Nick Powills, 1851 Franchise & No Limit Agency

We are investigating the tactics, the ethics and the wisdom of Nick Powills’ and No Limit Agency’s admittedly clever “hybrid” approach to franchise public relations and lead generation.  Powills and the clients on his testimonial page says it works.  But is it ethical?  Is it legal?  And could it backfire on the clients of No Limit Agency & 1851 franchise magazine? Part 2 of a Series. by Sean Kelly

In the first 10 parts of our investigation into the booming pay-for-praise and lies-for-loot area of franchise marketing and public relations, we focused on Dr. John Hayes’ Pay-for-Praise Emporium and Franchise Fraud School.

Our 11th post (NO LIMIT AGENCY & 1851 Magazine: Beyond Ethical Limits?)  introduced a decidedly less colorful but likely more potentially dangerous pay-for-credibility practice that is being used by the large number of franchise sellers who have signed up with Nick Powills and No Limit Agency, publisher of 1851 Franchise magazine and website.

1851 Franchise MagazineIn that post, we described how No Limit Agency (NLA) and its clients post promotional stories about their franchise opportunities in an online “news” magazine published by Powills and NLA PR staffers posing as journalists.  While 1851 vows to label all paid content as “sponsored,” we’ve found that No Limit Agency/1851 magazine only designates 35%-49% of client content “sponsored” (and even then with just a small tag).

Powills takes the deception so far as to grant franchise website awards, judged by Powills, NLA/1851 staffer Sean Fitzgerald and industry cronies like Michelle Rowan of Franchise Business Review and Craig Slavin, to their own clients… sometimes for websites NLA produced.

Deception Works!  High Praise from 1851 Clients.

Buffalo Wings & Rings Web AwardIn client testimonials included in the promotional Learn More About 1851 PDF posted on the 1851Franchise.Com website, Chad Tramuta, Franchise Development Manager of Smoothie King, praised the program:

The franchise industry has been waiting for innovation that works.  1851 magazine helped tell our story on way to closing more than 100 deals in 12 months.

Scott Thompson, VP of Development for Premium Franchise Brands, stated:

Hands down the most important development tool in franchising.

Philip Schram, Chief Development Officer of Buffalo Wings & Rings, stated

As the pilot brand for 1851 in 2014, we were able to sell 5 times the franchises that we sold in 2013.

Matt Kelton, Chief Operations Officer, Showhomes stated:

We spent $400 on a specific growth market and sold a franchise.

We can understand why Buffalo Wings & Rings and Showhomes would need the most credibility-for-the-buck at that time, as state regulators expressed concern that their precarious financial situations might keep them from being able to support their franchisees.

California and Minnesota both required Buffalo Wings & Rings to escrow franchise fees for new franchises until they opened, and the 2016 FDD contains this required disclosure statement:


The Showhomes 2018 Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) has this required disclaimer:


So that $400 Matt Kelton spent to get to invest in Showhomes was equivalent to 22% of the franchisor’s net worth.

How Does No Limit Agency Pitch Deception Marketing?

No Limit Agency logoIn the explanation of its 1851 franchise marketing scheme, the No Limit Agency-produced page states,  “We take… marketing, advertising, PR, social and digital and blend it together into one.”

Traditionally, legitimate magazines and newspapers made a sharp distinction and clear separation between editorial content and advertising, and it has always been considered highly unethical and damaging to the publisher’s brand if the two were intermingled.

The Codes of Ethics of Public Relations Associations such as the PR Council and PRSA clearly state that PR firms must act with honesty and transparency, and that paid media placements or paid endorsements be clearly disclosed.

The FTC Rule also requires publishers and advertisers to clearly disclose paid media and endorsements to readers and potential purchasers in order to not be deemed deceptive trade practices.

No Limits Agency is proud of its clever strategy:

… when we create a piece of content, it should extend across all channels.

A press release can be turned into a media pitch, repositioned into an article to use on one of our two content marketing platforms, serve as the foundation of a social media campaign and be visually represented in an infographic.

Unfortunately, Nick, a press release – which is a communication clearly marked as being from either a company or that company’s public relations agency – CANNOT be ethically “repositioned” as an article written by an imaginary, objective 3rd party and published on a “content marketing platform” created by a PR firm to look like a legitimate industry publication.

So the Nick Powill’s amazing “innovation” that Mr. Thompson says the franchise industry has been waiting for, seems to be the abandonment of the clearly and legally required boundary between paid (but undisclosed) advertorials and earned media coverage from legitimate and credible publications.

No Limit Agency: Deceiving Investors With Fake Articles in a Fake Magazine

The graphic below is from the 1851 Promotional PDF on the 1851franchise.com website.  (We have added closed-captioning translations in black & red to aid the ethics-impaired)

1851 Magazine Advertising


No Limit Agency gives clients flexible options to match their credibility buying needs.

$1,000 per month gets 1 fake story, $3,000 buys 3 fake stories per month, and those in need of even more obfuscation can call for custom pricing…

Sign up with 1851 and you will get to publish glowing, fake articles that look like they were written by actual journalists (but weren’t) about your franchise opportunity.

The promotional .pdf entitled “About 1851” lays out the program:

“Each brand that joins 1851 receives a dedicated page to host content on a 3rd party industry website, earning instant credibility.”

The dedicated page is a subdomain with a URL like SmoothieKing.1851Franchise.Com that features all the pay-for-play articles directed by the franchise seller, but that looks like part of a industry magazine called “1851 Magazine.”

The “instant credibility” comes from the fact that all the wonderful things the franchise sellers say about themselves in the articles are made to look like the opinions and research of actual bylined journalists (with titles like “1851 staff contributor” or “1851 Editor”) but are actually No Limit PR account executives, content writers, or even graphic designers.

1851 claims that all paid-for content is labeled as “Sponsored” content, but that’s simply not true.

The example article in the Smoothie King graphic above contains no “Sponsored” content label.

In fact, we reviewed 93 promotional articles published about Smoothie King in 1851 magazine in 2016.

Only 33 (35%) of the Smoothie King articles were labeled as sponsored content.

(31.8% of Famous Toastery articles were labeled “Sponsored” as were less than half of Buffalo Wings & Rings’ paid content.)

Many of the franchise sellers post the 1851 stories on Twitter and Facebook as if they are real, earned stories, and many display the 1851 feed on their websites not as press releases or blog posts, but as Franchise News.

Opinions Invited:  Isn’t Fraud “Repositioned” as Truth is Still Fraud?

I don’t know Nick Powills and have never dealt with him personally or professionally.

I admire his energy and his eagerness to promote his clients.

I might have found his cute YouTube videos in which he and his sidekick Cassie toss M&M’s in each other’s mouths or play Connect4 endearing except for two things.

The first is that I’ve reviewed the Glassdoor reviews from former employees who describe No Limit PR as a high-pressure, telemarketing boiler room with a terrible reputation among legitimate media.  Comments from former employees give a consistent description:

“It’s not really an Agency, it’s some sort of PR/Cold Calling Franchise marketing company.”

“It’s not a real company. All the PR/Advertising/Marketing tactics are gimmicks…”

“This ‘Agency’ does NOT do PR. The account team is forced to spam media outlets by making blind-sided sales calls all day long. No relationship building with the media in any way… This business has ZERO credibility in the PR/Communications world.”

“A call center gig – not a traditional PR job as advertised”

The second is that what Nick Powills appears to be doing, in my opinion, is helping questionable franchise companies create an image of credibility that they haven’t earned – with the goal of deceiving, if not defrauding, franchise investors.

And while Nick Powills, No Limit Agency, and 1851 Franchise Magazine may seem to be advancing the brand images of their clients, aren’t they also setting them up to be criticized and exposed for questionable representations and fraudulent inducement of franchise investors?

I welcome opinions from all viewpoints and all sides of this issue.  Comment below or send an email to unhappyfranchisee[at]gmail.com.

READ The Series “Dr. John Hayes’ Franchise Fraud School & Pay-For-Praise Emporium!”:

Series Index & Overview: Dr. John Hayes’ Franchise Fraud School

Part 1:  Dr. John Hayes & His 12 Amazingly Deceptive Franchises

Part 2: 6 AMAZING Franchise Deceptions of Dr. John Hayes

Part 3:  FASTSIGNS CEO Catherine Monson named Valedictorian, Franchise Fraud School

Part 4:  Dr. John Hayes’ Book Reviews Given an “F” for Fraudulent

Part 5:  FASTSIGNS Franchise Deception Seems, Well, Amazing. Comments?

Part 6:  DICKEY’S BARBECUE Franchise Reveals Deceptive Pay-for-Praise Tactics

Part 7:  Dr. John P. Hayes Franchise Books Pulled From Amazon

Part 8:  DENTAL FIX RX Franchise Complaints

Part 9:  The Amazing Franchise That Vaporized: Palm Beach Vapors

Part 10:  United Franchise Group (UFG) Franchise Complaints

Part 11:  NO LIMIT AGENCY & 1851 Magazine: Beyond Ethical Limits?





FBR Franchise Business Review Promoting Illegal Earnings Claims?

Are Franchise Business Review Winners Violating the FTC Act?

FRANCHISE BUSINESS REVIEW: Justify or Retract Your Bogus Franchise Award

Dr. John Hayes Named Dickey’s Barbecue Pit one of the 12 Amazing Franchises for 2015.  Here’s how things turned out:

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: The Musical



Contact UnhappyFranchisee.com

TAGS: No Limit Agency, No Limit PR, No Limit Agency franchise marketing, 1851 magazine, 1851 Franchise, 1851 Project, Nick Powills, Sean Fitzgerald, Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise, Philip Schram, Nader Masadeh, Chad Tramuta, Smoothie King franchise, Scott Thompson, Premium Franchise Brands, Jan-Pro franchise, Matt Kelton, Showhomes franchise, franchise public relations, pay-for-praise, pay-for-play, franchise PR agency, franchise marketing agency, unhappy franchisee

36 thoughts on “Nick Powills, 1851 Franchise & No Limit Agency

  • Franchise PR Professional

    You’ve nailed it – they carpet bomb our clients with emails under the 1851 banner then quickly shift to selling PR services. Not just my firm based on conversations I’ve had with competitors.

    However, the most troubling issue to me is the fact that Nick gets away with having naive franchise brands pay him to create branded content that he owns (resides on his site) and uses to build his own website rankings and traffic – they even pay him to create and boost ads on LinkedIn and Facebook that drive visitors to HIS site versus the brand’s website or social channels.

  • Alfonso SanGiacomo

    Franchise PR Professional you are right that Nick is using his clients to drive traffic to his site. He gets franchisors to put 1851 articles out on FB, Linkedin and email it to their prospects which is stupid for franchisors to do. Nick is supposed to be getting the franchisor’s brand noticed by his distribution and that makes Nicks clients fools for overpaying and getting nothing.

  • Franchise Industry Professional

    I have no idea whether he does this or not, but I would be concerned that if all the “placements” are housed on a site that he controls, he can hold a gun to the head of his PR clients if they want to switch firms. Assume for a minute that some of his clients are good franchisors that simply have not thought through the ethical issues. They decide to leave and find that if they do, their stories all come down and they have to start over.

  • Alfonso SanGiacomo

    Franchise Professional you make a good point that the articles are controlled by Nick Powills, No Limit Agency on 1851 Magazine.

    Nick Powills, No Limit Agency on 1851 Magazine are not reaching anyone with their distribution.

  • Alfonso SanGiacomo

    Lawyers are advertising on 1851 too.

    You’d think they would look at this before they pay to market with Nick Powills, No Limit and 1851.

    Ann Hurwitz
    Justin M. Klein
    Elizabeth D. Sigety
    Tom Spadea
    Rupert Barkoff
    Lee Plave
    Stuart Hershman
    Mike Drumm
    Mark Kirsch
    Harris Chernow
    Fredric Cohen
    Kitt Shipe
    Kate McComiskey
    David Paris
    David Koch
    Cheryl Mullin
    Charles Internicola
    Carl Zwisler
    Brian Schnell
    Adam Siegelheim
    Bret Lowell
    Michael Daigle
    Amy Cheng
    Philip Zeidman


  • Howard Calvin Rothschild

    Mr. Powills I ask you sir why have you not responded to these concerns about your PR and promotional activities?

    Do you not think it is your responsibility to explain why you believe what you are doing is lawful, honest and has integrity?

    You owe this to your clients do you not?

  • Franchisor

    Yes Nick we do want to hear from you.

  • Unfortunately this is franchising. This is being sold as an alternative to using Franchise Brokerage which honestly the vast majority of time using a franchise broker will get the potential investor nothing since franchise brokers could care less if someone looses everything they just want the commission.

    This is just another example of how bad franchising has become. Since money is once again available via loans and more importantly via home equity loans the rush is on to sell as many franchises as possible and to do this tactics that are unethical or border illegal are used all the time.

    Interesting these guys target lawyers to try to increase sales. A good franchise attorney can be a big benefit but only if they will advise the client that no matter how fair or how great the contract is written when they purchase a franchise the franchises will need to have the funds to fight for their rights, including in court, the franchise contract they sign will not protect them like most think. I know there are some amazing attorneys out there that don’t just read contracts for their clients they actually look at the Franchisor and it’s history of lawsuits and history of complaints. They then give the client a real picture or the best one they can of what they will be facing if they purchase a franchise. Many other attorneys simply read franchise agreements and base what they tell clients on what they read.

    Good work on exposing this outfit. Hopefully people will read this and not bade any buying decisions on fake articles like this .

  • Franchisor

    Nick come on “Mr. PR Professional” you got nothing to say on this. Nick you know lotsa franchisors read Sean Kelly. They may not like him but they do read his articles. By the way your current clients are not amused by this and you, buddy. This is never going to go away and this is continuing stain on Powills, No Limit and 1851.

  • Franchisor

    Matt Kelton and ShowHomes has been franchising since 1994 and has 64 franchises.

    That’s an average of 2 franchises a year.

  • Stan Friedman

    Nick I think you should say something here explaining your PR strategies.

  • Mr. Franchise

    This seems like it is sleazy PR. May even not pass the smell test at the FTC on the first smelling. Nick what do you say?

  • John Matthews

    Nick your name and this PR scheme of yours is being talked about amongst franchisors.

    Unhappyfranchisee and Bluemaumau are on CEO and c-suite in franchising reading lists. You are very popular my good friend.

  • John Matthews

    Gee whiz Nick what’s it going to take for you to address this crisis you have? Or is your PR firm not proficient at Crisis Management?

    You could hire Fishman Public Relations or Sanderson PR to help you with this.

  • David Ogilvy

    This is quite a clever bit of a scheme Nick Powills that enriches you and makes your clients pay for it.

  • David Ogilvy

    Mr. Powills I will help fix your problem but first you have to come here to confession and admit you have sinned. Then I will help you with your restoration.

  • Sean Kelly and Unhappyfranchisee. Com has been the only ones on the front line of trying to show the current state of franchising I don’t believe when this started Sean ever could see that so much time would be put into the negative side of franchising compared to the good but I believe he learned quickly that the negatives were way out of balance with the positives and that is a shame.

    I would hope that a cable network such as Fox Business Or CNBC would pick up on this sites hard work and at the very least look at all the hard investigative work Sean has done because it’s great honest research that has uncovered a cancerous Franchise System throughout franchising. Sean has been attacked by some large outfits but has been able to win every battle because he has the truth behind him.

    It has gotten so bad that trying to find the good in franchising is a monumental task with so much bad that has been allowed to snowball for years now! I’m sure Sean would love to be able to spend more time talking about the positive side of franchising and the good it can bring to the right people versus the bad in franchising. I know it would create a ton less headaches for him at time. But Sean has been a voice in the wilderness, standing up for those who have been wronged or deceived plus has created this website which has allowed so many franchisees from so many different franchise systems a place they can not only vent but also a place where they can support others in bad situations. Most Importantly it is a site that prospective franchisees can go to and get the real story of what franchising can be!

  • John Matthews

    Nick Powills is in bed with Fox News by getting his clients on Fox and Friends on Saturdays.

    He certainly gets paid a lot by franchisors to get franchise brands on the show.

  • Out:

    Thanks very much. Your characterization is right on the money, and your kind words are very much appreciated.

    The franchisees who contribute here deserve immense credit. This rather sick machine depends on meek victims who go away quietly. This site is possible thanks to those franchisees who just can’t move on without warning others about what they need to know to make informed decisions.

    There are many good people in franchising. Hopefully, they’ll start speaking up and will stop letting the lowest of the low set the tone and the moral climate of franchising. I mean, enough is freaking enough.

  • Stan Friedman

    Nick, Stan the Man here! Where are you buddy? You gotta tell your side of this story.

  • John Matthews

    I am with Stan on this Mr. Powills you should tell your story here and set the record straight.

  • Stan Friedman

    Hey Nick where are you buddy?

  • Stan Friedman

    Have not forgotten about you lil Nicky Powills.

  • Stan Friedman

    Nicky Powills saw you were at the International Franchise Expo in New York this week.

    Did you line up new franchise clients for your marketing schemes?

  • Stan Friedman

    Little Nicky where are you bud. Being the PR expert that you are you should be managing your reputation.

  • Stan Friedman

    Nicky you could tell my friends how much you dislike being exposed on Unhappy Franchisee but you can’t come here and explain Mr. PR Expert?

  • Horace Belgrave

    What is going on with Nick Powills?

  • Stan Friedman

    Hey Nick I gotta say that this makes you look pretty bad not responding.

    You could explain this and get out the doghouse on this.?

  • Stan Friedman

    Nick the pleasure of your response is expected.

  • At least he isn’t topfire media and matt jonas, the worst franchise pr group in history. Jonas is on a path of destruction to take out reputable franchise pr groups who have decades of work experience. Mark Seibert, get out of public relations and stay in your lane.

  • Dear Friendly Neighbor:

    If you are a client or former client, I apologize if you feel TopFire Media has let you down. Please call me directly so that we can attempt to resolve whatever issue that you have had with them.

    If you are a competitor, I will hope that you are one day treated with the same professionalism which you have afforded me here.

    Mark Siebert
    The iFranchise Group

  • Stan Friedman

    Friendly Neighbor there’s not much out about Topfire like there is with Nick Powills.

    Maybe Matt Jonas and Topfire deserve an article so people will know what you are talking about?

    Hey Nick still waiting to get some of your extraordinary PR expertise with your crisis!

  • Stan Friedman

    Nick I know you watch this very closely.

    This calls your integrity into question and it looks bad for you, bud.

  • Stan Friedman

    Nick there a many franchisors who read this about you on UnhappyFranchisee. It is costing you business.

    Have a nice weekend and we will be sure to keep this at the top of the feed here.

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