A Publicity Stunt That Could Backfire

by John A. Byrne on

It’s a director of admissions worst nightmare: You accept an business school applicant to your world famous MBA program and then he uses the invite as little more than a publicity stunt to enhance his business.

Shockingly, that’s what Mike Moradian is doing to the Harvard Business School.

The Californian was accepted to HBS in December for the upcoming fall term. But instead of packing his bags for the trip to Boston, he sent out a news release yesterday (Aug. 8) on PR Newswire under the provocative headline: “Should I go to Harvard? Social Media Vote Decides for CollegeBudget.com CEO.”

To gain attention for the launch of another business last week, Moradian set up a website to ask people to vote on whether he should attend Harvard or stay with his business. The newly launched business, CollegeBudget, is a Groupon-like deal idea for college students.

The publicity gimmick apparently worked. The story has been picked up by media outlets as varied as The Washington Post, TechCrunch, BostInnovation, and Business Insider. Of more than 25,000 votes cast as of Aug. 10, slightly more than half are urging Moradian to go to HBS.

Moradian denies it’s merely an attempt to gain attention for his business. “I don’t consider this to be a publicity stunt,” he says. “It has been a meaningful way to get feedback. This is a crowdsourcing concept. It’s an opportunity to highlight what I’m doing and have people give me advice on what they’d like me to do.”

Though Moradian concedes he did provide advance warning of the publicity campaign to Harvard’s admissions staff, he has since been in touch with the school and says it did not express any displeasure over his decision to seek attention.

Moradian graduated from UCLA in 2007, worked as an advisory associate for KPMG for less than two years before starting a social website called CampusBuddy.com in early 2008. He was accepted into Harvard last December, but contends he is still undecided about starting school there this fall.

“I’m willing to walk away from what could be a once in a lifetime educational opportunity, but only if I feel that other people share my vision for CollegeBudget and see the value in what we can do for college students,” Moradian said in the news release. “The choice is yours America, choose wisely.”

Well, yes and no. “I put down a deposit already,” Moradian says in an interview, “so clearly I have the intention to go.”

On his LinkedIn profile, Moradian had already claimed the Harvard Business School degree, indicating that he attended the school from 2010 to 2011 (see below). Most incoming students wouldn’t put the degree on the educational portions of their LinkedIn profiles. Instead, they would write “MBA Candidate, Class of 2013.”

After reading an earlier version of this story, however, Moradian corrected his LinkedIn profile, removing any mention of Harvard Business School at all. He says that it was “a default setting” by LinkedIn that led to the error.

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  • http://www.myJewishBooks.com MyJewishBooks.com

    Makes you question how HBS makes its acceptance decisions…

    He writes, “I’m willing to walk away from what could be a once in a lifetime educational opportunity, but only if I feel that other people share my vision for CollegeBudget and see the value in what we can do for college students,” Moradian said in the news release. “The choice is yours America, choose wisely.”

    Just what America needs… a narcissist who is unable to make decisions, stretches the truth on his educational attainment on LinkedIn, and is willing to some questionable things to promote his life-saving, socially critical business

  • Mr Smith

    Mike Moradian…sorry but you’re an idiot.

  • http://www.empiricalintegratedmarketing.com Empirical Integrated Marketing

    Wow is he weighing immediate return over long term gain or just capitalizing for immediate return. Looks to me like its the latter. Typically that comes back to bite you unless the immediate return is huge! For his sake I hope it is, but evidence shows that’s not the case.

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com Rufus Dogg

    You never post private communication like interviews, personal letters and the like. Not everything is appropriate for posting, stunt or not. Mr. Moradian is clearly not emotionally mature enough for Harvard yet.

    If I were Harvard, I would put him back on the shelf to ripen a bit more.

  • Mike Moradian

    I would like to formally state that I hold HBS in the highest regards and did not launch this as a “publicity stunt.” I sincerely believe that CollegeBudget is a unique and potentially once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference. It is because of this time sensitive nature of the opportunity that I decided to publicly poll people’s opinions. In return, many influencers have proactively reached out to me to give me their opinions, from respected professors to prominent entrepreneurs to acclaimed researchers. The point is that I’ve been able to hear from all parties to really make the most informed decision possible. I will never be one to look back on the HBS opportunity and question it now that I am fully briefed up front. While it may have been a little forward-looking in this setting, tools like crowdsourcing are key components of my job as a technology and social media entrepreneur and hopefully a proactive innovator. If I attend HBS, I will undoubtedly bring a valuable perspective to the HBS experience and will be a vibrant community member. I can assure you that.

  • Didi

    So here’s how I see things. In each and every communication made by Mr. Moradian, he clearly stresses the potential benefits of his enterprise, without actually bringing any arguments for going to Harvard (except the “once in a lifetime opportunity,” which is frankly very vague). Say we choose to believe him that this isn’t a publicity stunt for his website (although personally, I don’t).
    If I were the adcom at HBS, I would rescind my admissions invitation for the simple reason that Mr. Moradian clearly hasn’t made up his mind. I wouldn’t want any of the students in my class of 2013 to be undecided. A b-school student should be determined that this is the right path for them. I most certainly would not want any of my students to display such poor judgment to put their fate in the hands of strangers. HBS students should be out there making decisions for themselves, maybe even for others (leadership, anyone?).
    These two years in b-school are going to be demanding and I don’t want any of my students to just lift their hands up in the air and say “I quit!” because they weren’t prepared to make the sacrifice.

  • Current MBA

    Life is more than just black and white. HBS is not the end all be all of the world. At the end of the day, Harvard does not make leaders, although I do think it does a good job finding future leaders. You say no to HBS and people think you’re crazy, but what if, and this is a big what if, there’s more to life than a $150,000 degree. Last I checked, the ideas that have made it big in the past decade were the ideas of those who dared to think big.

    If you would like to carry on the ideas of a man from New Brunswick, NJ or a family from Cincy, then following a formula is for you – or is it? Social media and the other creative things Millenials are delvoping are changing all of that. No one will be able to stay still. Life is about more than getting through these days. Sorry, older generations we would actually like meaning in our lives; including the 40-60 hours we spend at work. The formulaic ways of the past just won’t work anymore.

  • Commodore

    What a complete idiot.

    Should you go to HBS ? No !
    You would give a favor to the incoming students !

  • Mr. EarlyStarter

    CurrentMBA and Mr. Moradian both make good points.

    To help support some of the points that CurrentMBA, we should turn and look at Jonathan Abrams (the founder of Friendster) and News Corp. (the owners of MySpace). Their past ‘formulaic strategies’ and ‘professional management’ are the downfall of both sites while Facebook remains triumphant led by someone without an undergrad degree (much less to talk of an MBA!).

    Mr. Moradian, I think that you also have a good strategy for making your decision. Rather than giving a false sense of confidence by firmly deciding on an unsure decision, you have decided to inform yourself on what other successful people and your customers recommend. I think that in itself is brilliant and will surely get you the maximum amount of information on making this decision. Where I think you went wrong was when you said things like, “The choice is yours, America”. This gives the sense of a publicity stunt which will upset people as you have seen. If you had gone about it in a much more respectable manner suggesting that you would take everyone’s opinions into account, I feel the controversy would have been lessened (assuming you did not want this controversy).

    Regardless, I think you should still take the time to make the best long-term decision for yourself basing your information off of the input of others. Best of luck to you!!

  • Mr. EarlyStarter

    *that CurrentMBA makes with some examples

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/enviroman/ Sandy

    I couldnt agree with Current MBA more. If Mr. Moradian believes in his business idea and the value proposition of his company, he doesn’t have to go to HBS. Even if he chooses to go, that is his and only his decision. To let America decide on what he should do and make such a statement is certainly an attempt at gaining publicity. While the intent might not have been there and this was just an attempt at getting a public poll, Mr. Morodian’s actions have certainly come across as an attempt to gain attention.

    If he got the HBS offer in December and conducted this poll the same day, just to gauge the public reaction on the HBS education, that would have been different. I think he got it wrong from a timing perspective as well. If I am undecided what to do in the days leading up to the start of the B-school, someone at HBS ADCOM should have serious word with him. If Mr. Moradian chooses to go HBS and then figure out if he is cut-out for 2 years of hard work, there is a fair probability that might bail out. While that may not affect him much, as he already has his own enterprise (and the attention of the public), he will certainly stand in the way of someone else getting that coveted admission.

  • RocketMan

    Mr. Moradian is an idiot, end of story.
    That said, HBS Admissions should state why they admitted a person, though capable, who is not mature nor gentleman enough to hold an MBA title of such a remarkable institution. What he has done puts into serious questions his values too, and the kind of people HBS admits; considering the recent news, and the bad publicity it has become for Harvard, they shouldn’t be gambling with this! I think that’s the important story here.
    Ps: Mr. Moradian, what you have done is incredibly stupid. You should be humble enough to recognize this if you want to grow as a person.

  • regina

    I’d have to beg Harvard to please throw Mr.Moradian out. To poll America and ask a question that EVERYONE knows the answer to is absolutely ridiculous. Get publicity for all the right reasons,…feed the poor, do good deeds…Geez…for heavens sake…its like saying, “look at me, look at me….Here I am..I’m just too good for Harvard”. And it sucks because “superficially”, you had all the “right” credentials to get you in.

  • regina

    Sorry. Just need to add….I need to start a new poll “SHOULD HARVARD THROW MIKE MORADIAN OUT?”…..Trust me, that would really make your tough decision a lot easier.

  • Louis

    Sorry, I just don’t think it’s as big of a deal. I think whether Moradian should be thrown out is not ours to decide.

  • Allie

    Apparently, this guy is in business and he can’t make his own decision about going to HBS? Who’s kidding who? I love Regina’s idea about a new poll for America—-Should Harvard throw out Moradian out? But, maybe they think this is very entrepreneurial of him.

  • regina

    As can be said that of the question “should I go to Harvard or not” is obviously a “personal” choice as well.

  • Jay

    Just another Lebron James wanabe

  • Bob Plotkin

    KPMG? how did he get into HBS anyway?

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