From the BoFH Campaign Mural in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Jonathan Franks (email@example.com)
Miami – Montel Williams and Montel Williams Enterprises, Inc. have filed suit in Federal Court in Miami against several corporate entities including three based in Arizona along with Timothy Isaac, an Arizona resident and member of the three named Arizona entities, relatingto claims of fraudulent online medical cannabis scams that are deceiving consumers.
The complaint alleges that the Defendants, many of whom are believed to have acted together, engaged in an elaborate online scheme that involved, among other things, lifting the contents of a Forbes article about Mr. Williams’ public advocacy for medical cannabis since his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and repurposing that content on sham websites and in social media that misappropriated Mr. Williams’ name and likeness to fraudulently claim he endorsed their “CBD oil.” Consumers were then asked to sign up for a “free trial” that turned out to be anything but free, locking consumers into an automatic monthly credit card billing scheme with no clear way to cancel.
“It’s important to remember that these scams are anything but victimless. They are, in fact, calculated to prey on vulnerable consumers, many of whom have chronic illness or other disabilities,” said Jonathan Franks, spokesman for Montel Williams. “As explained in the Complaint, we heard from elderly customers and veterans on fixed incomes who incurred unexpected overdraft fees as a result of these scams.”
The Defendants purported to be marketing CBD oil derived from hemp. This type of CBD oil is a cannabinoid that is not intoxicating, which research indicates may have a wide variety of medicinal benefits, probably most notably the treatment of epileptic seizures in children. As alleged, however, it is unclear whether any of the products marketed by the Defendants were legitimate CBD oils.
“Simply put, as the Complaint sets forth, the network of shadowy corporate entities we believe are involved in these scams, one of which was named ‘Secrets of ISIS’ for some time, sought to deceptively use Mr. Williams’ credibility in the medical cannabis space against vulnerable consumers without regard for the consequences,” said Franks. “This wasn’t a mistake. As alleged in the Complaint, this was the deliberate theft of Mr. Williams’ name and reputation to weaponize it against sick people, and this lawsuit isn’t about lining Mr. Williams’ pockets, it’s about holding the perpetrators of these scams accountable and to stop them from continuing to deceive consumers.”
Mr. Williams and Montel Williams Enterprises, Inc. are represented by the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP, which is a leading law firm for the marketing and communications industry and widely acclaimed for its work in shutting down fraudulent celebrity endorsement scams.
Note: Exhibits to the Complaint may be found here:
A follow up story form the the Forbes Writer whose work was stolen in this case can be found here
In a moment that was both tense and extraordinary, CBS’ Major Garrett asked the President about the plight of former Marine Amir Hekmati and the other 3 Americans who remain held hostage in Iran following yesterday’s announced deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
Williams joined MSNBC’s Jose Diaz Balart to discuss the plight of Amir Hekmati and the 3 other Americans who remain held hostage in Iran following yesterday’s announcement of a nuclear deal with Iran.
For more information on Hekmati’s case, please visit www.freeamir.org
To contribute to the family’s fundraising effort please visit giveforward.com/freeamir
One of the oldest adages in crisis management is, “What you did matters less than how you respond.” Regardless of whether Tom Brady is guilty or innocent, this may be one of the worst crisis responses in sports history.
The media’s response to the “deflategate report” should have come as no shock to Brady or his advisors. Beyond just cheating, the report alleges Brady enlisted two low-paid employees to engage in risky rules violations; and, in his response, he has proven more than willing to toss the “little guy” under the bus.
Sports celebrities are a brand, no different than politicians or celebrities, and the “consumers” of Brady’s brand are his fans, most of whom care little about the deflation of footballs. But these, who have far less money and power than New England’s quarterback, do very much care about how Brady treats his colleagues and underlings. He has responded to this report like the boss we all dread.
As a long-time crisis manager, I’d argue Team Brady’s response was a strategic disaster. First, we saw images of him emerging from a private helicopter en route to an A-List event—casting him as aloof and setting him apart from the constituency that makes him marketable. Next, we saw his agent attacking the credibility of investigators and the league and promising an appeal of the disciplinary measures. Rather than remind the fan base why they love Brady, these aggressive tactics cast him as a “holier than thou” celebrity, miles above the consequences, equipped with fame as a weapon.
Here’s how this should have gone. From day one-on, Brady should have bent over backwards to demonstrate humility. He should have reaffirmed his commitment to play by the rules and reminded fans he takes his responsibilities as a role model seriously. He should also have taken full responsibility for the controversy. If written right, this does not require an admission of guilt.
What Brady is up against is a crisis of reputational confidence. If you took a poll today and asked Americans whether they trust Tom Brady and consider him a good role model for their children, you’d find those poll numbers plummeting by the hour, and that has little to do with his guilt or innocence.
So how should Brady maneuver out this? He should wind down the snark, check the ego, and amp up the humility. He should acknowledge the severity of these allegations, even if its conclusions, as he argues, are false. He should make a strong statement to High School players across the country about fair play and the importance of following the rules. I’d have him on the summer football camp circuit, driving that point home – reasserting himself as a role model and reminding kids and their parents why they were Tom Brady fans in the first place.
Again, reputation isn’t always about guilt or innocence; so perhaps the worst defense (ie Brady’s defense) is a legalese-heavy statement or a vow of vindication made at secret arbitration proceedings. Managing a talent’s reputation is about one thing – reminding people why they love that individual in the first place. Humility goes a long way, as does owning up to the reality of a scandal’s appearance, even while you vehemently deny the allegations.
Moving forward, Brady should tell everyone he’s getting “back to the basics”; that his ego took a hit; and that this scandal has reaffirmed his commitment to be a good man, on and off the field. This approach would take America’s attention off “what happened?” and refocus it on “what’s next?”
Jones, who constantly rants about so called “false flags” threw up one of his own today by claiming his dispute with Montel Williams has to do with Jones’ support for veterans – he knows full well it’s about Jones’ almost compulsive claims that school shootings are staged events – a claims he knows full well re-traumatizes children that are the victims of violent crimes.”
“On today’s show, Mr. Jones insinuated that Mr. Williams had attacked him relating to InfoWars’ support for Veterans and had Joyce Riley on to relay a story about Mr. Williams not reviewing documents relating to Gulf War Illness back in 2004. Mr. Jones is fully aware of why Mr. Williams has focused attention on him – it is solely related to Mr. Jones’ insistence that school shootings are “false flags,” which, translated into reality means “staged” in an effort to advance gun control legislation. There is zero ambiguity on that – in fact, Mr. Jones is well awar
e some of his own colleagues have communicated to Mr. Williams that they don’t agree with Mr. Jones’ position.”
“Mr. Williams started his career after the military speaking at 1000’s of schools across the country, and regularly visits those schools where these acts of mass violence occur. Mr. Williams thus understands the impact it has on children who are already the victims of trauma when Mr. Jones or those whom he eggs on suggest (sometimes online to the survivors themselves) that the tragedy they lived through was merely an event staged by the Government to advance an agenda to “take our guns.”
“Further, Mr. Jones’ odd focus on Mr. Williams only began when he refused to appear on the show and “debate.” Mr. Williams has no need to debate Mr. Jones, nor, quite frankly does he want any of the kids who have already been massively overexposed by the media to hear him (live or after the fact) debating about whether what the trauma they still live with was real.”
“We certainly respect Mr. Jones’ right to make frequent outrageous claims about Government mind control, fluoride poisoning, etc., just as we respect his right to deliberately re-traumatize children who have been the victim of violent crimes. We respect that launching outrageous conspiracy theories is his business model and the niche he has carved in a crowded media market, that said we will not apologize for standing up for children who have been the victims of violent crimes.”
There may exist no greater third rail in Public Relations than business activities that lead to a perception of impropriety, no matter how tangential, in dealings with children. This week, the media caught up with what groups like the “Badass Teachers Association” have been saying for weeks – that during this month’s administration of the already wildly controversial PARCC standardized test, Pearson Education, Inc., the for profit company that helps oversee the test, admittedly conducted mass monitoring of teenagers’ social media in an attempt to do the IMPOSSIBLE: to keep up with social media crazed teenagers to ensure they didn’t tweet about the test.
So far, many don’t think it’s so unreasonable. The story, as reported across the country, turns a combination of creepy and downright bizarre from there.
When a suspected “security breach” was detected, Pearson sent school districts a “Priority 1 Alert,” after which, in at least one case, administrators tracked down the tweeting teenager, had the tweet deleted, and notified the parent involved, who was less concerned about her child’s conduct than that of Pearson’s and the school’s. Even worse, the student turned out not to have revealed any of Pearson’s precious test and had tweeted AFTER school–meaning AFTER the test booklets had been collected–meaning the tweet couldn’t have constituted cheating.
So, what do you do as a business when you get caught policing a test as if you are guarding the launch codes to a nuclear weapon?–Hopefully the exact opposite of what Pearson did.
- Mistake #1 – the press release leads one to wonder whether teachers were handling standardized tests or hazardous materials (Paragraphs 3 and 4). FIX = Strike paragraph 4, and insert “Test booklets have unique bar codes and are delivered to schools shrink wrapped. We’ve also provided Principals a check list they use to train their teachers on best practices for handling the test booklets to ensure the integrity of the test.”
- Mistake #2 – The language used in this entire program – “breach,” “Priority 1 Alert,” etc. – conjures an image of prison, or a highly secure institution with armed guards and possibly a moat. Again, their audience is parents of TEENAGERS, none of whom want to hear about “breaches” or “Priority Alerts” of any kind while their kids are at school. FIX = “instances where test questions and answers are made publicly available” and “Notify.”
- Mistake #3 – Word games. Pearson denies “spying” on teenagers and instead attempts to substitute “monitor.” Mass monitoring of social media belonging to minors without parental consent certainly fits the Webster’s definition of the word “spy.” Certainly it is true that the word “monitor” has an overlapping definition and stings less than “spy,” but it appears someone did what I just did–went on the Webster’s website and picked a word that sounded less, well, creepy in connection to kids. “Spying on kids” = angry parents; while “monitoring kids” = keeping them safe from harm. MY FIX = simply say “we use software to search for posts that contain specific keywords to alert us to potential cheating. That software searches only that which is public already and at no time does it gain any access whatsoever to any accounts or their log in credentials.”
- Mistake #4 Making the first justification for a monitoring program protecting the economic interests of the States who invested in test development. Fix = It’s only fair to ensure that no student has an unfair advantage on the test and posting questions and answers to standardized tests on social media as a method of cheating is not unique to PARCC, nor is monitoring for the same on social media novel.
Here’s that they should have done:
- Have schools send home with each student a FAQ sheet asking parents to remind their kids that posting questions and answers is considered cheating and detailing to parents that an automated program would be searching social media for posts that contain questions and answers during the test, that only publicly available information would be searched, and that no data on their children was being obtained much less retained.
Assuming they still found themselves in a firestorm – instead of a mechanical, almost robotic press release, how about something like this?:
“We regret that there has been so much confusion about some of the ways we ensure the integrity of the testing process and are committed to total transparency. We employ a software program that automatically performs searches of publicly available social media postings to ensure that no test questions or answers are posted during the course of testing. At no time does the program have any access to any non-publicly available postings, and absolutely no data concerning any particular accounts are retained by us. In the event we discover a posting that contains information that could compromise the integrity of the test, we notify the school district where the post originated so that they can work with the involved student and their parents to address the issue in the manner the district sees fit. No data on any student is ever provided to anyone other than school district or school administrators. ”
“Again, we sincerely apologize that we didn’t do a better job of communicating the various methods we employ to ensure the integrity of the test. We take our obligations to States, School Districts, Schools, Educators, Parents and Students very seriously, and we are in the process of reviewing options for a more streamlined process in the future.”
Conclusion: The governing theory of crisis management is to speak up quickly, tell the truth, identify areas for improvement, apologize for not meeting expectations, and set forth a process by which the issue will be resolved and not repeated. Pearson may well need to comb social media to ensure the integrity of the test, and that may not be a bad thing, but when it comes to any sort of “monitoring” of children by a private business, it’s good business to communicate in advance so no one, especially not a critical constituency like the parents of said children, are caught off guard.
– Jonathan Franks is the CEO of LUCID Public Relations and a crisis management expert.
Statement of Jonathan Franks, Spokesman for Montel Williams, regarding the New York Department of Financial Services Consent Order
“Today, the New York Department of Financial Services entered into a Consent Order with Selling Source and Mr. Williams. Mr. Williams is a spokesperson for Selling Source’s affiliate, MoneyMutual. This Consent Order resolves an investigation into whether or not the Company’s advertising, using Mr. Williams’ endorsement, violated New York law.”
“The investigation’s scope included, among other things, the manner in which the Company utilized Mr. Williams’ endorsement. Mr. Williams has signed the Consent Order indicating that he agrees to prohibit his likeness and endorsement from being used in any manner that does not comply with the terms of the agreement reached between DFS and the Company.”
“The DFS has made no finding of a violation of law by Mr. Williams, and the agreement does not require him to pay any fines or penalties. Mr. Williams and his staff have cooperated fully with the DFS throughout the course of the investigation.”
“As is typical of an endorsement agreement, Mr. Williams has no role whatsoever in the business operations of Selling Source, and his role is limited to that of a celebrity endorser.”
“As he has said publicly many times, Mr. Williams himself utilized short term lending while attending the Naval Academy on more than one occasion and paid those loans back on time. The reality remains that a large number of consumers have no access to traditional credit products, and there is not a policy alternative within sight, a reality that Mr. Williams fully understands having faced it in contrast to many of the industry’s detractors.”
“We stand by his overall endorsement of Money Mutual, with the exception, pursuant to the Consent Order, of the State of New York. As to New York, we note that during the period of time in which Mr. Williams has endorsed MoneyMutual, Mr. Williams has received less than 10 complaints directly from consumers. All but one of those complaints was resolved to the consumer’s full satisfaction. Further, MoneyMutual has since its inception led the industry in requiring the lenders in its network to abide by a substantial code of conduct and from the very first page of the website provides consumers DETAILED information about the general type of loan they may be offered and counsels them to fully understand the terms of any loan offer before accepting it and advises that these loans are designed as short term and should be paid on time to avoid further fees and interest.”
“Mr. Williams is not blind to the problems of the industry – his endorsement of Money Mutual is reflective of its efforts to lead the industry in self-regulation. Naturally, we are deeply concerned any time a consumer reports an issue with any product or service with which he is associated and, as we always have, we will fully investigate and attempt to resolve any issue brought to our attention.”
Below you will find, clearly stated, the facts:
FACT: This Consent Order codifies an agreement between the DFS, the Company and Mr. Williams based upon a deficiency in the Company’s advertisements featuring Mr. Williams’ endorsement. Mr. Williams has expressed his desire to ensure that advertising featuring his endorsement complies with New York law and the Consent Order.
FACT: Mr. Williams has FULLY cooperated with DFS’ investigation and has required all who work for him or at his behest to do the same.
FACT: The DFS has made no finding of a violation by Mr. Williams himself and Mr. Williams has agreed to prohibit his endorsement from being used in any manner which does not comply with the agreement – any suggestion (or potential headline) to the contrary is FALSE.
FACT: Mr. Williams’ team monitors this endorsement and any feedback from ACTUAL customers very closely and takes immediate action when we find a concern raised by an actual customer.
Statement of Jonathan Franks, family spokesman, on behalf of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi:
“Andrew is extremely grateful that Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), as well as other members, invited him to attend the President’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening. He realizes that many were upset that the President did not recognize him by name during the speech. Andrew did not expect to be recognized, nor does he believe recognition was necessary or appropriate. As he has said before, he’s not interested in being politicized in furtherance of or identified with any political agenda – whether that be an anti-Mexican agenda, or an anti-President Obama agenda. Rather than focus on whether he was recognized, Andrew’s focus was on the ideas the President (and others) proposed to help improve the very apparent gap in providing veterans the care they need and deserve. As a former Marine himself, Representative Hunter’s voice is critical on that issue.”
“Andrew has been, and continues to do very well in his recovery from PTSD, both the result of combat and the result of his confinement and is grateful for the continued support of so many”
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