Mean Target Marketing-Parents Beware

If you have read my blog before you know that I am a trainer and speech coach, and I have some professional acting and theatre experience.

While trying to do the right thing for my talented daughter, Allie, who is dying to get into the business of being “discovered,” I found despicable marketing practices from those who tour malls around the country “discovering” the beautiful little ones, especially pre-teens.

Now my particular experience may be unique, not applicable to the company or others like it, but this is an experience to walk away from or at least train a better way to market this kind of product. I found it to be as the title says: mean target marketing.

Mean target marketing starts with “talent scouts” in the mall identifying parents and “discovering” their beautiful and starry-eyed children, telling them they have star potential–all they need is the right marketing.

The process beings with “we are a marketing firm. We take products you have and make it better.” They will tell you–well, that’s what they said to my wife when she asked so maybe it is not company policy: “There is no money involved in this marketing endeavor; we are paid by the companies.” That would be maybe the marketing, but I’m not sure.

I will start by saying that I have no marketing degree so I will be approaching this from customer point-of-view my experience with the field the company claims to be marketing. I knew at the outset there was more to this than what my wife and daughter had been told at the mall; I knew it had to do with packaging a part of marketing, but that’s not what anyone is told up front. Since I have been a professional in the field and understand how people get jobs in modeling, acting and dance, I agreed to take my daughter and “see” what it was all about.

I received three phone calls once I agreed to a meeting and each time I was reminded the wife and husband and child was required. This is the shady part.

Why all of us? Simple, they want the child to plead, beg or cry for it. The wife and the husband so they cannot go away and discuss as an excuse. And, of course, they want the “sale.”

The sale of what? you ask. Product, of course. Packaging, which you can call marketing, but I don’t see the company paying for it yet. Do you? I saw absolutely no evidence and nothing was said that you could bring in your own products and they would market you. No, you had to buy the company’s expensive packages, ranging in the thousands.

I hate hard sell, and I hate marketing like this, too. Don’t train it. You will lose. Company policies like this one closes doors for people like me. Sometimes I want to look–just look–like at a car on a lot.

One time while seriously looking to buy a new car I had to fill out what seemed a ton of paperwork, listing more personal information than I care to add before ever being given a chance to look at a car (even on the showroom) without a salesman.

Once I saw what was happening, I walked out, never to buy that kind of car again. Someone in marketing must have thought it wise to gather as much information about the customer before handing he or she over to the salesperson.

Bad move. I wanted to look at aesthetics and had done some homework. Now, I just wanted to leave. The manager came over, aghast at my reaction, but I told him, “all I wanted to do was look before sitting down and now I’m not a customer at all.” Remember, customers have needs too, and to get back to my original story, feelings, too.

Push too hard and people push back. Make their child cry and you may never see them again. The idea is if the child is sold and the parents don’t want to disappoint, they’ll sign up. I wonder how many parents are actually caught in this web.

The irritating part: I had to drive a hour for the meeting and wait another hour before seeing someone, but that’s what you have to do to market your child as a star regardless. They say bring three pictures and attach one to the application you fill out. The “director” came out and introduced himself to my daughter and me and ushered us into his office. There he tried to confirm once again I could make decisions in the moment for my daughter.

Then he brought out the big guns: composites and head shots of his company’s successes. Every model, actor, singer or dancer knows they must have tools to be successful and those tools, head shots, composites, demo videos, MP3s, etc., and have to reach the right people. In this electronic age, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lost–an ripped off!

Very little initial identifying is done by hard copy these days; it’s mostly electronic from agents, managers and casting directors. The actors, models and dancers bring them in when they audition.

Our director stumbled over talking about SAG, AFTRA and Equity. I don’t think he knew the difference; my twelve-year old daughter does. She has an agent, but we haven’t pushed the agent because of the time element and other personal reasons that have precluded us from being constantly available for auditions, and quite frankly, her grades needed improved. She is experienced. I put together head shots and composites, which he accepted politely but hardly looked at.

Turns out…and you probably saw this coming. This marketing to agents, casting directors and the “right” people to see Allie can be had if we sign her up for pictures, both professionally done composites at $4.50 a piece and head shots at $1.50, and of course the studio fee to cover the various levels and add up the number of products we need top have “marketed” we feel is necessary to launch her career. It’s up to us. Mom, Dad and Kid! Really!

Now, the dollar signs. I said, “I’ll be happy to take some information and show my wife. We need to look more at financing and timing, etc. Needless to say, he was not happy.

The truth is, with children, head shots are rarely needed to get an agent or casting director’s attention; kids change too fast and grow. And, in today’s, casting directors and agents have their own huge electronic data base to draw from. To give this company credit, they may have had more target resources (they are a big company), but did the really market or just distribute pictures. It didn’t sound like they could give good advice. To me, this was cheap business practice to get people in the door trapped and designed to be sold. I would be ashamed. Miniscule initial identifying is done by hard copy these days; it’s mostly electronic from agents, managers and casting directors. The actors, models and dancers bring them in when they audition.

Now if you have a different view of these kinds of companies, feel free to respond and let us know the truth you have validated and how you know this to be the way it is done. I’d love to hear it.

I’ve gone on a little long and will unashamedly fill some space with pictures of Allie. If you are a parent, do some homework, ask questions of the pros (not other parents) before you commit your hard earned money. As for trainers, I’d love to see training that tells it like it is and not selling services on the side.

That’s all for me. Looking for a speaker, speech coach or trainer, check out my website. There you can also find my scribbling on other subjects–mostly related to humane training and communication as I see it. Check out my books: The Cave Man’s Guide to Training and Development and my novel, In Makr’s Shadow, a surprisingly upbeat, adventure about what happens to the world when it allows an evolving artificial intelligence make the hard decisions to save the world from it own destruction.

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