on average made their money back!
5) Revealed (if I recall correctly) some formal looking endorsement on the front desk countertop, as if the business were reputable (when in fact it's got an F rating from the Better Business Bureau and has moved from New Jersey and changed its name in the last two years).
6) All the "directors" were dressed up and trying to look glamorous. I believe everyone off the street was told they had potential, that no actual evaluations were done, but that each director tried to find something to be excited about so they could lead the parents and youth on (teenagers were being recruited too!).
7) Related to point 6 - a look (but fake look) of professionalism - we were given a card so that we could "reach" our director, except she didn't have a personal email or phone number on the card - it would be filtered through the front desk. Also, there was no sign on the outside of the building indicating it was the office we were looking for; there were only blown up modeling images inside the front door that tried to communicate we were in a real talent agency. But the floor of the office was glossy, cracked concrete - nothing fancy.
After going through this recruitment process I felt so sleazy - in part because we almost fell victim to the scam. The business is not set up to drive success for clients, but to steal money for photo shoots that lead nowhere. Granted, there's a chance for some to make their money back, but it's unlikely. And our feelings for our kid were taken advantage of - were played upon. Many others will probably fall victim, and I'm sad that they'll end up disappointed.
I'm disappointed in the landlord of the building who doesn't research what tenants he's leasing to (although I'm guessing a commercial landlord can't pick and choose without getting sued - just like a residential landlord). I'm disappointed that malls allow young kids to act as spotters and start the coercion process. Wouldn't they want reputable businesses renting their space, or no business at all? But again, maybe there are legal issues that limit their ability to choose.
Anyhoo, let this serve as a warning and a message of change to the world - that you research any business decision you make (even a quick Google search would reveal the talent agency scam), and that you not get roped into "easy money" decisions such as frivolous lawsuits. Let's all try to be a little more human and humane to each other. Thanks.
By the way - I'm going to sue the talent agency. Cha-ching!" " : )