How To Trash Your PR At The Touch Of A Button: Of Holosync, Bill Harris, and Silencing Critics

by ToriDeaux on December 31, 2009

image “You will literally meditate like a Zen monk at the touch of a button!!”

That’s one of the oft repeated sales pitches for the Holosync system, a set of binaural-beat brainwave entrainment CDs from Bill Harris’s CenterPointe Research Institute.  According to the rest of the sales material, it slices, it dices, enlightens and happifies, fixes you buttered toast, and offers you fresh squeezed orange juice.  Organic, I’m sure.

Ok, I made a lot of that up.

Still, the actual benefits claimed for Holosync are both pretty darn vague and pretty darn sensational.  CenterPointe’s head honcho has quite a rep for hard-core (and some would say obnoxious) marketing practices, so  vague and sensational are to be expected.  It’s a methodology that drives some people away, turns others into True Fans, and generally makes a heck of a lot of money in the process.

But back to that trashing your PR thing…

This past month, Bill Harris, made a mistake – a pretty surprising mistake for someone so widely recognized for his business & sales skills.

He (allegedly*!) tried to silence a blogger.

*pauses to let the gasps of shock die down*
I say allegedly, not because I actually doubt what happened, but because I don’t feel like risking any defamation lawsuits myself.  So I’m just reporting on what others allege is going on.  You see?

Now, those of you familiar with the blogosphere know that there’s one thing a big-wig, multi-millionaire or corporate type  never, ever wants to do…  it’s threaten bloggers with legal action after they criticize you.

It just never turns out well.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right.  It doesn’t matter if you have the money to pursue it until hell freezes over, and that the blogger will probably have to rely on pro-bono legal help.   It doesn’t matter if you eventually win the lawsuit, and make the blogger’s life miserable.

You will lose in the court of public opinion, because you’re not really dealing with the ONE small blogger, but the entire blogosphere.  See, threatening a lawsuit against a blogger is like, well…

Ahem.  Please note that no threat is implied here.  It's a joke. About a dog. And a button. Laugh, damn you, laugh! It’s like pushing a big red button that releases a pack of rabid hounds.

A pack of rabid hounds that  races wildly around the countryside unchecked, braying about it at the top of their lungs until EVERYBODY knows.

It’s not pretty.  It’s very slobbery.  It’s wildly infectious.

And it’s very, very bad PR.

Once bloggers have the scent of blood, they tend to  spread the very material you wanted to suppress far and wide. It becomes “news”,  and passes through blogging networks, bookmarking sites, and Twitter.  It elevates the status and traffic of the accused blogger, guarantees that the damaging post in question will be reposted and archived on multiple sites,  discussed, Tweeted and debated into infinity.   The whole thing will rise in the search rankings of Google, meaning that even non-blog-readers who are looking for product info will stumble upon the controversy.

It’s a serious marketing fail.

And it makes you look like a bully.

Here’s how the button got pushed. Allegedly.

Over on BeyondGrowth,  Duff McDuffee has a habit of poking at personal development gurus with a big stick (something I’ve been known to do in my spare time, as well).  In November, Duff was poking at James Ray, the fellow whose Arizona sweat lodge went so tragically wrong, left three of his clients dead, and sent another 17 to the hospital.

Somewhere along the way, Duff  uncovered links between James Ray and Bill Harris of Holosync.  Now Duff and Bill had previously shared a few heated words here and there, and neither seemed fond of each other.   It’s totally understandable, really – I mean, after all, one of them is  a personal development guru, and the other one pokes at personal development gurus with a big stick. I wouldn’t expect them to form a mutual admiration society, you know?

So Duff writes a post specifically poking at Bill, filled with lots of criticisms and some pretty harsh words.  (The post just happens to quote me, by the way. Check it out if you’re curious.)

Apparently Bill didn’t like being poked at.

He didn’t like it one bit.  I understand that, I do.   I mean, Duff was wielding a very big, pokey stick.  I wouldn’t like it either. It's a boy.  With a big, pointy stick! Adorable, isn't he? Image by Tcoulston on Stock.Xchng

And sure, Bill talks a lot about enlightenment and personal development and dealing with personal “shadows” (which, I gather, is pretty much just heavy baggage that makes you have knee-jerk angry and prejudicial reactions) and overcoming them but come on…

It was a REALLY BIG POINTY STICK!

Even the Dalai Lama would have slapped Duff around for it.  Ok, maybe not the Dalai Lama. He’d probably have just smiled and patted Duff on the head.

But you get my point.  Even if it’s not on a stick.

Anyway, here’s where Bill manages to trash his PR “at the touch of a button”; instead of opening a conversation with Duff, asking nicely, or even just refuting the information in Duff’s comment section or with a post of his own…   Bill (allegedly!) threatens Duff with a defamation lawsuit.

The story (allegedly!) goes something like this:

Bill has his lawyers draft a Cease & Desist letter, threatening a defamation lawsuit unless the pointy-post is removed, the claims prominently retracted,  and Duff promises to never, ever again say bad things about Bill, CenterPointe, or it’s products.

Never-EVER!

Chilling, isn’t it?

But Bill’s lawyers accidentally sent it to the wrong address, so it didn’t have the desired chilling effect.  (Oops.) Bill himself did manage to email Duff about the matter,  informing him of the pending litigation and just how it would ruin his life if he didn’t comply.

You can see the full text of THAT letter here, about midway through this post on SaltyDroid.  And I must say, the tone is not at all what I’d expect from a personal development guru.  Er…  quick correction: It’s not what I’d *HOPE* for from a personal development guru.   It is, however, pretty much what I expect from one these days.

Now, to me, that letter it feels very threatening.  But maybe it would seem different if I were a personal development guru with an enlightened and elevated perspective.  Maybe I would see it as a kind, simple explanatory letter urging caution.  Maybe Bill didn’t even write the letter, and it’s all a figment of someone’s overactive imagination. Allegedly!

Seriously…

The whole thing makes Harris looks like a bully.
Who can’t take criticism.
Which really isn’t very good for his image as a personal development leader.

So for all of you big-wig, multi-millionaire personal development gurus out there, just itching to throw your weight around by trying to silence your blogging critics?

Just don’t.

Before you push  auto-dial on your smartphone to reach your lawyers, before you push “send” in your email program…  take a time out.  Calm down.

Then open a line of communication.  Consider playing nice with the critic in question.   Recruit other bloggers to tell your side of the story.

It's that boy again! Still with the big, pointy stick, and still adorable. Image by Tcoulston on Stock.XchngMaybe you can even find bloggers with bigger sticks to be on your side.

And maybe, just maybe, you can keep from trashing your PR at the touch of a button.

As an added bonus, you won’t have to pay your lawyers to read through meandering posts from multiple bloggers like me, who are reporting on the whole slobbery mess for our own amusement.

(And yes, I know… none of the graphics lived up to the promise of the first one.  I ran out of inspiration. And IStock credits. Because some of us aren’t multi-millionaires)

(Oh, and here’s the previous post of mine that is quoted in the Ceased & Desisted post of Duff’s: Review Of The Holosync Demo Raises Ethics Questions.  Just in case you feel like reading it.)

*Update*

2010/10/5 An alert reader pointed out to me a concern about this post and my current affiliate partnership with Transparent Corp, which sells a sort of DIY brainwave software and can conceivably be seen as competing with Holosync.  They’d wondered if I’d written this to intentionally divert search engine traffic to try and sell  competing products.   That’s not the case,  and I would, in fact, consider that unethical, making the whole thing humorously and annoyingly  ironic.

So, in the interests of  transparency, yes, I’m an affiliate for a product line that has an overlapping market with Holosync.   But affiliate commissions were not a factor in penning this post; the motivating factor was a love of  free speech.  I’m neither a fan, nor a foe of Holosync and Bill Harris, and I’m more than a little befuddled about why I rank so high for those keywords.   Holosync affiliates, ya’ll SERIOUSLY need to do a better job! ;)

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Duff 12.31.09 at 7:02 pm

:) Great post, Tori! I hope more guru-types learn about PR 101 from posts like this. Really my whole point of the article was to ask folks like Harris to step up and take responsibility for their involvement with James Arthur Ray. I have no interest in trashing anyone for its own sake, just encouraging teachers of responsibility to act responsibly.

2 Jason Digges 12.31.09 at 8:53 pm

Love it! The new culture of transparency is rising, slowly…

3 Toby 12.31.09 at 9:34 pm

Great work! This is a really thoughtful post!

It’s fascinating to me that so many of these middle age guru types like Bill Harris choose to double down on their original mistake rather than doing the right thing. Bill made a mistake. He endorsed James Ray and then James Ray killed 3 people at a retreat (whether a jury concludes it was homicide or “only” manslaughter, these 3 people aren’t coming back). And Duff pointed out this mistake — and linked to the video.

At that point, there really isn’t any place for Bill to go — he’s caught, on video, endorsing a guy whose actions contributed to the deaths of three people. It doesn’t take a PR expert to figure out that Bill needed to distance himself from Ray as quickly as possible. But rather than owning up to his mistake, Bill Harris doubled down and tried to intimidate Duff into silence. As you explained, it’s a PR disaster — a textbook example of exactly what one is NOT supposed to do. Bill is destroying his brand and destroying his company in order to avoid admitting that he made a mistake. And the craziest thing is, doing the right thing (saying ‘yep, James Ray is a creep’) would have been easier than doing the wrong thing.

4 ~C4Chaos 01.01.10 at 3:54 am

excellent! you nailed it!

for someone who blogs, Bill seem to not have internalized the power of the blogosphere. this is PR nightmare for him. i wish him well and I hope he realize his mistake, drop the C&D threat, and give Duff a big bear hug!

~C

5 Trevor 01.01.10 at 2:31 pm

yep.

&: TRUTH ALONE TRIUMPHS. –Upanishads.

6 Richard Boulanger 01.06.10 at 3:47 pm

I maintain that if this device costs that much money, and has claims to improve one’s health, it should be reported to the FDA as a medical device that does not work. This is their bailiwick.

Who brought all these fascists back into the world? Did we fight a big war against them two or three generations ago? Mussolini would be proud of this guy.

7 Rafael Marquez 01.15.10 at 11:27 am

You’re so right about how to handle negative comments/ reviews of your product. I once wrote something negative about Squidoo and got an email from Mr. Seth Godin himself. We exchanged some emails, talked it out and I ended up seeing Squidoo through Mr. Godin’s eyes.

I now have much greater respect for Mr. Godin and will go to bat for him anytime, any where.

8 @DeerfieldTruth 01.29.10 at 7:22 pm

This is just what ex-members of a cult, reading and contributing on my blog need to hear, thanks! They were TERRIFIED by the idea of the cult leaders taking any legal action against them. The fear the leaders installed in cult members is HUGE and took as long as 3 years for some of them to share their experiences openly in my blog, so reinforcement is good. Thanks so much for your post!

9 Tori Deaux 01.30.10 at 11:06 am

(I’ve been having this wacky comment reply anxiety. No, I’ve no idea what that’s about, but at least that explains my extended silence in response to all of these interesting, impassioned comments!

But I was yanked out of the closet-of-neurosis by @Deerfield.. so…)

@Deerfield, wow. I’m humbled to think this somehow helped recovering cult-members…. here I thought I was just poking at an overzealous new-age marketer ;) Over-zealous-new-age-marketers and full blown cults are different critters, but the protections are the same. The Electronic Freedom Frontier gives a good rundown of the legal protections here: Blogger’s Rights. I’d think the information there might help some of your contributors a great deal.

And you’re sincerely welcome for any encouragement I may have provided.

10 Piers McCarney 03.28.10 at 11:17 pm

I know this thread has probably been dead for quite a while, but I can’t resist mentioning how this reminds me of another severe lack of “enlightened” behaviour I found on the internet a long time back from someone purporting to be in that kind of state.

A claimed Chi Kung master took the time and effort to post on the FRONT PAGE of his website about how a “former student” (who was even named) had never progressed due to being unable to curb his overwhelming desire to “play with himself”.

Can’t wait until I read the self development book that tells me slagging off those who annoy me is the path to enlightenment, sounds sweet!

11 Awesome video about "The Secret" « Rafael Marquez Online 07.03.10 at 12:30 pm

[...] Bill Harris sells something called “HoloSync” or maybe hollow stink??, that was required reading during the Death Ray seminars. Apparently, these $300 CDs that he sells are done much better by other people and they only charge $49. Harris also acts like a big d-bag. [...]

12 Peter 10.05.10 at 10:02 am

Hi,
I’ve never purchased any of Bill Harris’s material but from what I’ve seen he appears to be an ok guy.
It’s really easy to knock someone, especially if they’ve been successful.
What was your aim in knocking him in the first instance?
I’ve noticed it seems to be a none to subtle (although there is an attempt at coming across subtly) attempt to make a profit from a similar product you obviously have an affiliation with.

..and you get you your high horse in moralistic sounding way.

I guess there’s a chance this post may get deleted …somehow.

In a way you are aiming to benefit from his success by having the relevant keywords in your blog to attract people interested in this type of product, then going about bagging what Bill has to offer, and then diverting them to your own… affiliated product.

I hope people can see this, and you’re just trying to continue to make something bad out of him because he would prefer you stop doing this.

Anyway, why not just try being nicer or a little more considerate and less underhanded in your own approach. You probably wont attract any lawsuits that way, and may even sell something if its worth anyone’s while.

Stay well.

13 Peter 10.05.10 at 10:26 am

Just a follow up,
I realise its not you involved in the alleged lawsuit, but I have noticed you do knock Bills stuff in a “Commentary” type of way and use the tactics I mentioned to link to a similar product, I’ve read very little of Duffy’s stuff in reality but it appears it may have some humour in it…to an extent.
Yet there’s no real value to be gained in the discrediting of others.

14 Peter 10.05.10 at 10:44 am

In having said that, I retract the statement referring to you as underhanded…:) seems a bit strong. Lets say.. hmm..no metaphors come to mind, just a little more straightforward in the sales approach perhaps. but.. still the rest of it stands:) I understand its the way of blogging these days..but it seems like such an effort to put someone down who in reality has done nothing to you as an individual or anyone else that I can tell, except to ask.. or insist.. as the case may be… that someone not publish unnecessarily defamatory material about them.

I guess we’ll call the subject closed.. for me… I just felt like providing some feedback as it seems a little harsh on Bill. I think he has a right to respond and defend himself, or put into action something to prevent this type of thing if he chooses, regardless of how anyone else feels he “should” behave.

15 Tori Deaux 10.05.10 at 1:19 pm

Hi Peter,

First, I’ll say thanks for bringing a bit of energy back here; I may wind up turning that energy into a post, and finding my voice on the site again, which would be a good thing.

For now, a wee bit of a reply seems appropriate ;) You see, I can’t be more straight forward in my sales approach, because it isn’t a sales approach.

The point of this (old) post wasn’t to trash Bill, but to humorously cover the PR boondoggle of large-well-funded companies trying to silence the fair criticisms of bloggers with lawsuits.

At the time, there were other well-publicized examples of large companies trying to silence critical voices with lawsuits, too. Those stories didn’t fit with the topic of MindTweaks. This one did. So I covered it.

In other words, I was one of the rabid dogs (as mentioned in the post) raising a voice to declare that bloggers would not sit down and be quiet because a big company’s lawyer said so – and to point out ways that social media controversy can be turned to a company’s benefit. (I also had a lot of social media & marketing related traffic, at the time)

And no worries about the rabies, I’m all better now ;)

As for keywording? Yeah, it’s kind of strange. I’ve never, ever set out to rank well for Holosync. It’s the wrong target market for me, and I’m still a bit befuddled as to why MindTweaks ranks so well for it. But the Google Gods are crazy, and there it is. Someday I’ll figure out what to do with the traffic. I certainly won’t directly divert it to a competitor, because honestly, as a tactic? I agree that it stinks.

But my own ethics aside, if converting Holosync traffic to affiliate sales for other products had been my goal with this? I’ve failed horribly.

There are no alternative product links in this article, or in the comments. Yes, there are currently ads for entrainment products in the sidebar of *every* post here ( I can’t recall if they were in place when I wrote this – I move things around) Oh, and in the comment section of the only other post I have Holosync, I do mention multiple alternatives to people who specifically asked for alternatives. One of the alternatives is an affiliate, and I disclose it.

The sales conversion rate for the Holosync traffic? It’s somewhere in the range of .00001% or something – it’s so low, I can’t imagine how to calculate it.

So there you go. Rest assured I was not trying to sell you anything when I wrote this. Bill’s a strong marketer. I’m not. I’m really lousy at it. What I am is a writer, and I retain my right to speak up for freedom of speech, regardless of how anyone else feels I “should” behave ;)

16 Peter 10.05.10 at 8:35 pm

Yep, That’s cool.
Do as you please and see fit.
Express yourself well.
I’m sure you’ll continue to do that:)

It’s still seems a distinct thing in that other Holosync post.
I only saw one alternative of yours mentioned, twice, with no pointing out of it as an affiliate and honestly it just seemed to be tactic to get to mention an affiliate product in a round about way, whilst questioning Holosync’s marketing tactics.
I thought it worth pointing out, if you see what I mean.
There appears to be a little bit of irony in that.

I appreciate your reply.
I’ll check in occasionally on your other topics.

This article still seems blown out of proportion in knocking someone else for some reason. Although I understand your point completely, those type of litigious undertakings would quite possibly and most probably end up generating some form of bad press, the type that was initially hoped to be avoided, but it would of course depend on who was writing that press, along with why, how and where it was being written.

There is also what appears to be perhaps an ethical point to be considered, on Duff’s part, by posting correspondence with Bill Harris, that Bill had probably considered to be private. It’s a matter of opinion, yet it does make interesting reading and everyone learns as they go, even corporate CEO’s or people who have been meditating for years.
Blogger’s and everyone.

I think the main thing is that we actually do learn from experience and then adjust our behaviour or actions in accordance with that. It’s a personal thing.

Its too easy to put down people or point out a failing, when really we’re all just doing what we can :)

Stay well,
Peter

PS. I notice that I may have even improved your ranking for Bill Harris and Holosync by mentioning it several time here :p :)

17 Tori Deaux 10.05.10 at 9:34 pm

You’re right, I remembered wrong, there isn’t a disclosure in those comments – looking at dates, at least the first mention was before I was an affiliate (The link also doesn’t work. Sheesh.). I will go back and correct that, and likely add a disclosure statement to the posts.

Once I’ve done that, I’ll probably delete this discussion, with maybe a note about it. I don’t mind criticism, but this discussion will likely go wonky if it stays here long. (I’ve been down this road a few times)

Btw if you’re going to be improving my ranking for keywords… can’t you mention brain training, or brain fitness, or meditation instead? ;) I clearly suck at intentional SEO ;)

18 Anna 12.23.10 at 5:36 pm

You said it hun. I actually purchased one of the Holosync CD’s before I came up upon that blog in which Bill actually filed suit against someone’s OPINION. I stopped using holosync right then and there. Anyone who feels the need market that aggressively and tries so desperately to silence their critics can’t possibly have that much faith in the value of their product.

19 Anna 12.23.10 at 5:45 pm

Another thing people should know- Holosync has a locked web page that’s only accessible by password to those who’ve already purchased a CD. At the time I was a customer I went on this webpage and it had a section where they sold special headphones that capture low frequencies meant for the awakening levels and beyond. Well, on that page it specifically said that it was not possible to find these headphones for a cheaper price and that Holosync was able to offer them at these extra low prices because they are not in the electronics business. Now- since I myself have family in the electronics business this really confused me because the fact is that people in the business are usually able to offer it at lower prices BECAUSE they are in the electronics business; Because they focus on electronics they sell enough of the products that they can afford to lower the individual price and because of their contacts in the business. So I looked up the EXACT models of the headphones they were selling and tried shopping around for them online- and would you believe- Holosync who was claiming that these were unavailable anywhere else at a cheaper price was actually selling them at a whopping DOUBLE the price of almost every other place you could think of buying them. The EXACT SAME MAKE AND MODEL of the headphones. One of the models- a sony mdr-xb500 Holosync was selling for 120.00…. during that same time you could get them off of amazon for 65.00 and numourous other stores for anywhere between 60.00 & 85.00. This company is a scam. This was 2 years ago- but anyone unethical enough to sell equipment at double the price and at the same time claiming that they sell it cheaper than anyone else is not someone you want to give money to. This also led me to wonder if their higher levels (which are supposed to include subliminal messages in your own voice) also have subliminal recordings to get you to buy from them or trust in them or something. I can’t say that’s what they do of coarse because I don’t know. But putting these headphones on a page that ONLY those who have gone through some of the awakening prologue can get to leads me to wonder if they only want people who listen to this CD to have access to that rip-off page for a reason. I don’t remember the name of that blogger, but I remember when I read his account over Bill’s trying to silence him and I thank him for letting me see the truth about Bill and Holosync.

20 jo 01.24.11 at 11:19 pm

Thank you so much. I just ordered the first round of Holosync tapes. No where in the advertising did it say that their system included 11 more tapes at $292 per set. Wow! I’m on a fixed income.

When I called to ask a few question & discuss this misleading advertising the woman was rude & condescending. She repeatedly told me I did not have to buy the whole set. But i thought the whole set was $189.

Meditation tapes should be free/donation or a nominal fees to cover costs.—Not something for someone to get rich on. I’m totally disappointed. I now have my doubts that the program will Enlighten me!!

Can anyone recommend an affordable mediatation program??

21 Tori Deaux 01.26.11 at 7:00 pm

Hi Jo – Sorry you had such a bad experience.

As for meditation programs, I’ve long been a big fan of Bodhipaksa’s work at http://www.Wildmind.org
There is a huge amount of top notch free material there, including free real audio meditations, though it’s not as easy to find your way around the material as it used to be. I took one of his online courses years ago and found it very helpful, and own several of his CD’s.

Sharon Salzberg’s “Insight Meditation” kit is another good resource, available from Amazon among other sources :)

I don’t really consider entrainment programs like Holosync meditation, no matter what they call it – to me, meditation is a disciplined practice, not just a brainwave state. Still useful, but different!

22 Rod 02.27.11 at 7:47 am

Wow, nice article! I am dealing with a blogger/ article writer who tries to get my goat with his negativity and blog attacks. I will continue to resist the temptation to fire back and add fuel to his fire. Thanks a million for this article it has been a big help from keeping me from Pushing that button!

23 Sebastian 07.02.11 at 9:01 pm

I have read most of the articles and correspondence relevant to this Blog Vs Harris war and found both arguments to be humorous AND correct.
I know that Bill Harris does NOT claim to be enlightened and actually does not claim that Holosync will enlighten you.
An interesting phenonemon is that the majority of people in this world attribute meditation with enlightenment, hence the more you meditate, the closer to gaining enlightenment you will be.
For me and, I find, many others, it actually keeps the seeker of enlightenment further away from their goal- perpetually in the future- but sometimes, due to exhaustion or acceptance of the futility of effort, the mind will give up and… There ‘it’ is!!
I meditated for several years, found Holosync, heard the futility message, gave up Meditation/Holosync, found that everything basically stays the same, i.e. “Before enlightenment chop and carry wood; after enlightenment chop and carry wood” and was recently re-inspired to take up Holosync again. But this time with the perspective of the program being more like a fitness tool or Multi-Vitamin, as I really do see that it seems to increase energy and many other benefits seem possible for the discerning and appropriate user.
Therefore, at the end of the day, Centrepointe Research institute is a business. One that provides a Tool that may help some and repulse others. I used to really struggle defending the marketing strategies, and now see clearly that I don’t need to. As Bill said: (paraphrase) Buy it or don’t. I look past this idea that Bill Harris is a Guru or whatever and see that he is a business man and philanthropist (he does actually donate to great charities) who sells an interesting and potentially helpful product.
Thus, like the Dalai, he is HUMAN. Vulnerable to attack and interested in preserving his vocation and reputation. If he made a marketing mistake by threatening legal action against a blogger, that is yet to be seen and very subjective.

24 L.A. 06.15.13 at 5:12 pm

This conversation is old, but I thought I’d see if anyone is still reading it.
I was in the middle of Level 3 and nothing had happened. In fact, the wonderful and magical experiences I had been enjoying from my regular meditiaton practice had substantially diminished. I called Centerpointe asking about it and they informed me I was in a state of “overwhelm.” Which is one of their terms for a sort of chaos that one feels when the brain is entraining. And which was just not true. Then the other day I was talking to a friend who had hung out with Bill Harris at a seminar a couple of years ago. It was after dinner and he asked Bill “what, exactly, is on those CDs?” Bill said, point blank, “Nothing.” My friend David asked, “What do you mean?” And Bill again said “Nothing! There’s nothing on them.” and he laughed. Then he said, “But I have a pocket full of gold coins!” There you have it. I am disappointed — to say the least — I had paid over $1K for “Nothing.” Why isn’t his product investigated?

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