Friday, February 19, 2010

Beware of Fake Awards

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Here's a story that, for sheer weight of irony, I wish like anything I'd been the one to break. But author and publisher Michael N. Marcus beat me to it, in a recent post on his Book Making blog.

Everyone loves an award, right? Awards acknowledge excellence and achievement, raise the profile of the awardee, and garner the respect of peers (that's the theory, anyway). There are plenty of big prestigious awards whose names everyone recognizes, and lots of small, semi-prestigious awards that may be recognizable only within a particular niche or audience, and vast numbers of tiny, all-but-invisible awards that may make you feel good, but will provoke stares of incomprehension if you mention them to someone else.

There are also--you guessed it--vanity awards, where the goal isn't to recognize excellence, but to entice entrants or winners to hand over cash to the awards sponsors.

For instance, the awards given by the Small Business Commerce Association, which honor "businesses that we believe have achieved exceptional success in their local community." Sounds cool, right? Wrong. Like the infamous, and now-defunct, Poetry.com scheme, the aim of the SBCA awards is to identify thousands of "winners," and persuade them to buy stuff: in this case, plaques and trophies. In its own form of award, the BBB gives the SBCA a C-, based on the questions it has received about the business, and the company's failure to respond.

You'd think it would be transparently obvious that an awards program that makes you buy your own trophy is not legit. And many people are wise to this kind of ploy--if you Google the SBCA, you'll find much angry, bemused, and amused discussion. But these schemes wouldn't exist if they didn't work at least some of the time. The same websearch turns up plenty of happy suckers.

Including, as it happens, Outskirts Press--a self-publishing service/vanity publisher whose put-your-book-cover-on-a-stamp "promotional" service I made fun of a few months back. A sharp-eyed Michael Marcus--who is familiar with the SBCA, having been solicited for one of its fake awards himself--recently spotted a December press release from press-release-happy Outskirts, touting its receipt of a 2009 Best of Business Award from the SBCA. I couldn't put it better than Mr. Marcus does:
The number of news media that published the Outskirts press release is ONE.

Oops! I'm sorry, folks, but the number should probably be ZERO.

That alleged news medium that published the press release, called Self Publishing News, is actually a blog produced by (drum roll please) Outskirts Press.

So, we have a vanity publisher, using its own vanity blog to publish a vanity press release bragging about a vanity trophy.

I couldn't make this up.
No, indeed.

Even funnier: It seems this isn't the first time Outskirts has been hornswoggled by a fake award. Last August, another press release announced Outskirts' receipt of the 2009 Best of Parker Award from the U.S. Commerce Association. The BBB has received questions about the U.S. Commerce Association similar to those they've been receiving about the SBCA, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that, like the endlessly proliferating Who's Who schemes, these very similar "awards" are in fact run by the same people. Check out, for instance, the nearly identical descriptions of the awards programs on the two organizations'  websites. From the SBCA:
Each year, the SBCA identifies businesses that we believe have achieved exceptional success in their local community...Nominees are typically local businesses that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

And from the USCA:
Each year, the USCA identifies companies that they believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

The USCA is currently being sued by a Las Vegas company for trademark infringement.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

21 comments:

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

Are you certain they were fooled? It's entirely possibly that they know the award is bogus but are banking on people that they scam not knowing it. People looking for a publisher will google them, see them credited with a legit-sounding award complete with press-releases and a write-up, and go, "Oh, this one must not be a scam. They must be legit. Look, they've received rewards and everything."

That's my cynical spin on things, anyway.

Keep up the good work, Victoria.

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

I think it's quite possible they didn't know, were just as happy about being accepted for an award because they could use it in there 'we're legit!' hoopla, as authors who fall for vanity schemes. Maybe it's karma at work.

Either way, sometimes life really IS stranger than fiction.

Project Savior said...

Now I'm wondering if when my cat gave me the "World's Greatest Human" award she was just looking for tuna and an ear rub. She tricked me with that one.
Although the award she gave me probably has more weight in the publishing world than the one you mention.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I thought it was funny when I got a letter from one of these companies saying my business had won an award. I took out a business license and that's it. No business actually started.

S.M. Carrière said...

Thanks Victoria!

That was the best giggle of my morning. A vanity award for a vanity publisher.

I remember the whole poetry.com thing. I had signed up and was thrilled to have "won an award" for one of my pieces, only to discover that in order to claim the award, I'd have to buy it. Buy my own copy of the book it was published in, buy my own trophy....

I was not impressed, and didn't buy into any of it. Phew!

Sorry, that was off topic. I think Lori has a good point. In the business that they are, couldn't they have figured it was a scam and simply used it to make themselves seem more legit?

JaxPop said...

And if Outskirts Press gets your email addess - you get the endless stream of junk mail - always proclaiming their award winning awesomness. I've complained to them several times for more than a year - still get their crap. They are definitely obnoxious but, then again, maybe they can't read.

I don't have a problem with all POD companies - went that route myself for my own reasons & purpose. At least I approached the process with my eyes open & with expectations that were realistic.

LivelyClamor said...

Too funny!
I got two plaques for my solo law practice from an outfit like that, for free, the first two years I was in business. I accepted them warmly, with a huge grain of salt, and they are gathering dust on a shelf in a room nobody notices they are in!

I haven't heard from them in the succeeding eleven years...

Sharon Mayhew said...

Good eye opener here, Victoria! I would have never considered awards turning out to be scams. :(

Anonymous said...

Those two blurbs at the end of the post would almost make me think those associations are run by the same person, or am I totally paranoid?

behlerblog said...

I fell out of my chair laughing. I get those emails all the time. They're quite clever because they personalize it so that it reads as though it's coming from our local Chamber of Commerce.

Anyone who thinks they're real is a sentence shy of a paragraph.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Totally funny. Oh the irony! Ashame there are so many of these scammers you have to watch out for though.

Outskirts Press said...

Thank you, Victoria. You’re right, this is good research and valuable information, which Outskirts Press will use and share with others who may be less than fully informed of these apparent types of awards.

You run a very helpful blog for all of us in the publishing industry. Keep up the good work. It is much appreciated.

Eletruk said...

I just got a notification from SBCA for my "business" which actually was a virtual store front which expired almost 10 years ago. I wonder what records these guys are trolling to get such outdated information?

Anonymous said...

I received the email stating I won the SBCA Community award in my area. The funniest part is it was for Hair Salon business which I have never owned or been a part of at any time! HAHA

Rich Thurman said...

I always find it interesting what people take the time to post about on the internet. To set the record straight, the Small Business Community Association awards are not fake and there are no costs or obligations to accept a nomination or award. However, there is an upgrade package that is available for the business owner that is savvy and understands the benefits of business awards. In 2010, we gathered government data on businesses across the US an generated three profiles: Businesses that we felt were likely struggling given the state of the economy, business that we felt are doing very well and can provide feedback to the rest of the community on what is working well for them, and finally entities such as charities that are in a great position to raise awareness about the SBCA Community website.
The Small Business Community Association is dedicated to collecting and organizing information, training, and services that are vital to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and anyone else that needs help running a business, operating a business, or wants to know how to start a business.
The mission of the SBCA Community is to promote a vibrant and growing small business community, support education that will preserve and extend the future of small business and use our gifts within the small business community to serve others for the betterment of our world.
The SBCA Community vision is to enthusiastically advance small businesses in three key areas:

1. Growth– To assure a vibrant and growing small business community, our goal is to introduce, engage and mature the next generation of small business owners.

2. Advocacy–We feel it is fundamental to support education and action outside the small business community that will preserve and extend the future of small businesses.

3. Compassion–We believe it is essential that we use our gifts within the small business community to serve others for the betterment of our communities and world.

Tacoma Homes Information said...

What should make us all mad is not the exploitation of the gullible and innocent by SBCA (Thurman's remarks are laughable), but the fact that the states that handle business incorporations ARE SELLING THE INFORMATION to scammers like this.
SBCA didn't dig up your information by going through your trashcan. They bought a list from each state that they market to...or they bought a mega-list from a list company. I saw an offer for 35,000,000 business names, addresses and some emails that you can buy for $299. The scam can only exist while our information is being sold.

Anonymous said...

SBCA puts up a nifty-looking website, but in my view it's entirely bogus (Mr. Thurman's defense notwithstanding). His "reminder" to come collect my award for small business excellence was delivered to my work email address ... at one of the 50 largest companies in the U.S. That's not "small", nor do I own it - I'm just a cog among tens of thousands employees. SBCA is a laugh, but they put up a good front. I might have bought the award just for laughs if that didn't also support SBCA.

Anonymous said...

Gee what is the big deal? Why are so many people in this blog/thread so critical of the St. Bernard Club of America? Are they that bad?

Anonymous said...

When businesses know the "award" is a scam then they in turn are scamming the public and cheating their competitors of a level playing field. Come to think of it even if they don't know it is a scam they are still scamming the public and cheating their competitors of a level playing field.

Anonymous said...

Rich Thurman is still sending emails - 11/13. Cheaper to print the award yourself - same as getting it from sbca....

Anonymous said...

As of December 19, 2013 Rich Thurman is now sending these emails as SmallBusinessCommunity.org