Marketers trade on high school cheer
Most businesses are familiar with the pitch.A salesman calls on the phone with a proposition thats hard to turn down: Pay to place your name on a promotional item affiliated with the local high school, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the local school.Last year, Tahoe City businesses were called and asked to pay for advertising on a refrigerator magnet emblazoned with the name of North Tahoe High School and the cheer, Go Lakers!Several businesses did, including Northstar at Tahoe, Farmers Insurance and the Tahoe Yacht Club. Even the Placer County Sheriffs Department fell for it, despite Placer Sheriffs Capt. Jeff Granums denial that he had ever authorized any such expenditure.This year, it was a North Tahoe High School rally towel that the phone solicitor has been telling Tahoe City businesses would help benefit the high school. It was a pitch that Slater Kahill of Slater Construction found hard to resist.They make it sound like they want to help the schools [but] theres no charity, Kahill said about the latest charity call. I paid for these magnetic things with an area in the middle for penciling appointments. They indicated the money went to the school. But, it turns out the school is supposed to sell this stuff.Slater Construction wasnt the only local company to receive this years rally towel calls. The aggressive marketing campaign prompted Kym Fabel of the North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce to send an e-mail to more than 750 of the chambers members on Oct. 19 advising them of the campaign by Universal Ad Com of Arlington, Texas, to solicit $250 apiece for the rally towels that ostensibly were to benefit the schools girls basketball squad.Feeling victimized by the solicitations is a first-year leadership activities adviser at North Tahoe High, Bridget Paul, who believes the Texas marketing company played fast and loose with an agreement she signed.We dont get money, and we dont even know who contributed, Paul said last week in an interview.Paul said she had brainstormed with a freshman class about how to raise funds, and they had studied the idea of opening a student store, buying custom goods at bulk rates and selling them at market prices. The students researched companies that sell products with a schools logo, and contacted Fanfare Sports Marketing and its sister firm, Universal Ad Com.When Paul signed an order for what she believed would be samples, she had actually signed a contract allowing the company to market items affiliated with the schools name, said a representative of Universal Ad Com.You have a signed contract by Bridget Paul a binding contract, said Lisa Humbole, the companys manager, in a phone interview on Friday.Humbole said she would fax the Sierra Sun a copy of the contract, but the document did not arrive before deadline.Paul sharply disagreed with Humboles account. The school received about 200 refrigerator magnets that she claims she never ordered. The shipping box that arrived had no return address.We never said, Yes, we want to go with this, Paul said. I feel duped. I feel stupid. I have never seen a company shark a school like this.Others have, though. Even before the schools brush with Universal Ad Com, other companies had exploited school spirit to solicit donations from businesses that support the North Shore school.Cushions were made one year, said Attendance Secretary Cindy Freeman about a shipment of 200 pillows embroidered with the Lakers logo that mysteriously arrived at the campus two years ago, again with no return address. This is one of those ongoing problems that weve been dealing with.Paul said she has contacted Universal Ad Com and asked them to sever its ties to the school, and to restrict business with the school to contracts signed by the principal and a board member.North Tahoe Principal Bill Frey did not return phone calls before deadline seeking comment on the schools purchasing policies. Acting Superintendent Jo Lynn Wilson of the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District said she had no idea about the questionable marketing calls.
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