A few months back, a respected colleague of mine put me in touch with The National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) in hopes that I could do some public speaking for them at an upcoming conference.
The woman who called me from NAPW was very warm and complimentary, and did an extremely in-depth interview (about 30 minutes), after which she congratulated me and let me know that due to my “impressive resume and accomplishments,” not only would they consider me as a speaker, but they would also be offering me a complimentary membership in the organization!! I accepted it, gave her all my information and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
A few months later, I got a call from another very nice woman with whom I had another nice long conversation about what I was up to and my recent accomplishments. Towards the end of the call, she tried to sell me a membership to the NAPW.
I reminded her that I’d been extended a complimentary membership because they were considering me as a potential speaker for their organization. She was very confused and apologized. I was busy, so I quickly got off the phone telling her it was no problem and we ended the call very politely. I didn’t think of it again until today.
Today I received another NAPW call (incidentally, from a blocked number). This time the lovely woman on the other line warmly informed that I was selected to be featured in their spotlight of their newsletter, and they asked me to share what my recent accomplishments have been so they could include them! I was honored and delighted and told her all about what I was up to. We spent about 10 minutes on this, me doing most of the talking.
Then she said that she had even more good news for me, that they were pleased to offer me free workshops and seminars in my area after having partnered with the National Seminar Company. It looked good and I was looking forward to checking out some of the programs.
Then she told me she had even MORE good news! I had been nominated for and selected to win the “Woman of the Year” award for my category (business education) in Florida! At this point I remember sensing that she was reading from a script (whenever I’d interrupt or ask a question she would answer then go back a few words in her script and start over.) I didn’t think much of it, though, she was lovely and kept stroking my ego, so I’m embarassed to say, I ate it up.
“Wow!” I said, “that’s amazing, thank you so much!!” At this point we had spent about 15 minutes on the phone. By the way, she added, in honor of my achievement, they were going to send me a NAPW certification that I could attach to my bio and load up on my website, as well as a mahogany-framed certificate to hang up and attest to this momentous honor!
At this point, I was beyond touched and thanked her even MORE profusely. It was at this point that the lovely woman, reading from her lovely script, informed me that there was a price to “reserve your spot” as woman of the year….
For only $995.
Come again? At this point, I was thrown off guard. I had developed rapport with this woman (read: she had stroked my ego for 15 minutes and encouraged me tell her all about my accomplishments), so I was not sure I understood correctly. So I asked her: “Are you saying that I have to PAY for this award?”
“Oh no, absolutely not Ms. Vilabos [sic]! This fee is simply to reserve your spot as an NAPW woman of the year.”
“If you’re saying I need to pay $995 in order to receive the award, then I’m not interested and quite frankly, I’m not happy about being called and kept on the phone for this long for you to sell me an award.”
“Well, I can understand how you might get that impression, but that’s not it at all! In fact, here’s what I can do, I can make an exception for you and just this one time…”
Now I was getting angry. “You just spent 15 minutes on the phone with me, telling me about this award that I won, and telling me about all the things you were going to ‘give’ me, and now you’re telling me that it’s going to cost me $1000. This is the 2nd call I’ve received trying to ‘upsell’ me other things after having been ‘awarded’ a complimentary membership. Can you see how this might be construed?”
“No no. You’re not understanding how this works. Are you familiar with the Hollywood Boulevard stars on the sidewalk?” [Still reading from a script by the way, she must’ve had to jump ahead to “overcoming objections” page…]
“Yes, of course.”
“Well this is like that. There is a board that nominates the candidates, then votes for the winner, but then the celebrity that wins must pay $25,000 to get their star. Well, this isn’t Hollywood, but the process is very similar.”
I went on to express my dismay and displeasure at having 1) been manipulated and 2) my time wasted. The lovely lady quickly turned not-so-lovely and informed me that “just so you know, I WAS going to offer this to you for a special rate of $495.” She went on to add that “it’s just as well,” because they had “plenty of other ‘honorees'” [read: suckers] on their list, and that they would simply go to the next name.
I was so insulted, and so upset that an organization allowed to call itself the “National Association of Professional Women” would STOOP to this behavior, that I looked it up online.
Guess what? I’m not the first or the only to have experienced this. In fact, there are several complaints against NAPW, as well as OTHER organizations that do the same thing! In fact, I discovered that this was not the first time my ego had been seduced. It brought to mind another situation that happened even before the NAPW.
I received a call (referred to me by the same person, by the way) from NAPEW (National Organization of Professional and Executive Women). Same scenario, although I’m embarrassed to say that when they called me (long before the NAPW did), they were able to sucker me out of $199. I’m fuming now that I understand how this REALLY works. Another organization with a similar model, owned by the same people by the way, is “Cambridge Who’s Who.”
And if you’re curious if I actually received any benefit from this? No. No exposure (not even a google search result for my name linked with NAPEW or National Association of Professional and Executive Women). Although when I complained to the person who referred me, I received a package in the mail with a certificate and bio that basically regurgitated my own online bio, though with typos and misspellings throughout.
FYI – these people are BRILLIANT. They use all the tools that work with women. First off, they LISTEN and let you talk as much as you want to. They are masters at getting you to open up and share. Furthermore, they know exactly which buttons to press (I’m an expert at reading personality types, they’re clearly better).
Not only are they brilliant on the phone, it seems they’re also successful at online reputation management. While TONS of search results exist for complaints, a large percentage of the links are broken or have been emptied/cleaned out. Check for yourself. I’m guessing that these “empowering organizations” spend a decent amount of (ill-gotten) funds hiring online reputation cleaners and lawyers. Update: I have been contacted by bloggers around the country who have been threatened with lawsuits and/or offered monetary compensation in order to take down their posts. I have also been contacted by lawyers and received several letters for this post, from which I have had to remove information that I wish you could read.
Here is just SOME of what else I found:
- http://www.insiderpages.com/b/15246772989/executive-women-s-association-new-york (scroll down to the comments)
1. I found NO evidence that ANY of what these organizations do is illegal in ANY way.
2. In fact, these are COMMON sales tactics that all sorts of “who’s who” and professional organizations engage in.
3. Neither #1 or #2 make it right in my personal opinion.
What do you think? Or do you have a similar story to share? Have YOU been the “recipient” of a bogus “award” or “honor”? Or unsavory sales techniques by a women’s organization or professional organization? I want to hear all about it.
Ciao for now,
Michelle Villalobos (vee – ya – LOW – bos)