Beleaguered and battered by the press, by career industry pundits and — mainly — by its own customers, TheLadders recently convened a war council to round up industry “leaders” to defend its flagging reputation. But this little event quickly blew up in TheLadders’ face, and now it’s leaving egg all over TheLadders’ leading apologists, who are beginning to look like paid public relations flacks rather than industry leaders.
TheLadders paid these folks “T&E” — travel and expenses — to attend the meeting in New York. Then it wined and dined them, and plied them with sugared-up stories about its business model, its phenomenal growth plans, and how it’s changing the world of job hunting and recruiting for the better.
TheLadders fed them a load of bullcrap, gave them some Kool-Aid to wash it down, and then deployed them back to the field, to spread the dung around the Net in a desperate effort to put down the surge of highly-vocal customer dissatisfaction with TheLadders.
But not all the “leaders” swallowed the KoolAid or played along. HR consultant Mark Stelzner says he was skeptical about the event, but accepted the T&E and attended anyway, but only after he pinged his list to get its take on TheLadders:
“The results were shocking to me but may not be to others. I received over 800 messages in less than two weeks… and not one of them was positive.”
Aroused all the more by these reports, Stelzner attended the event and decided to put his list’s concerns to the test. But he quickly found himself relegated to ”a corner table” after he started asking tough questions about TheLadders’ business model — and its practices.
Stelzner’s report on the meeting (Climbing All Over TheLadders) quickly triggered the first of TheLadders’ T&E Mercenaries, Josh Letourneau of Fistful of Talent, to take the first shot at Ladders’ critics with TheLadders: More Cirque Du Soleil Than Evil Empire. (Stelzner says that virtually the entire bullpen of the HR blog Fistful of Talent was in attendance.)
Among Letourneau’s targets were Laurie Ruettimann (The Cynical Girl), who recently explained, in her no-frills style, why The Ladders Is The Single Biggest Piece Of Crap, and yours truly (TheLadders’ Marc Cendella: Burying the Pig).
The “event” was already paying off, and battle lines were being drawn. Letourneau set the tone, disparaging bloggers who have published Ladders’ customers complaints as “sheep,” and reporting that, “TheLadders truly cares about their perception among us HR Pros and Recruiters.” (Later in his own thread, Letourneau complains about the “personal innuendo” he’s been subjected to by “the sheep.”)
Though she didn’t post on the topic, Alison Green (AskAManager) quickly took LeTourneau to task in a series of comments on his blog:
Wow. This misses the point altogether.
The issue isn’t that they charge job-seekers. Lots of people charge job-seekers, from job coaches to resume writers. Who cares? If people are willing to pay for a service, great.
The issue is that they LIE to job-seekers and engage in fraudulent business practices. They claim they offer a service that they don’t offer. I would bet money that a lawsuit is in their future, and it will be well-deserved… It’s disappointing to see writers sent on an expenses-paid junket and then turn out posts like this one.
Jeff Dickey-Chasins (Job Board Doctor), had already piled on in late January, amplifying the complaints of Ladders’ customers in Is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker?
Another thorn in TheLadders’ side, Matt Youngquist (Career Horizons), had already published P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com, discussing what TheLadders’ customers have been screaming about: fraudulent promises and advertising:
They not only claim to sell you access to a pipeline of hidden leads, but also claim to “filter” these leads in a way that will save you lots of time and ensure you’re only bothered by $100K+ opportunities. Throw some high-profile television ads and snazzy web design around this concept, and boy, it suddenly sounds like an irresistible bargain for the low, low price 0f $30-40 per month! The problem? These claims are bogus.
But TheLadders’ bigger headache is now coming from the public sector: Human services organizations funded with tax dollars to help the unemployed. Karla Porter is the Director of Workforce Development and Human Resources for a mid-size metro area chamber of business and industry and economic development agency in Pennsylvania. I don’t think she knew about TheLadders’s war council meeting, but had she been in attendance, she probably would have been seated at the same corner table with Stelzner, for asking the question, WTF are they smoking over at TheLadders? Commenting on TheLadders recent “pole dance” commercial, Porter says:
If TheLadders thinks this is cool hip and fun then call me a prude — but as soon as I hit the publish button on this post I’m canceling my subscription, because I no longer have respect for their on the job behavior…[sic]
The last place TheLadders wants to get noticed for bad behavior is among publicly-funded jobs agencies. That’s what brings investigations by state offices of budget and management, and the attention of state attorneys general.
But it was only a matter of time before TheLadders got some real ROI from its T&E Mercenaries crowd. Long-time HR industry pundit John Sumser finally came to TheLadders defense today, with his ironic Who Pays? (Hey, John, TheLadders pays, for travel, beds, drinks and mercenaries.) I expected more from Sumser, because his industry vocabulary is deep and broad, so his cold-served replay of the party line developed by Letourneau and Fistful of Talent was disappointing.
The best Sumser could offer:
What I saw during the time I spent with theLeaders at theLadders was pretty instructive. The company is growing. Their ambitions are big. They know what they’re doing.
Note to TheLadders: Next time, don’t just pay Sumser T&E; pay the guy a fee, and maybe you’ll get better than this.
What makes The Mercenaries’ statements embarrassing and transparent is that none of them address the specific, documented complaints leveled by TheLadders’ own customers. While painting a pretty picture of TheLadders’ financial success, and while telling us about the big smiles on the faces of the enthusiastic and brilliant Ladders employees, Letourneau and Sumser totally ignore the challenges issued by Ladders customers and its critics. They don’t answer, just like TheLadders’ didn’t answer Mark Stelzner’s tough questions at the war council meeting.
But they have no answers. It’s all public relations poppycock and verbal 3-Card Monte. In my comments to Letourneau, I said:
I posted a comment to Sumser’s PR pabulum a few hours ago, and I reprint it here because I won’t wait for him to decide to publish it. It’s really my response to all TheLadders’ Mercenaries, who have compromised themselves as credible, objective observers of the career and HR industries:
You don’t offer any new spin on the apologists’ defense of the Ladders, but you base your entire post on the same fallacy. Paying for career help or for job listings isn’t the criticism. If someone can make a buck helping people get jobs, that’s good. And if those people actually land jobs by paying for help, that’s good, too.
The criticism against TheLadders is that the company’s practices are fraudulent. TheLadders doesn’t deliver what it charges for.
And, like the other Ladders’ apologists, you don’t address that anywhere in your post. You ignore it. You ignore the substance of all the critiques — “the noise” — that you disparage.
The rest of your post is fluff — a 3-Card Monte game that’s clearly designed to distract folks from the facts and information that many Ladders critics (myself included) have presented to demonstrate the fraud.
Your real agenda is revealed in this statement: “any publicity is good publicity. The critics may be a part of theLadders growth engine. The louder the noise, the faster the growth.”
Pure public relations flak. Because, John, not all publicity is good publicity. “Loud noise” might contribute to faster growth, but growth doesn’t prove the integrity or value of a service or of the company behind it. All it means is that more suckers are paying up. And if that’s your criterion for backing, defending and endorsing a business, well, go for it, Man.
You have not addressed any of the detailed, credible criticisms directed at TheLadders. Instead, like others who’ve been wined and dined by TheLadders, you just wrote a public relations release for Marc Cenedella.
I called out Josh Letourneau, and I call you out, too. Address the specific complaints of Ladders customers, and of employers who have been abused by TheLadders.
Yo, John! It ain’t about how much money TheLadders is making, or how clever its ad company is, or whether the investment bankers descide to buy in to this racket.
It’s about TheLadders’ customers getting screwed — job hunters and employers alike.
Maybe you’ve been wined and dined so many times that you’ve forgotten what this is all about?
Late yesterday, The Wall Street Joural reporter Joe Light called me to talk about the controversy that TheLadders’ customers have stirred up. He said he was preparing for a meeting today with TheLadders’ president, Alex Douzet. Can’t wait to see whether Douzet serves up some fresh answers, because those rotting eggs are starting to smell really bad.