PresGroup.net Unhindered by Ethics
A Cautionary Tale for Prospective Clients, Contractors, and Job Candidates of PresGroup
As a consultant, I've had the opportunity to take a look under the hood of many organizations, from highly successful soloprenuers all the way up to leading global brands. I've had a range of richly rewarding and proud moments, and there have also been times when I've eaten humble pie in order to learn from my mistakes. Being in business means that at some point or another there will be encounters with unscrupulous clients or vendors, and we simply come to accept this as part of the cost of doing business; we might learn from it, and sometimes we restructure our process to mitigate the risk of it happening again. It's just part of the world we live in. Recently however, I had the experience of working with a marketing company in Danville, California, formerly called Paradigm Real Estate Solutions (but has changed their name to PresGroup), which turned out to be such a regrettable experience that my good conscience compels me to warn others about this company. Hopefully, in reading this, you can avoid being ripped off by Patrick Burke, the president of PresGroup.
We had the worst experience working with Paradigm Real Estate Solutions (aka Presgroup). We should have fired them on our earliest impulse, but we endured their rudeness and a lower level of ethical standards than we're accustomed to.
Welcome to PresGroup
After completing a short 30-hour project with Paradigm, Patrick Burke wanted to talk about redesigning their company brochure. After our discussion, I sent over a proposal which described the scope of the project, the deliverables, fees, and terms. We had a phone conversation to go over the proposal, and we went back and forth over the amount of time that should be allocated to developing content (sourcing and editing imagery, and writing the copy for the brochure) and Patrick said he authorized doubling the hours allocated to developing content. Lastly he asked that since we've been operating on a "handshake" arrangement, could we agree to do that for this proposal too, and I consented. Also on this phone call with Patrick Burke, were his co-president Michael Carreno and his director of technology, Ravi Makadia. Later, both Patrick Burke and Michael Carreno denied that we ever had this agreement. At the completion of the project and the stakeholders agreeing that they thought the brochure looked great, Michael Carreno, under Patrick Burke's authority refused to pay the amount we had agreed upon. Further, he made it clear in an email that before they would send any payment, I would need to agree to receive the smaller amount - a tactic that you might recognize as extortion (the use of coercion to induce someone to agree to something involuntarily).
1. A Warning to Potential Contractors & Vendors to PresGroup
If you must do business with Presgroup, you should understand that Patrick Burke is very combative and rigidly fixed in his ideas - ideas which are so out-dated that they are actually quaintly nostalgic (remember when calling yourself a leading expert meant that you must be one?) If your proposed methodolgy is not in line with his beliefs, you will be spending more time than you would normally for the same tasks, as you will need to steer your recommendations around his argumentative and hostile reception of your dissenting views - factoring this into your cost estimates is highly recommended. Furthermore, Patrick Burke will communicate with you only when it is convenient for him. My questions would go unanswered for 4 or 5 days, requiring repeated follow-up, but I would often get calls from him on my cell phone at 7:00pm. Lastly, my situation is not an isolated one - you can read an account from another contractor here - so you are advised to get everything in writing, with payments up front before commencing any work for Paradigm Real Estate Solutions.
2. A Warning to Potential Clients of PresGroup
From my experience with Paradigm Real Estate Solutions, I cannot imagine that Presgroup's clients could possibly be getting value for their money. I also find it astonishing that Patrick Burke's title includes "director of strategy." Patrick Burke seems to be the complete antithesis of a strategic thinker, and actually epitomizes every one of the points in this story, 10 Things a Marketing Company Should Never Do. Even if we were to disregard Patrick Burke's demonstrated unfamiliarity with moral standards and his neo-caveman conduct, and focused only on his attachment to what was considered cutting-edge in yesteryear's marketing practices and technology, it would be difficult to see how a client could derive any benefit. You can read a former Paradigm employee's account, including how Paradigm's clients are billed, here. If you are looking for a company that provides similar services as Presgroup, but who honors their agreements, go to The Marketing Directors.
3. A Warning to Potential Job Candidates of PresGroup
My experience working with Paradigm really opened my eyes to how dysfunctional a team can be. Each phone call with Patrick Burke, Michael Carreno, and Ravi Makadia was like a three-ring circus: Patrick Burke filling the conversation with sarcasm, rudeness, off-color commentary and complete ignorance of courtesy or respect; Michael Carreno simply agreeing with everything Patrick would blurt out, and Ravi Makadia being the relentless diplomat, tirelessly attempting to turn the whole scrappy mess back around to a productive discussion. I found myself agreeing to sub-optimal solutions out of the recognition that I was simply not being paid enough to put up with rudeness and verbal abuse. Publicly berating and yelling at employees, rewarding sycophant behavior, and ridiculing dissenting views seems to define the culture at Paradigm, as a previous employee testifies here (same link as in the previous paragraph) and a recent candidate who interviewed at Paradigm retells the experience here. Time spent working at Presgroup is likely time wasted — time which could have been spent better elsewhere, with better pay, better working conditions, and more positive career outcomes.
If You've Been Cheated, You Have More Power Than You Might Think
If you're a designer who's been pushed around or cheated by a client and felt that you had no recourse, either because you didn't know your legal rights in contract law, or because you believed you could trust that your client would be fair and ethical, READ ON! Designers have more power than you may think. Firstly, understand that your agreement does not need to be in writing for it to be a legally-binding contract, although Attorney Francine Ward points out that the challenge with oral agreements is you must first somehow prove that an agreement between the parties actually existed. While difficult, it is not impossible. It can sometimes be determined by emails, purchase invoices, memos, and other written documentation. If you have designed something for a client as part of an agreement to do so, you own the copyright license on that material until it is paid for in full. If the client uses it before they own it, you can sue the hell out of them. Secondly, designers should remember that communication is their core strength. This page, for example, is currently out-ranking many of Paradigm's own pages and press releases in Google's search results. Already, it has been shared by over a hundred designers, viewed thousands of times, and currently has a 25% click-through-rate in Google's search results - meaning that 25% of people who search for Paradigm Real Estate Solutions will click the link to this page. (Ooh, ouch!) On the very first day that this page was live, it had over a thousand visitors, which is more than the Paradigm Real Estate Services website gets in a month! This page will remain live as long as we remain unpaid for the work we performed for Patrick Burke and his team at Paradigm Real Estate.
ONE LAST THING: The design community is a strong and tight-knit community of collaborators and problem-solvers who work diligently to improve our clients' businesses. We don't deserve to be pushed around. Sharing this page is just one of the small actions you can take to help protect our livelihoods.