The confidence men: Inside Liverpool’s door-to-door marketing companies
You’re young, you’re eager to work, and there’s a job going. But what is it, exactly?
Star writer Jack Walton is taking the sea airs in Kent this week — but here at the Post HQ, we're still keeping the cogs turning. Today, we've got a juicy investigation from Jessica Bradley. If Jessica's name looks familiar, that's probably because you've read one of her pieces in the Guardian, the New Statesman, the BBC or the Independent. But this list of esteemed publications pales in comparison with the by-line Jessica's getting today: The Post.
Jessica has dug into the roles offered to graduates by two of Liverpool's door-to-door sales companies — read on for descriptions of lion-roaring your way to business success...reports of workers paying for their own Airbnbs on business trips...and sports marketing roles which have little to nothing to do with sports or marketing.
As is law on a Thursday, we have paywalled this twisty, turny feat of journalism for non-paying supporters of The Post part-way down. This is in the hope that the sliver of gorgeous longform you read might inspire you to level up to a glorious 16 editions a month and support a local paper. All for the cost of two pints a month — minus the mild-to-excruciating headache the next morning.
Editor’s note: In Jack’s absence, there will be no mini-briefing today. Please excuse this omission — normal service will resume soon!
By Jessica Bradley
“He went to the whiteboard and drew a diagram to explain that, if you work up to this level and train this many people, you’ll get more money… you could have literally drawn the pyramid around it.”
When Daniel was invited to an interview at ProMedia Direct in Liverpool city centre, he was hoping it would be the ticket out of his demanding call centre job. But he would soon realise he had unwittingly stumbled into the constellation of Liverpool’s door-to-door sales companies, a group of shapeshifting objects prone to vanishing into the galaxy when someone looks at them for too long.
ProMedia and the company it grew out of, Roar Ambition, are just two of a clutch of companies in Liverpool that seem to follow a similar business model. We’ve spoken to half a dozen former employees of these companies, who have told us about dishonest sales approaches, staff misled over wages and bizarre corporate practices.
“Like the lion is the King of the Jungle, Roar Ambition aims to be king of the sales world,” states the Facebook page of Roar Ambition, one of the most high profile companies in this free-wheeling sector. Set up in 2018 by business graduate Jamie Talbot, who, according to his LinkedIn, “aspires to be self made like Richard Branson and Simon Cowell”, Roar has achieved quite the reputation in its short life.
There are countless posts dedicated to the company on the social media forum Reddit, mostly written by graduates who have interviewed at the firm, only to be met by a barrage of comments from online posters saying things like: “Avoid, avoid, avoid!”. Or: “please stay away”. Or: “It's a weird cult like scam with a fetish for lions.”
When we asked Talbot and his managing director Fionntan Larkin (who went on to found ProMedia) to comment on the specific claims we present in this story, Talbot declined to do so, recommending that we “look for a story for [sic] something positive to publish rather than looking for something negative in an economy with already enough negatives around”. Larkin denied many of the allegations we are reporting, telling The Post that his company operates by high ethical standards and does not mislead its employees or customers. He added that some of his staff earn very well and raise large sums of money for charity.
Many of the details and anecdotes to follow are comic, but these companies — according to the accounts we have heard — appear to be misleading some young people. These might be the naive grads fresh out of university desperate for a half-decent salary who sign up to work for them, or the people — sometimes in the poorest parts of Liverpool — whose doors they end up knocking on to deliver misleading sales pitches.
In 2020 a Daily Mail investigation exposed Talbot’s operation for using deceitful business practices, including pretending that renowned money saving expert Martin Lewis had endorsed a specific energy provider, in an attempt to get customers to switch. “It's deeply frustrating that these salespeople try to leech off my reputation to flog their wares,” Lewis responded.
Whatever Lewis thinks, Talbot seems to have done well for himself. Born in Stafford, he’s claimed to earn up to £250,000 a year and by all accounts enjoys a lavish lifestyle. In various Instagram posts he can be seen flyboarding in the Maldives, fine dining in Dubai, paddling in the Bahamas and zooming in and out on expensive watches.
But what are young job-hunters expecting when they apply for one of his jobs? One lingering but long expired job ad for Roar Ambition says that its “graduate management training programme” offers “a great rewards package, flexible self-employment, regular travel opportunities, and flexible working hours and holidays”. Amy, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity and whose name we have changed, interviewed at Roar when she was 16, when she describes herself as “naive”. She assumed the role she had applied for was a general admin job.
At the interview, Amy found herself in an oddly under-furnished office — except the reception desk she signed in at and the sofa she was sitting on, all she could see were “weird lion pictures” on the walls. She came out of her interview with Talbot no less confused. “He asked me what my favourite animal and I said ‘lion’, just because it seemed like the right answer,” she says.