Entrepreneur's Publicity Stunt Could Cost Him Admission to Harvard

Last Updated Aug 16, 2011 11:38 AM EDT

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 recently sent out a news release 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 page on Facebook, the social networking site, to ask people to vote on whether he should attend Harvard or stay with his business--providing an Aug. 30th deadline for users to render their opinions. 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 not 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.

What do you think?

Related Reading: image courtesy of flickr user, Patricia Drury
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    John Byrne is the editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants.com and PoetsandQuantsforExecs.com. A former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and Fast Company magazine, Byrne also is the author or co-author of eight books on business, including two national bestsellers. Follow him on Twitter.

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