THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Model Seduction
The flashbacks began as soon as I sat down: rows of chairs in a bland, chain-motel meeting room; impish children and their doting mothers; nubile girls in tight tops, a few older women, and a sprinkling of young men. But most of all, I remembered that fragile mix of nervousness and hope.
It was January 30, and I was sitting at the Holiday Inn by I-64 listening to a sales pitch for Models Net International. Yet I kept thinking back to an evening in 1997, when Pro Images was the enterprise in question.
The two companies' methods aren't identical, but their clients have one thing in common: the extremely small chance that they'll ever be asked to model— or act— for money.
These groups are pros in the art of seduction. For instance, they emphasize how hard it is to succeed as a model, and stress that being on time for assignments is essential— thereby implying that assignments will actually materialize. They toss in some jargon, such as "photo head sheet" and "comp cards." And they trumpet their membership in the Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau— as if Osama bin Laden couldn't have joined a hundred such groups, if he'd cared to, before September 11.
Here's how Models Net works. First, you go to the information session and fill out a questionnaire. Then comes the sales pitch. Like the Pro Images rep, the Models Net saleswoman vigorously attacked the idea that only silicone sisters can make it as models; in fact, she said, most models "tend to be your more average, common type," and "age barriers are nonexistent." As proof, she described an 83-year-old client who advertises recliners on cable TV.
So what's the first step in this exciting career? At least one good commercial photo. And that's what Models Net can provide, for $239 plus $10 tax.
For $249 you get a mini-portfolio, the best shot of which is posted on their website (www.models-net.com) for one year and perused, supposedly, by advertisers and casting directors in search of that "person-next-door" look.
But you can't just pay on the spot and sign up; you have to be selected. At the information session you simply pose for a video shot, which is sent via computer to the headquarters in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. Then, if you're selected (which you learn by calling Mt. Pocono the next day), you return for the actual photo shoot-and fork over your $249.
As people waited to be videotaped, I struck up a conversation with Nancy Bosket and her 13-year-old daughter, whom I'll call Cheryl. They had driven in from Orange and were surprised when they saw the Models Net saleswoman; she was the same woman they'd seen two months ago in Fredericksburg, representing an outfit called Highlite Modeling and Casting Agency.
The Boskets said they had come to Charlottesville only because they assumed they'd be dealing with a different company. It turns out that Models Net is part of Highlite, so that explained the different name. It also inspired the Boskets to perform an experiment.
In the Fredericksburg session, Cheryl had told the saleswoman she already had professional photographs and wouldn't need any more. And guess what? Even though she's very attractive and has taken a modeling course, she hadn't been selected.
This time Cheryl planned to say nothing about her photographs— and see whether that made her more desirable in the company's eyes.
I wasn't surprised, when I called Bosket the next day, to hear that Cheryl had indeed been selected. Bosket went on to tell me that when she had declined the photo shoot, explaining that Cheryl already had a portfolio, she was informed that it would cost $120 to post a picture on the website. If the Boskets didn't want to pay, the picture would be kept "on file" for a year.
Any guesses as to what that file looks like? I'm thinking it might be circular.
Next week: the final chapter in the Pro Images story, in which an unhappy client has the last laugh– in court.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? E-mail the Fearless Consumer at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902