• Can we sue business consultants for false advertising?

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    REY ELBO

    I have been trying, for the longest time, to understand what makes management consultants popular with clients, and I am talking about clients who may be blinded by a baseless perception of a consultant’s “star quality.” So, what blinds them? Assuming all things being equal and that all consultants have well-balanced corporate experience and good education, accentuated by post-graduate degrees, how do organizations choose the best?

    Is it about good looks? An ability to articulate ideas in a pleasant speaking voice? The training methodology used? How about his use of humor to help keep the audience awake? How do foreign consultants compete with locals who understand the culture, or vice versa? Who is better – female or male consultants? What about the pricing scheme? Do clients choose the one who charges the lowest professional fee, unmindful of the common expression – “If you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys?”

    How about the consultant’s client feedback, which could be solicited via a barter deal with people and organizations in exchange for giving his services free of charge? Or, would you prefer someone with an ace in the form of bestselling books up his sleeves?

    Take this last question, for instance. As an incurable fact-checker, I wonder how a consultant could prove he is a “bestselling author,” even when he’s not? Does his name appear in the bestsellers’ list at the National Book Store or other popular brick-and-mortar stores, or on online bookshops?

    The trouble is that many prospective clients ignore such an important detail. They’re hoodwinked, for some reason. But not Robert Esguerra (not his real name), a fact-checking crusader: “I can make life difficult for those bastards who claim they have achieved something, when in fact, they have not.”

    I was surprised and equally stunned at this. And I’m sure, he’s not referring to me because my life has been an open secret when I started my part-time career as a journalist in 1993, simultaneously with my corporate work.

    I have known Robert for some time now. He’s the type who will not take things sitting down. He’s one person who, the moment he sees a reckless bus or truck driver, would readily take a video of the culprit, including the contact numbers of the vehicle operator printed at the back of the vehicle.

    As soon as he gets the chance, he files a formal complaint, not before a graft-ridden, snail-moving government agency, but with the Human Resource Department of the driver’s employer. “It’s easy and simpler that way. The driver’s employer is more effective in handling such complaint,” says Robert.

    Going back to the meat of this article, really, can you sue a consultant for false advertising, when he claims he’s a “bestselling author,” when in fact, he’s not? Taking Robert seriously, I asked my lawyer-friend Pol Sangalang for advice: “Can we go after a consultant for fake information in his CV or in his marketing peripherals similar to what we sometimes find when we do a background-check on new employees?”

    Mr. Sangalang, who has become a fast-rising superstar in the field of business and labor relations, says: “We have a doctrine called caveat emptor or buyer beware. If the misrepresentation doesn’t constitute fraud, the consultant can’t be sued, unless it is made explicit in the service contract that such representation was one of the main considerations” in hiring his services.

    Sure, the client must be aware of the kind of person he’s dealing with. But, can’t we take a more aggressive action here against swindlers masquerading as business consultants? If a consultant uses a motivational and “inspiring excellence” platform to influence positively the behavior of people and organizations, he must be the first one to preach about integrity, honesty and other related values. Agree?

    Unfortunately, in nearly every proposal sent in by consultants, you’ll find something questionable. Try it as a fun adventure. Pretend that you need a consultant’s services. Ask for a training proposal and a detailed version of the consultant’s CV. Then do a simple fact-checking and probe for loopholes. Go further and check his diploma, certifications, list of clients and their recommendations, among others.

    And of course, demand specific details about himself as a “bestselling author.”

    The moment he replies with the sound of silence, then you know what it means. You’re being ignored. Your consultant has blinked. You’ve become successful in teaching him a good lesson on honesty. It’s better that way than spend real money on lawyer’s fees and court fees. It saves you time and effort as well. And it’s risk-free. Now, you can start a new career as a fact-checking advocate. If not, try it as a hobby and be a hero without a cape.

    At least, you’ve levelled the playing field.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random management thoughts on Elbonomics.

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