Motivational Speakers Beware! Willow Mist, Brenda Keefer, International Speakers Network and the great speaker Scam

September 29, 2010

I guess there are times when, in the writing of a blog, you hit a nerve.  Yesterday, after much research, I wrote a blog about Willow Mist Professional Services in TN and Brenda Keefer – the company’s owner (at least that’s what I’ve been told).  The response has been overwhelming.  It seems that Miss Brenda has been active and the reports from speakers internationally has been – well – let’s put it this way…there’s screaming and gnashing of teeth over how Motivational Speakers have been scammed.

The article yesterday is here.

Sometimes our past and our experience create the path for a future that is outstanding.  As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, I am keenly aware of the choices we make and the consequences that follow.  In the case of Brenda Keefer and Willow Mist Professional Services – there are far too many speakers who are now coming out of the woodwork stating that they, too, have been scammed to ignore the problem.

Every choice has a consequence.  Based on what I see and hear from my experience and the experience of others, it would be worth investigating thoroughly whether the services offered by Brenda Keefer and Willow Mist are valuable or just a way to scam unsuspecting folks out of money.

BEYOND WILLOW MIST –

The brush stroke of fraud and deception seems to be pervasive in Sevierville, TN.  Not only is Willow Mist Professional Services located there, but another “speakers bureau” or “speaker services” company is there too.  Their name:  Internation Speakers Network or ISN Works – a division of The Innovators Group, Inc.

I received an unsolicited email from them with a CALL FOR SPEAKERS.  I was about to trash it or mark it as spam when it caught my eye that they were located in Sevierville, TN.  I thought it strange that two companies that “market” speakers would be located in that small town.  My first thought was that it was Willow Mist or Brenda Keefer repackaged.  However, after calling ISNWorks and talking to their representative, I found that they were quick to point out that they once were the employer of Brenda Keefer, but that she had been let go for “unethical business practices”.  Soon after the Brenda Keefer discussion the conversation returned to what they could offer me as a speaker.

Now…as I wrote the blog about Willow Mist and Brenda, I find that ISN doesn’t have the best reputation either.  Below is a link to the Complaints Board and comments related to ISN:

http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/international-speakers-network-c207754.html

The starting comments states:

The International Speakers Network convinces you they can help speakers market their speaking services, and charges a lot of money to develop mailings, sell sheets, and other marketing materials. But they don’t actually perform any of the marketing services speakers pay them for. yes, they will print materials, but they take a lot of money to distribute those materials which are never distributed. They have several names like ISN, Book a Speaker. net, Innovators Group and others. Learn more about them at http://burnedbyisn.blogspot.com/ You’ll see that they have a horrible track record with the Better Business Bureau, too.

While not all of the comments related to ISN were bad – there were certainly enough there to cause one to wonder what’s in the water there in Sevierville that causes two firms, both doing the same thing, to have such poor reputations.  Buyer beware.

If you have had an experience with Willow Mist and/or Brenda Keefer or ISN Works – how about doing us a favor and submitting a comment.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.


Brenda Keefer and Willow Mist Professional Speaker Services – Business Ethics gone South or just a plain ole Scam?

September 28, 2010

I recall my uncle one time telling me as we were sitting in a boat fishing, “Son, sometimes you just have to call them as you see them.”  I honestly don’t recall what we were talking about and frankly, at the time, I don’t recall connecting with the true meaning of his words.  But today they ring true…  Sometimes you just have to call them as you see them.

Let me be clear to those who read… as an Ethics speaker and Fraud Prevention Expert, I often hear of circumstances – perhaps questionable in nature – and, from time to time, find it helpful to research further.  Rarely do I find that I have personal experience with the firm or organization.  In the case of Willow Mist and Brenda Keefer – unfortunately I do and it appears that I’m not the only one.

On November 6, 2008, I received an email from Brenda Keefer – apparent owner and operator of Willow Mist Professional Services welcoming me to her fold.  Her initial pitch was that she (through her firm) offered speakers (Motivational speakers, etc.) direct marketing services thereby helping those she represents increase their bookings.  For those services, speakers (such as myself) or perhaps (in retrospect) I should label myself as a “sucker” – would pay her a nominal fee up front and she would take us on as clients representing that she had limited clients (unlike traditional speakers bureaus).

Now, as a good ole boy from the South, recognizing that she was just over the NC border in Tennessee, I thought “surely she was straight up” and frankly, I thought to myself, “if I am scammed the amount won’t break me.”

Well…I WAS SCAMMED!

After the payment was received by Brenda Keefer – NOTHING HAPPENED.  I mean I got no calls, no indication that I was being marketed, NOTHING.  I followed up with several emails but (as one might expect) NO RESPONSE.  In fact, I called and finally got Brenda on the phone.  She seemed confused about who I was and our relationship (I guess that’s obvious as we had no relationship other than her taking my money).  When confronted about my payment she said she’d have to look into it, at which time I provided her information about my canceled check.

LET’S BE CLEAR

I am not writing this because of my experience.  To me that would be unfair and perhaps bring my ethics into question.  Rather, let’s look at the facts and then perhaps the light of truth will shine brightly on Willow Mist and Brenda Keefer.

For those who follow my blog you certainly know that I have a sordid past.  For those that don’t here it is in a simple clear format:

  1. In the mid ’80’s I was a CPA who (being really dumb) effected a Ponzi scheme
  2. In 1990 that fraud or scam that I created came crashing down and I lost everything
  3. In 1991 I made restitution to those I defrauded (not that that makes right my wrong – it does not)
  4. In 1995 I was sentenced to Federal Prison and on October 2, 1995 I took 23 steps in to Federal Prison
  5. Upon release I started life over and in 2006 was a Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing for a public company
  6. Today I am the Chief Operating Officer for a private national company and a professional public speaker sharing insight into ethical behavior and fraud prevention.

I feel that sharing my past helps those who read know who I am and where I am coming from.  That said, when I talked with Brenda Keefer with Willow Mist I found out that she and I have something in common.  We are both CONVICTED FELONS (nothing by the way that I’m proud of – but our past is our past).

When I shared my background with Brenda she was willing then to share her’s with me.  According to her, I was an example of how someone with a “sorted past” can make different choices and turn their lives around.   Frankly, I did agree.  I think from that conversation I found a level of trust that now, in retrospect, was unfounded.

Some people learn nothing from past experiences and it would seem, in this case, that Brenda may be challenged with dealing with ghosts from the past in her present day dealings in business.  And, that give all folks, who may have made bad past choices – a bad name.

BEYOND JUST ME…

But, as I said, this isn’t about me.  Several weeks ago in the email blast – SpeakerNetNews I spotted something submitted from another speaker – asking about Brenda Keefer and Willow Mist Professional Services.  Since it had been almost two year, frankly I had put Brenda and Willow Mist out of my mind.  But the question jogged my memory and brought me back to my experience with Willow Mist.  I emailed and asked what the issue(s) were and was told that it related to payments not paid from Willow Mist to speakers and payments to Willow Mist for services not delivered.  More importantly, I was told that the response from the inquiry regarding Brenda Keefer and Willow Mist was somewhat overwhelming.

SO HERE’S THE QUESTION:

Is the operation of Willow Mist Professional Services with Brenda Keefer at the helm a SCAM?  Is it that Brenda is INCAPABLE of providing what she promises?  Have lessons from past unethical and illegal actions been learned or is this nothing more than a repeat of past prior performances?

I don’t know the answers to these questions.  What I do know is this – if one takes money from another and promises to perform services and then fails to perform – even in the face of repeated questions and requests for performance – there is a good chance that doing business with such a firm is not only UNWISE, but from outward appearances it would appear that UNETHICAL ACTIONS or a SCAM is being perpetrated.

As a final note, it appears that Brenda Keefer worked for ISN Works doing essentially the same service for them before setting up here own business in the same town.  From what I understand, she is not connected with ISN Works and perhaps her departure uncovered similar actions (unethical) that has left ISN Works with a mess to clean up.

BE WARNED…

P.S.  Here’s a link that just adds fuel to the fire.  http://burnedbyisn.blogspot.com/2009/07/this-time-its-brenda-keefer-and-willow.html