emails prove dan price made insider deals with inc. magazine in a concerted effort to eclipse unfavorable press
Hundred Eighty Degrees has discovered that, in a stunning example of bravado and unethical quid pro quo, Price and his marketing team engaged in a media manipulation scheme to eclipse negative coverage stemming from domestic violence allegations and a lawsuit with Price's own brother.
JULY 25, 2016
LOS ANGELES - Dan Price is the CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company based in Seattle. Price fueled a media frenzy in April of 2015 by crafting a very public announcement during which he announced to his 120 staffers that the company'sminimum wage would rise to a hefty $70,000. The 32-year-old entrepreneur soon soared into the celebrity stratosphere, thanks in large part to a vast and ceaseless bastion of media offers, including primetime TV interviews, spreads in iconic print and digital publications, a major talent deal, a book deal and lucrative speaking engagements worldwide.
By January of 2016, however, Hundred Eighty Degrees released a 6-month investigation which illustrated how Price engineered a 10-year, $100MM+ fraud scheme that leveraged some of the world's leading financial giants and thousands of small businesses. Hundred Eighty Degrees disclosed how, for years, Price had issued a steady stream of untruths about his business practices and personal life underscored by a copious amount of media coverage that largely failed to address his duplicity. In fact, media en masse willfully painted Price with broad and unabashedly glowing brushstrokes.
In December of 2015, Bloomberg Businessweek released a piece implying that Price may have had ulterior motives for his wage hike and may have also beaten Kristie Colón, his former wife. Geekwire followed up on Bloomberg's report, revealing that Price lied about his intentions to use personal assets to supplement Gravity as it transitioned through the revenue-challenging wage hike. Geekwire also reported that a video of Colón mentioning her abuse during a TEDx talk was willfully destroyed by the University of Kentucky. Hundred Eighty Degrees discovered that Price and his legal team actually dangled a defamation action against the University of Kentucky, thereby leading to the suppression of said video evidence. In addition, we contacted Penguin Random House - the publisher who paid $500,000 for the rights to Price's book - for comment about our fraud findings, and though PRH never responded, they did withdraw their book deal. Whether the two are in any way related is remains unknown.
Following an anonymous tip, Hundred Eighty Degrees discovered a series of yet undisclosed emails between Price (or his marketing team) and media, including the President and editor in chief of Inc., and one of his writers. One other email is sent by Price to Patti Cohen, the veteran New York Times journalist who broke the wage hike story.
Inc. Magazine was founded in 1979. Today, the multi-media platform is widely known for its Inc. 500 / 5000 lists as well as articles focusing on America's emerging companies and their best practices. Inc. has entertained a particularly curious engagement with Price over previous years. Its cover story on Price titled "Is This the Best Boss in America" is only one example in a long list of coverage proactively bestowed upon him. Inc. writer, Paul Keegan, has been especially effusive in both his praise and defense of Price, despite any and all reports that illustrate Price's questionable character or operational tactics. Keegan and Inc. have ignored allegations made by Hundred Eighty Degrees and outright disputed those made by other media outlets. After reading our investigation, Inc. chief, Eric Schurenberg, sent an email to us merely stating,
"Thanks. Amazing. I’ve now seen the Geekwire piece, too, and Gravity’s seemingly pre-emptive response. Hard hitting, exhaustive piece. How did you afford to spend four months investigating this guy?"
Keegan has penned nine pieces on Price in less than a year. Inc. has covered him in print or video 21 times and counting during that same period. Price has been given four video segments in Inc.'s high-profile series titled "The Playbook." He was also Inc.'s keynote speaker at their renowned annual conference.
Keegan has described Price as such...
"Dan Price caused a media firestorm by establishing a $70,000 minimum wage at his Seattle company, Gravity Payments... before Hollywood agents, reality-show producers, and book publishers began throwing elbows for a piece of the hip, 31-year-old entrepreneur with the shoulder-length hair and Brad Pitt looks."
"It doesn't hurt that the 31-year-old man delivering these lines, with his beard, shoulder-length hair and matinee-idol looks, suggests a hip, modern version of another revolutionary who threw money-changers out of the temple a couple thousand years ago."
"Thus began Price's transformation from classic entrepreneur to crusader against income inequality, set on fundamentally changing the way America does business."
"Price had not only struck a nerve; he had also turbocharged a debate now raging across the American landscape, from presidential forums to barrooms to fast-food restaurants."
"Until Price dropped his wage bomb, much of that debate was punditry. He gave it a name and a face: a modern Robin Hood helping the working class by stealing from himself --"
"In fact, the biggest threat to Price's company isn't his strategy; it's his brother [Lucas]."
"...the Businessweek story concluded, "The lawsuit couldn't have been prompted by the pay raise--if anything, it may have been the other way around. After all, Price announced his magnanimous act a month after his brother sued him for, in essence, being greedy. Lowering his pay could give Price negotiating leverage, too." That scenario is a possibility that Inc. considered and rejected as far-fetched. Nothing in the Businessweek story alters our judgment."
"Inc. will not address allegations in the Businessweek article from Price's ex-wife, Kristie Colón... She did not challenge the story's characterization of her marriage to Dan as ending "amicably." In fact, blog posts written by Colón before and at the time of the divorce lend considerable credence to this characterization."
These are just a few of many examples whereby Keegan either anointed Price in some manner or rushed to his aid to somehow stem an unfavorable tide. Keegan even went so far as to proactively promote Price's then coming appearance on a PBS broadcast about salary transparency (show aired in May). Google "Dan Price," and Keegan's laudatory piece titled "Here's What Really Happened at That Company That Set a $70,000 Minimum Wage" ranks #1 and has for over a year.
Inc. charges anywhere from $23,000 to $180,000 for print advertising space and upwards of $200+ for digital space per thousand impressions. The magazine circulation is over 700k while annual web traffic is nearly 24 million. Based on these numbers, the nearly two dozen gratis pieces on Price within one year would likely leave regular advertisers writhing over such favoritism.
Most startling, however, is that this ongoing media romance between Inc. and Price is by design, as attested to by the below emails. Not only does Inc. agree to offer Price reverential if not wholly biased treatment so that he can weather any and all naysayers, including Hundred Eighty Degrees, Geekwire and Bloomberg, but Keegan actually goes so far as to ask Price to employ him.
Keegan calls himself "a journalist with three decades of experience," yet this quid pro quo arrangement with Price is anything but journalism and closely akin to nepotism, or far worse. Price's right hand men, Emery Wager and Ryan Pirkle, tell Keegan that they "trust him to write a fair piece, but someone will ignore half of the facts and write a derivative piece that is unfair." This back and forth over months enlists Keegan and Inc. as devoted foot soldiers to carry out Price's marching orders in exchange for a slightly open back door to the inner workings at Gravity; a highly imbalanced courtship, to say the least.
Having engaged Gravity Payments over 10 months, including intimate discussions with Pirkle and Wager, Hundred Eighty Degrees is well aware of the PR machine that Price has carefully crafted. Gravity's manipulation of traditional media relations practices is just as effective as it is unscrupulous. Nearly a dozen former employees that have dialoged with Hundred Eighty Degrees have corroborated the idea that Price has built a take-no-prisoners public relations effort to sustain his public mantle and obscure his private infamy.
An apt example is the remarkable act of audacity and damage control seen below in which Price contacts Cohen of The New York Times to sway her from doing a hatchet job on him or Gravity. Also, Wager literally bribes Keegan to "help even out the risks for us [Gravity]" by offering pull quotes for Keegan's article in exchange for a sizable future article in the print edition of the magazine, favorable copy in future articles and, to top it all off, a guaranteed paid speaking arrangement at future Inc. events.
Big media publishers traditionally separate advertising services from content services. Advertising fees sustain their valuable print or digital real estate operations. Perhaps more importantly, such ad dollars are not supposed to influence coverage or otherwise create a favorable content bias toward those who advertise. Lines have been blurred since the advent of cable news operations like FOX or MSNBC and the growing trend toward "branded content." However, such platforms and tactics are overt means that consumers and advertisers have come to embrace, for better or worse. That said, the agenda struck between Price and Inc. is extraordinarily dubious due to its secretive and prejudicial nature and the offense afforded to paid advertisers who do not receive such untoward "benefits." This gross distortion of duty dismantles public trust of news and information organizations and justly vilifies the businesses with whom they engage in such nefarious practices, such as Gravity Payments.
It is critical to note, that some emails between Inc. and Price refer to an "internal investigation" at Gravity Payments. Hundred Eighty Degrees is currently attempting to determine the nature of such an investigation and if it correlates to the fraud scheme unearthed herein. Inc. agreed to keep the matter out of public purview in exchange for first-look documents and other information that Price and company deemed acceptable for disclosure.
Keegan, Schurenberg, Cohen and others have been contacted for comment but have yet to reply.