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When is a Marketing Job Not a Marketing Job? – At Grand Marketing / Cohesion Inc / [Future Name Here]

July 23, 2013 18 comments

I feel an obligation to protect the students that I teach and mentor.  Whenever possible, I try to steer them away from mistakes I’ve made or lend them some of the limited wisdom I’ve acquired in nearly two decades of being a professional.

The latest effort to help students and young professionals out is advising them to stay away from “Cohesion, Inc.” (formerly “Grand Marketing”), “Prestige Enterprises,” and other similar companies, which are essentially door-to-door sales or telemarketing jobs falsely promoted as jobs in marketing, advertising or public relations.

These companies target college students and 20-somethings with promises of jobs in marketing and advertising, when what they really offer is commission-based sales.  They claim to represent companies in the “Sports” and “Fashion” fields because they know these industries are top targets of young professionals.  In reality, students end up selling undesirable products (like health supplements) and work on commission – and often they’re set up as multi-level marketing operations (ie pyramid schemes).

In doing some digging, it appears that many of these companies are all franchises of Cydcor (the Mother Ship). Their entry on PissedOffConsumer spells out many of the same complaints that others have had.  The parent company, be it Cydcor or some other group, provides the franchisees with canned website copy and direction on how to set up their business (which makes them all easy to spot – see below).

Fortunately social media gives former employees and interviewees a way to share information about the deception with others, resulting in this long entry about Grand Marketing / Cohesion at PissedOffConsumer.com.  In fact, social media could be what drove the company to switch names as the negative reviews rank higher than the actual company website in Google search results:

Grand Marketing Google Results

Another company of the same variety in Grand Rapids has come to my attention: Prestige Enterprises Inc.  They appear to be the same type of operation, as the copy from their website shows up on the sites of dozens of other similar “marketing” companies around the country.  I took a unique phrase from the websites of Cohesion and Prestige and googled it – these are the results (so either they’re all plagiarists, or they all are using the same website template):

These companies also share similar Facebook page characteristics (inspirational quote photos – some even use the same ones, group photos, and a “careers” page that links to the Jobcast recruiting app).

Prestige Alpha Comparison

Impulse Adamant Comparison

These companies are starting to get more savvy about how they recruit, as they’re realizing that people are figuring them out.  They’ve even started to infiltrate the job boards at colleges and universities (so you can’t even trust that those have been vetted properly, a fact I was disappointed to find out).  Moreover, Cohesion appears to be trying to get out in front of the negative reviews, and mysteriously a couple of rave reviews have shown up on the company’s Glassdoor.com page (and somehow the same photos from their Facebook page are uploaded to the Glassdoor profile on the same day as one of the reviews):

Cohesion Similar Pics

As many young professionals need to be warned about these deceptive outfits as possible – so if you’ve had a bad experience with a company like this, post a review to Glassdoor.com, RipOffReport.com, or PissedOffConsumer.com, or give us their name here. If you’ve received a job offer from a company you’re suspicious of, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help you do background research on them to see if they’re legitimate or not.  If you want to do your own research, here are some tips:

How to Tell if a Company is Really a Marketing / Advertising / Public Relations Firm

  1. Check their website and social media presences for photos of actual, real people.  Most of these companies rely heavily on stock photography (because real photography of real people is expensive or time-consuming to produce).  If they do have photos of “real” people – they’ll typically be large group photos which make it appear like there are more people working there than actually are.
  2. Do they talk about “Sports Marketing,” “Fashion Marketing,” or other really desirable industries that seem too good to be true? – They probably are.
  3. Search for the company name in your local business publications (for example the Grand Rapids Business Journal, MiBiz or Rapid Growth) – have they made any lists?  Are there any profiles of their executives or employees?  If not – that’s a red flag.
  4. Check your local County Registrar or the Michigan State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (DLEG) – they will allow you to search for people who have applied for DBA record (“Doing Business As”).  Most, like Kent County, have an online search feature. This can tell you who is behind the company and much more about them – particularly the State of Michigan DLEG directory; it contains the company’s annual report and incorporation documents (watch for companies where the same person holds all of the offices – ie President, Secretary, Treasurer, Director).
  5. Find what appears to be a unique string of text somewhere in their website (usually from the “About” section) and search for it in quotes in Google.  When the results come back, if you see the exact same string of text in multiple other websites – you’ll know they’re not legit.  Note: Google will sometimes omit similar results – so you may need to click the “repeat the search with the omitted results included” link.
  6. Look for a company on Linkedin.  They should have a company page (especially if they’re a marketing, advertising or public relations firm).  If they don’t have one, red flag.  If they DO have one, you can use it to get more intel on the company: if you view a company page and click “Insights,” it will give you a wealth of data.  You can find out who some former employees are (so you can look up their work history or perhaps even contact them to get insight on how it was working there), who some current employees are, what similar companies people also search for, and the most common places their employees came from.
  7. Search for the company on job websites (I recommend Indeed.com, which is right now by far the best job website).  If they have a LOT of positions posted and yet they’re small enough that you’ve never heard of them, that should be a big red flag.  Just look, for example, at how many positions Prestige Enterprises is trying to fill (and the variety of titles).
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How to Create the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Template for the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

Given the field I work in, I pay a lot of attention to billboard campaigns.  I suspect this makes me different from many of the publics we target.

One thing I’ve noticed in my years of careful Billboardspotting is how remarkably similar all outdoor advertising is for colleges and universities.  It’s eerie.  It’s almost as though everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and copying it in some sort of marketing feedback loop.

This is likely what is actually happening, which explains the creative entropy. Read more…

Five Tips for Faculty on Interacting With Students via Social Media

February 28, 2011 2 comments

Social Media in the Classroom

Several people have asked me questions (following the social media policy webinar I did with PaperClip Communications last week) about how faculty should interact with students using social media.  It’s a pressing issue first, because there have been several high-profile cases of inappropriate conduct, and second, because social media provides an opportunity to share relevant information to an entire class (or multiple classes) if it’s handled well.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Stay “On Campus: If they’re available on your campus, course management software like Blackboard, Banner or WebCT can do nearly everything Facebook can do and there’s a “check” in place in that the school is able to oversee the interaction. In addition, it allows other students to view, participate in and learn from the interaction.  We at GRCC use Blackboard and we also use a set of tools from Wimba (like Wimba Pronto which is a client that builds in collaboration, video chat, instant messaging, chat, etc. into one tool).  Most of these systems are also able to publish content to Facebook through an application like CourseFeed (so that students can still remain in Facebook – but participate in the class and get notifications and announcements).
  2. Don’t Friend – Be Friended: Faculty(and supervisors)should never initiate friend requests – they need to respect the fact that the power inherent in their position might make students fearful to refuse the request. If a professor wants to invite students to connect with them – it should be done in the form of a general invitation to the entire class(no different than providing their email in the syllabus).
  3. Stay Public: Conduct discussions in the open (ie through wall posts as opposed to personal messages) to help ensure that they stay focused on the course and don’t deviate into personal areas that might be inappropriate.  It’s the same as the principle behind conducting an after-class meeting with a student in a hallway as opposed to a classroom so that event he appearance of impropriety is avoided.
  4. Use the Buddy System:  It would be ideal if faculty would let their department head, dean or another colleague know that they’re using social media to interact with students AND to “friend” them to give themselves a system of checks and balances.  If you’ve got another pair of eyes helping you keep tabs on what you’re doing, they may be able to help you watch out for interactions that may be problematic.
  5. Be Transparent: Behaving as though others can see your conduct is always a good policy.  Anyone trying to maintain a public face that is markedly different from their private behavior is bound for epic failure in an age where online content is easily shared, and students (and consumers) have audio/video recording equipment with them at all times (on their mobile phones).  An “abstinence-only” approach to social media is bound for failure just as much as the “abstinence-only” approach to reproductive health education.  Content about you will go online whether or not you want it to – ultimately it’s best to have a say in the conversation.

In the end, as more of our communication moves to social media – eventually this will become the dominant paradigm for faculty as well as professionals in the private sector.  Better to get a head-start on familiarizing yourself with its nuances now than wait until it’s mandated as part of your contract.  Not only that -but I think you’ll find (as I have) that your teaching experience is richer for the relationships you’re able to maintain with students after the class has ended.  I’ve been amazed and humbled by the pursuit of scholarship that some of my students maintain outside the classroom – and I often learn just as much from them as they hopefully do from me.

Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol (Feb. 17, 2011 Webinar)

January 25, 2011 2 comments

Organizations With a Formal Social Media Policy Chart: 29% Have, 71% Do Not Have Source: Manpower, “Social Networks vs. Management? Harness the Power of Social Media,” January 26, 2010

[File under “shameless self-promotion”] If you’re working on a social media policy for your organization, I’m hosting a webinar for Paperclip Communications: “Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol.” The program is aimed specifically aimed at higher education institutions and will cover legal issues, employer/employee issues, student/faculty/staff “boundary” issues, online reputation management, campus PR issues, and generally provide advice and tips to help keep a school’s use of social media positive and lawsuit-free.

Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol – February 17, 2011 Webinar
Date/Time: Thursday, February 17, 2011 from 2:00-3:30 PM ET
Length: Approx. 90 minutes
Price: $259
Register here: http://bit.ly/SMPolicyWebinarFeb17

It should be a lot of fun; there have been no shortage of fascinating case studies regarding employees and social media policy in the news and this is a topic that I love discussing.  If you’re interested in reading some of my other posts on social media policy and online reputation management, here are a few:

On Tim Pawlenty, Privatization and “iCollege”

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education featured some discussion on an interview the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart did with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in which the Governor attacked the public higher education system in favor of privatization and instead proposed “iCollege.”  You can watch the clip below (the salient portion of which starts at five minutes in):
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tim Pawlenty
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party
Not that it’s news, but Tim Pawlenty is woefully ignorant and misguided.  There are a number of things wrong with his anti-government/anti-public education position:
  1. Virtually everything online (particularly e-commerce) was developed as a result of the work done by nonprofits like SRI International and other other segments of the public higher education system.
  2. 2) His metaphor of the iPhone/iPad and “iCollege” is a poor choice for at least two reasons:
    1. Apple Computer built on the research done by the nonprofits to launch its computing devices (a tradition that continues to this day).
    2. The iPhone and iPad have been roundly criticized for locking down the browsing experience to only the applications/tools permitted by Apple.  Moreover, users are limited to AT&T as the sole provider for 3G wireless service for both devices.  They are, in fact, the mobile computing example of a “one-size-fits-all monopoly provider.”
Certainly more can be done with technology to not only reduce costs but extend the options available to students for education.  However, whenever practical hands-on experience is required, the “drag of atoms” will always necessitate some form of institutions that provide those
educational experiences.   (Just think of the practical applications in the medical field alone: do you want to have surgery at the hands of someone schooled at a profit-driven “iCollege”?)
That’s also to say nothing of the fact that many students need one-on-one time with educational professionals to advance as they’re ill-equipped to be self-guided learners.
The deregulation Gov. Pawlenty is proposing is the reason we have catastrophes like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill; oversight of the industry was long ago delegated to the equivilant of an “iOversight” app.  We don’t need more of that – and we certainly don’t need more of it in higher education (a fact reiterated by a superb PBS Frontline documentary “College, Inc.”
[PS – “Dial that up” on their iPad?  Did he actually say that?  #fail]