Caveat Emptor & the “A-List”

by Annie

in systematic

Paparazzi on the red carpetLet’s be real for a moment.

The A-List exists.

However you define it, there will always be a group of bloggers and biz owners in any niche that enjoy a far greater reach and larger audience than others do.

But status as an A-lister doesn’t mean you’re a better person – or even a better business person – than your competitors with smaller markets and sites.

I’ll go you one better: A-list status doesn’t necessarily confer any real authority, either.

It means, for whatever reason, that blogger got more famous than other bloggers in his or her niche.

A-listers are like celebrities. Sure, you’ve got your Meryl Streeps and your Robert DeNiros – folks who studied hard, upped their game, mastered their craft, and became famous for being awesome at what they do.

You’ve also, however, got your Paris Hiltons and your Kim Kardashians – folks who became famous for being famous.

And it’s up to you, cupcake, to figure out who’s who, before you go placing your money and, more significantly, your trust in one.

My Moratorium on Webinars

Part of what I do here at PJP could be loosely described as “marketing consulting.” In the course of helping folks refine their marketing systems and make them more efficient, I have to understand digital marketing itself. I also advise Stage Presence clients on their digital marketing plans.

So I’ve made it part of my job in the past to sign up for and attend as many free webinars as possible offered by the marketing-niche folks.

But last month, I decided I’d had enough and swore off webinars for the foreseeable future. I declared a webinar moratorium, and it was all because of what I observed in a spate of three or four webinars held within a few weeks of each other and hosted by different sites and bloggers.

The straw that broke this camel’s back – that last webinar – I didn’t even last 20 minutes.

I logged off in disgust somewhere around minute 18.

I felt so icky after listening to what I’d heard in that webinar that I had the urge to go take a shower. Instead, I sat down and hand-wrote a five-page diatribe about the so-called “A-list mentality.”

I’m not going to be sharing that diatribe any time soon—I was angry and emotional, and the purpose of writing it all down was solely to help me process what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

But I did refer back to it when I was preparing this post for this month’s Word Carnival topic.

What got me so riled up? Five things in particular—five observed behaviors that, unfortunately, aren’t uncommon in the marketing niche and (I suspect) other niches as well.

Observed Behavior #1: Lack of Candor

I’ll admit it: this one bugs me the most.

It rankles, probably because it seems so ubiquitous.

But more directly, it speaks volumes on the for-sale “product” itself—usually some kind of “blueprint” or “system” that purports to teach buyers how to achieve the kind of massive success the A-lister has apparently enjoyed.

That “system” might consist of any number of tasks or actions—some of which, or maybe even all of which, are actually—surprise!—solid pieces of advice.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that “system” isn’t responsible for the A-lister’s success. Sure, he may have done those things he’s now telling you to do—actually, he better have done those things, because savvy buyers can easily sniff out the liars on this score.

But those things did not lead to his explosive, overnight traffic or his huge list or “six-figure income.”

What did lead to that fame and fortune, if it truly exists at all?

Other A-listers.

This is the poorly-kept secret, if there is such a thing, in the digital marketing ‘verse.

A-listers support other A-listers.

And you know what?

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Let me say it again: There is nothing wrong with supporting and promoting your friend’s work.

Absolutely nothing.

It’s totally value-neutral.

The problem isn’t that A-listers promote each other’s launches.

It’s that sometimes – maybe even many times – the stuff that’s launching isn’t wholly forthright about that fact.

The less-than-honest ones will tell you “Follow the teachings I will lay out for you and you can enjoy the same success I did.”

They’ll state “I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it.”

Except they leave out the real reason they enjoyed that sudden swarm of traffic and instant respect: because other A-listers who already had that kind of traffic let the launcher borrow the A-lister’s traffic and list.

Now, I want to make it very, very clear – not everyone does this.

There are some truly awesome, ethical folks out there who are very upfront about this. They will tell you from the get-go that if you want that kind of explosive launch, you’ll need the help of others who’ve already made it.

Part of these folks’ training products, then, is devoted to the subject of how to get the attention and assistance of A-listers.

But a lot of them don’t. They start raving about this method or that strategy, and nowhere in the hour-long webinar will you hear them say “I owe my success to the assistance and borrowed reach of several popular bloggers.”

Again: there’s nothing wrong with getting help from other A-listers.

There is something wrong with trying to sell some system to new folks that doesn’t acknowledge that’s how you got there in the first place.

Observed Behavior #2: Bad Manners & Defensive Overreaction

I generally am prone to giving folks the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to less-than-stellar behavior.

I’m more likely to think something awful must be going on in a bad-actor’s life for them to be acting badly.

So I’ll state this right up front: people have bad days, and they shouldn’t be excoriated forever because of those bad days – because we all have bad days, and at some point, each and every one of us will snap a little.

But over and over again, I see a certain group of folks act and overreact so improperly, so defensively, that I have to conclude at some level, this is who they are.

Watch what happens in an A-lister’s comments, particularly. Something about being challenged on their own digital turf enrages the bad actors.

The vast majority of us, when we’re criticized on our blogs for our opinions or advice, say “Hm, thanks for the input. I disagree because blah blah but thanks for taking the time to share your opinion.”

Not the bad actors.

They start busting out words like “libel” and “slander.”

They overreact to every perceived slight. They crow about their ability to slam not only the honest, fair critique but the person who made the critique. I actually heard one A-lister claim with laughter “You know what I did with that, right? TRASH it!” (Note to that A-lister: The critic was right. Your writing could use some work.)

Instead of proceeding from an assumption of good will and recognizing that reasonable minds can differ on a point, they feel personally attacked and trot out the threat of legal action.

There’s no need for me to name names here. They out themselves.

Observed Behavior #3: Constant Self-Aggrandizement

I get seriously concerned over the first two behaviors. This one, by contrast, makes me laugh.

You’ve seen them, I know.

Their Twitter feeds are jam-pack full of keen, erudite observations such as “I am SO blessed to be able to help people achieve their dreams!” and “WHOOT! Awesome rockin’ coaching call with my super client, @{namedrop}!”

Their Facebook updates? Inevitably contain some not-very-veiled reminder that “my blog is #1!”

Look, an occasional statement like this is fine. You’re grateful. We get it. It’s cool.

But these folks take it to a whole new level.

Your first reaction when you see something new from them is to roll your eyes.

Kinda like this …

They must honestly think the rest of us actually are persuaded of the truth of such statements.

I mean – if they knew we all roll our eyes, wouldn’t they stop?

Observed Behavior #4: “Do As I Say—Not As I Do”

Recently, there was an article link being shared by a lot of folks I’m connected to on Facebook.

It was about connecting with A-listers. How to email and connect with these folks. How to break through the barriers they’ve set up because they get so many emails, they just have to protect their busy, busy schedules.

That part, I’m OK with.

But I saw more than a few folks who shared this on Facebook say something like “This is good advice, but don’t try it on {the author of the piece} – it won’t work.”

In a way, I guess this is a corollary of the first observed behavior, because it’s not really honest.

I’ve also seen very popular bloggers write about the benefits of publishing guest-authored posts on your blog – but those bloggers only accept guest posts from folks who’ve bought their expensive membership course, training, or product, or from other A-listers, or not at all.

I’ve seen A-listers write scathing editorials about the lack of civility in the profession – then turn around and publicly excoriate someone on Twitter.

Most of us realize fairly early in life that nobody likes a hypocrite, and that if you’re going to hold some high standard for everyone else, you better abide by that same standard yourself, or else risk a major loss of respect.

Observed Behavior #5: Absurd Pricing

Ugh. Pricing.

This is such a sticky subject. On the one hand, I’m a confirmed capitalist. I have no problem with someone charging what the market will bear for her work.

But it would be idiotic not to acknowledge that sometimes, the prices of these training products are astronomical, especially compared to similarly structured media and resources (i.e., books, DVDs, etc.).

Let’s take the Godfather of the Self-Help Industry as an example: Tony Robbins.

His Personal Power II product, according to his website, contains:

  • 25 audio CDs
  • Miscellaneous training material (flash cards, etc.)
  • A one-hour coaching session with one of Robbins’ licensed coaches
  • $100 off any Tony Robbins live event.

Price? $300.

Is that a lot of money? Yeah, for most folks.

But it’s not outside the realm of reasonability. One CD at $10 translates to 25 at $250. Thus, you’re paying $50 for the flashcards and the one-hour coaching session (and the $100 coupon).

Note: I’m not commenting on the utility of the product; for purposes of this discussion, let’s assume both products actually do what the sales copy promises.

Now consider some of the courses and products you’ve seen A-listers push. I’ve seen prices ranging from $997 to much, much more.

Or consider an e-book – basically a PDF document – listed at $47. (I’m working on a book right now which will be available on Kindle and in paper back, and the price range I’m looking at? $8 to $12.)

Whether the product is “worth it” I’ll leave to another discussion.

But there’s a real disconnect here, I think, and it’s a problem.

Do I think any high-priced product is automatically suspect?

No, of course not. One in particular that launched recently cost several hundred dollars, and I’m still miffed I can’t afford it because I absolutely trust the person behind it. (Danny Iny & “Marketing That Works,” in case you’re interested.)

But if it came from someone in whom I’d observed any of the other four behaviors? I don’t know about you, but if someone came to me and asked what I thought, I’d have to be honest and say “I wouldn’t buy it.”

What to Do Instead

All this is well and good, but it leaves a lot of us wondering what, exactly, we’re supposed to do instead of “investing” in these products and people.

Well, instead of modeling yourself and your business marketing on a digital superstar, how about declaring a moratorium on “training investments” and making a renewed commitment to creating real relationships?

Instead of stroking the egos of A-listers, how about spending that time instead hunting for people who have questions you can answer, and answering them?

Forget massive success, blueprints, and six-figure incomes.

Embrace slow marketing.

Have you had enough of the A-lister culture? Want to defend your favorite A-lister? The comments are all yours, my friends – just be respectful.

Did ya like that? It’s part of the Word Carnival – the best little fairway on the ‘net, written for small business owners, by small biz owners! Check out the other Carnies for this month’s topic here.

And while we’re on the subject, you can get Annie’s expert productivity coaching services for as little as $25 — but only until midnight PST on Halloween! Trick or treat, y’all — go here to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign and see all the other goodies you can get!

Photo Credit: Dustin Diaz via photopin cc

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur October 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I leaned in on every syllable, Annie!

I’ve been sensing an undertone of chagrin regarding the “A-List culture” for quite a while. Instinctively, I knew that big ugly boil would fester at some point — hoping sooner versus later.

There will always be rotten apples that spoil the cart. So what’s a gal like me to do? Stay out of those carts!

You’ve hit the highlights of what’s (truthfully) happening all around us in the world of ‘A-List’ blogging and online marketing.

And you’ve done something even better …

You’ve given your readership, your tribe, your community —-> a SOLUTION.
“Slow Marketing”, here we come! 🙂

Thank you for your candor.
Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur recently posted..Does Your Logo Measure Up?


Annie October 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Rock on, Melanie, and beware the carts!


Walker Thornton October 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

I was slowly coming to this same conclusion but you’ve shared additional info that confirms. Last week I unsubscribed to a number of blogs that were sending out ‘posts’ that were really just promos.
I love the idea of investing time in my own learning via relationships. Thank you. I’m a new convert after finding you on Firepole Marketing (one I’m staying with!)
Walker Thornton recently posted..Day 18 Awaken, Embrace, Ignite- Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall


Annie October 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Aw, welcome, Walker! We heart Danny around here, too. He does it right, with integrity. Proud to know him, and you! And I love the way you put that – “investing time in your own learning via relationships.” That’s every bit the investment that promoted posts or any other pay-for-play SM outlet is, and one with a much higher (and richer) ROI, to boot.


Sharon Hurley Hall October 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Annie, I am with you on this. I’m so sick of those emails that smack of hypocrisy; it makes it much harder to find the people who are trustworthy. I think I’ve got A-list fatigue – I don’t want to sign up for another series of anything until I find something worthwhile and affordable by someone genuine.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Contently – A New Option for your Writing Portfolio


Angie M Jordan October 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! You and I share some of the same opinions on this topic. I’ve seen long ago the problem in trying to position yourself in these A-List circles, and the worst part is those who require you to pay for even being in their circle…. not me… I agree, slow marketing, real connections, and just launching- blazing your own trail, creating your own success. Thank you for writing this… and now you have me wanting to write a five page rant!
Angie M Jordan recently posted..Starting A Blog: What Is Blogging? And Why You Should Be Doing It


Annie October 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Go write it! It feels good, I can tell you. It’s also really clarifying – the process made me realize just what parts of the whole sleazy mess I had a real problem with, and which weren’t worth worrying over. Thanks for the comment, Angie!


Jeff Belonger October 29, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Annie.. you hit a real pet peeve of mine… #1 is the biggest of them all, followed by #2… And you say not everyone does this, friends of friends who support these A-listers.. but I would say many or most do.. it’s so obvious and sometimes pathetic., I see this especially on FB, and how they project themselves… and yes, they might be rich now, but it was easy like they state it… and after doing research, not a few, but many are actually not so well off or are just blatant thieves.. I see this kind of stuff especially with the real estate investors… and what cracks me up are their live testimonials… pllluueeaassee… good post.
Jeff Belonger recently posted..Hello world!


Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef October 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Okay, you already KNOW how I feel about all this. Just wanted to chime in and say, “WORD.” You have — once again — pulled out all the stops on such an important topic. I hope this post gets shared and shared and shared!


Nick Armstrong October 30, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Annie, this is pure gold.

In every era, there are hucksters and snake oil salesmen, the worst of which are generally very successful in their own right. There’s a very thin line between, I’m talented but I got here with help and just “I’m talented.”

When I look at what I’ve been doing the last few years, I’ve been incredibly frustrated by what I called a lack of activation. I just didn’t understand the rules of the game, though. Now that I’m connected with the Word Carnival and actually dedicating time to myself, I am seeing those returns. Straight out creating great content is only the start, it’s not the end. I was able to get clients to great spots, but it definitely took leverage from some key partners.

The real crux is building relationships – there is no substitute for it, no “next hill” to climb. It truly is all about who and what you know, and who you invest time with.
Nick Armstrong recently posted..Today is the Day to Make a Difference


Annie November 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Exactly, Nick – it IS who you know and what your relationships are really like. There’s something squicky about using people for any reason … but when you take the time to form an actual relationship – y’know, one built on mutual trust and interests on relatively equal footing – it’s not using people anymore. Just be honest about it, is all I think most of us are saying. Yet a lot of A-listers steadfastly refuse to even acknowledge this aspect of their success. I don’t get that – unless there IS something shady about the whole deal, in which case I guess the refusal to acknowledge the group support makes perfect sense …? I dunno. All’s I know is it feels terribly, terribly WRONG.


Sandi Amorim October 31, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Like Sharon, I’ve got A-List fatigue. When I think back to hopes I had almost 3 years ago when I started blogging I have to smile at my naivete. Very few of the A-listers I admired back then still have my respect and that makes me sad – I didn’t expect the snake oil tactics.

When I started my business almost 12 years ago it was about relationships and connection. Now, it’s about relationships and connection. That focus for me will never change.
Sandi Amorim recently posted..The Truth About One-Size-Fits-All


Annie November 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm

It IS sad, isn’t it? I’ve had the same reactions, Sandi. It’s not so much that you put them on a pedestal and then get crushed when they don’t live up to your unrealistic expectations – it’s more you expect them to be decent human beings, and then the little dog tugs at the curtain.


Clare Price October 31, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Great points Annie. My favorite takeaways are: lack of candor and absurd pricing. On lack of candor, don’t you just love it when someone says there will be no selling in this Webinar and then spends the next 30 minutes selling you. On absurd pricing, the best one I saw recently was WORTH $25,000 but for you (in the room) only $297! REALLY? Totally agree that slow marketing is the way to go!
Clare Price recently posted..Would You Skydive Without a Parachute?


Annie November 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Clare – OMG, I hate that one. The whole “this is worth [some astronomical figure] but I’m giving it to you for ONLY [some slightly less astronomical figure that’s STILL too high].” UGH. Just stop it already. We know what happened here. We know you wrote that ebook you’re giving away 2 years ago, and it didn’t sell enough copies then, so you took it off the market and now you’re giving it away for your NEW overpriced product as a gift.


Michelle October 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm

LOVE this, Annie. I’m not sure I can pick a “favorite” (haha) – lack of candor is a big one (especially with the “I went from 0 to 6-figures in six months and YOU CAN TOO! …let’s not talk about my years of previous job experience in this field and also the fact that I planned my launch for six months beforehand and just-so-happened to be friends with x, y, and z who pimped my website the week of launch…ahem…”) and #3 is a big one too, even though it’s more amusing than anything else. The Ocean’s 11 (or 12, or whatevs) clip made me giggle out loud because it’s so-spot-on with egotistical blogger behaviors
Michelle recently posted..We notice when you don’t do as you say.


Nicole Fende November 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Lack of candor – MAJOR pet peeve. Especially the leaving off A-Lister support or as Michelle points out all the work that goes into a launch.

Here’s another important point under “candor”, what works for someone once most likely will stop working when employed on a large scale. The uniqueness of an approach can also be it’s value. Yes the fundamentals (or as our good friend Tea says the recipe) is an important starting point, but then you need to make it your own.

Otherwise why don’t all the gurus have 1000’s of people singing their praises everywhere?
Nicole Fende recently posted..The Grateful Dead’s Lessons for Future A-Lister’s


Annie November 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm

“Otherwise why don’t all the gurus have 1000′s of people singing their praises everywhere?” <- YES. This. And I think we sometimes fail to realize that this is not, in fact, what's happening. We live in a bubble on the web and, as Tea said recently, it's becoming an echo chamber. You go to any ten business people in your town and ask them if they've ever heard of these names, and you'll get blank looks. There's internet-famous and then there's famous.


SandyMc November 5, 2012 at 10:06 am

Ohh has that ever hit the nail on the head. There’s internet famous and then there’s famous! How did we allow these folk to grandstand as they have? Perhaps our anger is just how duped we all were and sadly we were.
SandyMc recently posted..An appeal to you, the A-lister


illana November 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Well put! You know the current climate on my site is a massive reflection of several of these behaviors. The ’emailing A-Listers’ bit always gets to me. There ARE people out there, at the top, that reply personally to everything – because they get that it’s fucking important! Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, there are plenty of other fabulous things they could be doing. But what in the world is more important than encouraging and answering the people that buy your work?

And oh, don’t get me started on pricing. No one…. and I mean no one is worth $500 (and sometimes more) per hour unless they are getting your out of a bogus murder rap. I have watched with dismay as some of my design clients stretch their finances to the breaking point to buy whatever new system so-and-so is selling. If so-and-so really wanted to help people get off the ground, wouldn’t it be cheap? Who has $500 or $1000 or $5000 lying around when they are just getting started. When I work with clients, I rarely even take credit cards (because debt-financing at a rate like that will put them in a hole that they might not be able to climb out of) and we have a conversation about finances before we work together, because I think that we, as business service and advice-givers, have a responsibility to do so.

Great post!


Annie November 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Gracias, Ilana – and yes, I’m a little dismayed at the turn the comments to your post have taken in the last day or so. (See #2: “Bad Manners & Defensive Overreaction.”) As for the replying personally, and not creating the fake wall of false scarcity, exhibit A would be Danny Iny, who is a prince. Thanks for popping over, Ilana!


Eugene Farber November 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I’m with on almost everything. The one thing I disagree with you on is the pricing.

You can price your products at whatever level you want. The market has do decide if it’s worth it or not. And what someone might think is worth $2,000, might be worth diddly-squat to you and me (read: A-lister products :)).

One of the things that the internet has done is devalue products. A published, physical book does have higher production costs. And thus, it’s going to cost more.

But people aren’t interested in the production costs. They are interested in the value they will receive from the product. That’s what they are paying for.

Does the value of information diminish because the product happens to be digital rather than written on physical paper? I don’t think so (although there’s an argument to be made for holding a physical book in y our hand…but that’s a different topic :)).
Eugene Farber recently posted..Improve Conversions: Is Your Design Sabotaging Your Success?


SandyMc November 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

Annie, your call out on the behaviours of so many of these people is excellent.

It begs the question. ‘why do we call them a-listers’. Why do we credential them. They are not worth it.

What is most alarming though is that we might have got with the program and seen their products for what they are, but hundreds of thousands haven’t and continue not only to pay but to genuinely believe that at last they have got the answer that will change their lives.

It is harmful at best, criminal at worst. And honestly, we must continue to call them and out them and ensure that this seedy practise is banished from the Web, so that honest practitioners can do decent business that genuinely serves people.
SandyMc recently posted..An appeal to you, the A-lister


Carol Lynn November 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Fantastic! I wish I could think of a better word but this whole thing was so ridiculously, reasonably, simply fantastic. It sounds like you’ve made a very thoughtful study of human behavior in this niche. I know exactly what you mean about the pricing. Some of those webinars/trainings/whatevers at nearly a thousand bucks… or more! I mean really, which of us just-normal people can pay that for some guy’s advice? I say “some guy” because really, I could line up a whole lot of advice from a whole lot of people for several thousand dollars that would pay off more than someone who is – as you so eloquently put it – just selling a system or process that isn’t the answer to anyone’s problems anyway. I also agree that hey, they’re free to price this stuff at whatever they want and if they get someone to pay for it, more power to them. But I sure as hell hope they’re delivering some amazing advice for that, and not just the trite expectation of a “six figure income”. Holy crap, if I never heard that cliche again it would be too soon. There are people you learn to respect and people who never deserve it. At the end of the day, it’s important to be able to tell the difference instead of just lumping the “successful” people into the A-list category and thinking they’re all going to sprinkle happy stardust on your business.
Carol Lynn recently posted..Online Social Etiquette: When To Block Someone On Twitter


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