It was nice to read the Star Tribune’s skeptical take on Wednesday’s “Get Motivated!” seminar that may draw 20,000 people to downtown Minneapolis.
Aimee Blanchette’s story refers to the event as “the heavily promoted mega-business seminar” — though full discolosure would’ve added “… in the Strib.” After all, “Get Motivated!” has taken out full-page ads for the event (featuring Colin Powell! Rudy Giuliani! Ron Gardenhire? And the videotaped heads of Sarah Palin and Brett Favre?!) for weeks.
Still, City Pages and reporter Nick Pinto got to the seminar story first, with a much tougher look that ran the previous Wednesday.
While everyone wonders how the “Get Motivated!” seminars can afford big-buck speakers while charging only $4.95 a ticket (or $19 for the whole office!), Pinto offers at least one clue: pitchmen pitching questionable investment “tools” to the folks getting in cheap.
The particular salesman Pinto cites, Phil Town, isn’t listed among the Minneapolis speakers, and isn’t touting an appearance on his website or Twitter. An order-taker I spoke to didn’t know if Town was coming. (I resorted to the ticket office, since I still await Get Motivated’s media relations callback.)
The Securities and Exchange Commission did sue Investools, the maker of a product Town has pitched at “Get Motivated.” In 2009, the SEC settled the case with a $3 million fine.
Worth knowing: The original complaint and the agreement names two other salesmen, not Town. The complaint specifies free company-sponsored events as the funnel, not the Get Motivated seminars. There’s nothing in either document that judges the validity of the Investools product itself.
The SEC alleged that the two salesmen misrepresented themselves as successful investors, and that the company failed to police its salesforce or the use of a self-selected customer survey. (Investools has since been sold to TD Ameritrade, if that’s at all reassuring.)
Pinto is right to raise the red flags because Investools, which profited from chicanery, was clearly pitching product to an arena of “Get Motivated” attendees. The safest message, of course, is “caveat emptor.” Here, City Pages did the public a favor by reminding them how things can work (more so if Strib editors got more motivated to do their own piece) even if the worst examples are of the guilt-by-association variety.
City Pages also asks whether the Strib should accept ads from groups that profit from potential misrepresentations. It’s a fair question (herbal erectile dysfunction supplements anyone?) though anyone who’s looked at the “call me” ads in the back of CP has to chuckle at the truth-in-advertising irony.