Catherine Monson, FASTSIGNS CEO & 2nd Co-Chair of the International Franchise Association, seems to be everywhere – receiving countless awards and being showered with positive recognition and accolades, testifying in front of a House subcommittee on behalf of the IFA. But how much of that positive recognition was secretly bought & paid for? Are CEO Catherine Monson & FASTSIGNS violating Federal Trade Commission rules requiring the disclosure of paid endorsements and the prohibition against shill reviews? And if so… WHY would a well-liked franchise executive stoop to such tactics… and then refuse to address the issue? Catherine Monson critics & defenders, please weigh in. by Sean Kelly
(UnhappyFranchisee.Com) I don’t get it. It doesn’t add up. I am reaching out to you, industry professionals, IFA staffers and members, Franchisees of FASTSIGNS and others, franchise attorneys, regulators, and anyone else interested enough to take a few minutes to read, consider and comment.
I am asking Catherine Monson’s friends, colleagues, defenders and or critics to share their perspectives. All perspectives and points-of-view are welcome. Share your support and encouragement or share your disappointment. Share with a comment below or with an email, in confidence, to UnhappyFranchisee[at]Gmail.com.
And please encourage Catherine Monson and FASTSIGNS to act as leaders and honestly and openly address these serious issues.
I ask for your participation in this open discussion not as a nasty, personal attack on a respected franchise executive and leader, but because, just below the surface of this debate, lie several very significant issues for the franchise community and for the future of franchising.
Where are Franchise Leaders Like Catherine Monson Leading Us?
The first of those important issues is: Have we allowed the growing practice of fake news, pay-for-praise publications, questionable franchise rankings and subjective franchise awards to devolve to flagrant and outright deception?
The second: In an era where all recognize that the likelihood of the FTC taking action against deceptive franchise claims has moved from slim to none, can (or will) franchise industry members self-regulate against the most blatant ethical violations by speaking out against them? Or are our colleagues in the example below (Catherine Monson, Mark Jameson, Dr. John Hayes, Monica Feid) correct that they can simply ignore and refuse to respond when questioned about the ethics of their marketing practices?
And finally: Have those in leadership positions in the franchise industry grown so callous, arrogant and/or cozy that they have forgotten that the main reason for honest, truthful and ethical advertising of franchise opportunities is that real people and their real families deserve to have factual, reliable information when making the single largest and critical investment of their lives?
Are all of the well-dressed and congenial members and leaders of the International Franchise Association too polite, or too afraid to lose their place at the next You-Scratch-My-Back-I’ll-Scratch-Yours IFA Event, that they won’t speak up when some of their peers cross lines they themselves wouldn’t cross?
Catherine Monson & FASTSIGNS Are Pillars of the Franchise Community. Let’s Check for Termites.
The reason that Catherine Monson & FASTSIGNS (along with Dr. John Hayes, BizCom & some of the other 23 companies involved) provide a good starting point to explore these important questions is not because they are part of the seedy underside of the franchise industry that has always existed… Just the opposite.
No, Catherine Monson seems to be respectable, accomplished franchise leader heading a viable, respected franchise chain.
And if these allegations are correct, in my opinion, it means that even the most respectable among us now think they can deceive, mislead and potentially violate FTC truth in advertising laws and shouldn’t be questioned for doing so.
Suspected Deception #1: Catherine Monson Stated She’s “Honored” & Mark Jameson is “Humbled” by Recognition They Allegedly Paid More than $10,000 to Receive
In March, 2018 FASTSIGNS International issued a press release announcing that it had been named – for a second time – as one of IFA Supplier Dr. John Hayes’ “12 Amazing Franchise Opportunities” and had earned the high distinction of being featured in the book of the same name (published by IFA Supplier member BizCom Press).
According to the company press release:
We’re humbled to once again be selected as an amazing franchise opportunity by such an industry authority as Dr. Hayes,” said Mark Jameson, EVP of Franchise Support and Development, FASTSIGNS International, Inc.
“This recognition reflects the dedication and passion of everyone in the FASTSIGNS family, especially our franchisees, who consistently give us high marks for franchisee satisfaction. ’12 Amazing Franchise Opportunities – Second Edition’ is a must-read guide for potential franchisees.
On March 7, 2018, FASTSIGNS International, Inc. CEO and Co-Vice Chair the International Franchise Association (IFA) Catherine Monson tweeted:
Have you checked out the #1 ranked book on @amazon’s hot new releases list for small business #franchise?
We’re honored to be included in the book, named as an amazing franchise opportunity by @drjohnhayes!
Suspected Deception #2: The 2 Chapters Dr. John Hayes Supposedly Wrote ABOUT Fastsigns Was Written BY Fastsigns
In our series Dr. John Hayes’ Franchise Fraud School, we published our suspicions FASTSIGNS and the other franchise companies featured in the BizCom books not only paid to be recognized as amazing franchises, they actually supplied the text, written in the 3rd person as if written about them, for praise-filled chapter that celebrated the amazingness of their franchise opportunity. Nowhere on the book jacket, within the book’s pages, in the advertisements or in the Amazon description did it state that the core chapters were not written by the books author, IFA vendor Dr. John Hayes.
UnhappyFranchisee.Com published evidence, including a BizCom sell sheet, that being named “Amazing” by Dr. John Hayes came with a $5,000 price tag, and that had FASTSIGNS had bought in at least twice.
We published our FASTSIGNS specific findings here: FASTSIGNS Franchise Deception Seems, Well, Amazing. Comments?
We contacted FASTSIGNS CEO Catherine Monson and EVP Mark Jameson to ask for confirmation, explanation, clarification or rebuttal. We included a list of questions (included in the previously linked post). Our requests were ignored.
BizCom published a weak attempt to spin the deception in a blog post “The story behind the 12 Amazing Franchise Opportunities.”
In the blog post, BizCom admits the franchisors paid to be featured in the books and supplied their own chapters, but said the books were intended to be an “opportunity for 12 franchise companies to tell their amazing story [sic].”
The damage-control blog post originally contained the sentence “Some [franchises] are very well known, such as FASTSIGNS and its dynamic leader, Catherine Monson, who is one of the true stars and leaders in business and in franchising.” The sentence, which seemed intended to perhaps pacify an angry Catherine Monson, has since been deleted from the current post (The story behind the 12 Amazing Franchise Opportunities Revised.)
Perhaps Monson had to explain to the PR geniuses at BizCom Associates that additional ties to the Amazing-Book-Gone-Wrong was the last thing she wanted.
Suspected Deception #3: Catherine Monson & FASTSIGNS Deceptively Manipulated Amazon Rankings With Shill Comments & Purchases
Likely no one who has ever been at an IFA or IFE event, or who has read a franchise magazine or website, has escaped Dr. John Hayes’ claim that he is the author of a zillion or so “best selling” books on franchising.
John Hayes uses the honorific prefix “Best Selling Author Dr.” the way normal male mortals use “Mr.”
Evidently, for the $5,000 fee Best Selling Author Dr. John Hayes was willing to teach participating franchisors his secret system for becoming a best-selling author without having to actually sell books.
We explain how Catherine Monson moved to the head of the class here: FASTSIGNS CEO Catherine Monson named Valedictorian, Franchise Fraud School
BizCom provided FASTSIGNS with a customized version of the book with the other 11 amazing franchise opportunities stripped out.
They posted it on Amazon like a real book – again with no notice that it was a paid advertisement.
According to Dr. John Hayes, Catherine Monson had friends, family, employees, franchisees and others download the book and leave more than 80 glowing 5-Star reviews.
Catherine Monson even reviewed the book herself. Without identifying herself as CEO, she wrote:
Great book! Explains why FASTSIGNS is such a great franchise opportunity.
Well written… If you want to get into a great business, FASTSIGNS is the way to go!
Amazon prohibits authors or publishers or their friends, family and associates from leaving reviews for their own books.
That didn’t stop Catherine Monson from purchasing her own book… and complimenting the writing she provided.
Dr. John Hayes Celebrated FASTSIGNS & Catherine Monson’s Clever Deception
Dr. John Hayes distributed an inspirational article to his co-conspirators praising Catherine Monson and FASTSIGNS for deceptive marketing best practices.
In the instructive How Franchisors Can Generate More Quality Franchise Sales Leads . . . With Some Help From One of the World’s Largest Databases! Hayes wrote:
WHAT DID FASTSIGNS DO?
Literally within an hour of FASTSIGNS’ marketing team learning that Amazon had posted the FASTSIGNS Business Opportunity ebook, the team went to work to solicit reviews of the book. They asked members of their Home Office Team, members of their Franchise Sales Team, and members of their Franchise Network to go to Amazon.com, purchase the ebook (purposely priced at 99 cents to attract reviewers), and review it . . . once the ebook began selling, and readers posted reviews, the title moved into the #1 position on the Amazon Best Seller list for the Small Business Franchise category. As of this writing, the title has kept that position for 3 days – that’s extraordinary because the list is updated hourly!
More accolades & positive recognition for Catherine Monson!
UPDATE: After our recent expose broke and after we submitted a complaint to Amazon, the custom “FASTSIGNS Business Opportunity” book and its bogus reviews disappeared from Amazon. We don’t know whether Monson ordered BizCom to pull the book or if Amazon pulled it for Terms of Service violations.
Are FASTSIGNS & Catherine Monson Violating FTC Rules Regarding Deceptive Advertising Claims?
According to the Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on Endorsements, “if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.” Clear and conspicuous disclosure is required “if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.”
Section §255.5 of the FTC ACT states:
Disclosure of material connections.
When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.
Additionally, BizCom & Dr. John Hayes claimed, both explicitly and implicitly, that the book represented a “qualified funnel” from which expert Hayes had narrowed down from 3,000 potential franchise opportunities to just 12. Did Dr. Hayes actually objectively analyze the 12 franchise investments and compare them to the 99.6% or so he deemed were less amazing?
To the extent that the advertisement implies that the endorsement was based upon a comparison, such comparison must have been included in the expert’s evaluation; and as a result of such comparison, the expert must have concluded that, with respect to those features on which he or she is expert and which are relevant and available to an ordinary consumer, the endorsed product is at least equal overall to the competitors’ products. Moreover, where the net impression created by the endorsement is that the advertised product is superior to other products with respect to any such feature or features, then the expert must in fact have found such superiority.
It doesn’t appear that Dr. John Hayes did any serious analysis of these franchise opportunities, and did approximately zero objective comparison to other franchise investment opportunities. The expert endorser Hayes didn’t even write the core chapters of his book, and his tiny chapter intros are mostly excerpts from the self-written chapters authored by the franchisors themselves.
According to the FTC, advertisers like FASTSIGNS are responsible for compliance with the FTC Rule:
Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers [see §255.5].
Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.
If the IFA & Franchise Leaders Care About the Integrity & Reputation of Franchising, They Will Not Remain Silent About Internal Misconduct
Catherine Monson is 2nd Co-Chair of the International Franchise Association (IFA)
FASTSIGNS is a franchisor member of the IFA.
Dr. John Hayes is Titus Chair of the franchising Center at Palm Beach Atlantic University, which is an IFA supplier member.
BizCom Associates Monica Feid and Scott White are also IFA supplier members.
Many of the other franchisor participants of BizCom’s deceptive pay-for-play book series (listed below) are also members of the International Franchise Association.
The IFA works and spends hard to discourage any meaningful regulation of franchising, and they’ve been very successful at it.
But now the IFA, legitimate franchisors and other industry professionals are at a crossroads.
We can speak out and voice our disapproval when we see blatant and unacceptable tactics that threaten the integrity of our industry.
Or we can remain silent, look the other way, and politely allow the continued proliferation of pay-for-praise publications, bogus awards, PR firms that create fake magazines and awards for their clients, and lead generation websites that are allowed to masquerade as legitimate market research companies.
Hopefully, there are enough people out there who care about franchising and franchise investors enough to let Catherine Monson, Mark Jameson, Dr. John Hayes, Scott White, Monica Feid and the participating franchisors listed below that we see what they are doing, and it’s simply not acceptable.
NOTE: All companies and individuals discussed on Unhappy Franchisee are invited to submit corrections, clarifications, rebuttals or opinions by commenting on individual pages and/or by emailing us at UnhappyFranchisee[at]Gmail.com. Thank you in advance for engaging in open and honest debate, as is the American way.
DISCLAIMER: Discussion of potential legal ramifications or issues written here are from a layman’s (non-lawyer’s) perspective and are hared for discussion purposes. We invite our readers who have actual law degrees to feel free to chime in on our legal opinions.
READ The Series “Dr. John Hayes’ Franchise Fraud School & Pay-For-Praise Emporium!”:
Series Index & Overview: Dr. John Hayes’ Franchise Fraud School
Featured “Amazing Franchise” Participants:
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH CATHERINE MONSON, MARK JAMESON, FASTSIGNS INTERNATIONAL OR DR. JOHN HAYES?
PLEASE SHARE A COMMENT BELOW OR EMAIL US IN CONFIDENCE (UnhappyFranchisee@Gmail.Com).
TAGS: FASTSIGNS, FASTSIGNS franchise, Catherine Monson, Mark Jameson, BizCom Associates, BizCom Press, Dr. John Hayes, Dr. John Hayes franchise expert, International Franchise Association, IFA, Titus Center, Titus Chair, 12 Amazing Franchise Opportunities, Palm Beach Atlantic University Franchise Program, IFE, Expert Endorsements, Expert Endorsements, franchise marketing, unhappy franchisee