Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Over the past few days I've gotten a number of inquiries from authors wondering about the reputation of a PR firm called The Albee Agency. Albee bills itself as
[A] new breed of book publicists-
We offer a proven track record… we have a global reach, we provide individual personal service and our staff is diverse and highly qualified to assist you in all your publicity and marketing needs. We combine know how with cost effectiveness and provide a personal service .. our goal is to be your partner! Plain and Simple.
Sounds good, right? Well, as along as you overlook the sketchy punctuation and some odd capitalization. But not so fast. There are some red flags here (and some much worse stuff as well, but I'll get to that in a bit).

- No substantive info on the staff's credentials. Albee's "About Us" page provides some vague verbiage on the company's founder, Mike Albee (and no one else), but doesn't say what might actually have qualified Mike to start a PR agency. This is something you really need to know, because the Internet is awash in amateurs providing services that should only be delivered by professionals.

- Claims of success, but no examples. Supposedly Albee's clients have appeared on all kinds of national media (as opposed to an AM radio show in Podunk, Iowa at 3:00 in the morning)--but there are no specific examples or sample campaigns on the website, so there's no way to verify these claims.

- I smell spam. Albee's "campaign examples" include a pretty standard mix of what I call "junk PR": mass-mail style publicity ("We deliver your book announcement to 250,000 opt-in book news subscribers"--who are likely simply to hit the "delete" button, if their spam filters don't snag it first), tasks you can easily do yourself (setting up Facebook and Twitter profiles--the mystique with which these things are often invested is really absurd), and activities that are of dubious value in marketing a book (SEO optimization).

This is all stuff that sounds good in theory (if you don't know better, that is), delivers little in practice, and is a profit generator for the provider because it costs so little to implement. This is not to say that reputable PR firms don't provide these kinds of services--they do. But they don't rely on them primarily or exclusively.

Also, because the PR provider can make a nice chunk of money with a relatively small markup, junk PR can present a completely misleading semblance of cost-effectiveness. Although not in this case. No prices are mentioned on Albee's website, but I've heard from clients that services run around $2,000 per month. Not exactly chump change.

- The testimonials. Ah, the testimonials. This is where we get to the meat of the matter.

When I'm researching a website, I always vet the testimonials, because they can be, you know, fake. The very first Albee testimonial I checked caused warning bells to ring. (I'm providing screenshots below, rather than links--partly because the Albee website cycles content, so you won't necessarily get to the same page I did--and partly because I suspect the Albee website will shortly be changing.)

Take, for instance, this glowing praise from Amanda Keeling, author of Princess Story, Sheryl Reynolds, author of Free Admission, Stemphanie (no, that's not a typo) Lambert, "New York Times Best Selling Author," and Gene Sidow, author of Max Freeshot. Just one problem: I could find no evidence that either the authors or their books exist.


Now, these are all authors I'd never heard of before. Maybe their books never got published, or went out of print, or something. Maybe my Google-fu was just not up to par. But wait--here's an author I do know: Chuck Wendig (if you're not familiar with his blog, you should get to know it). Wow, Chuck really had a great experience with Albee, didn't he?


However, I have a suspicious mind. So I dropped Chuck a line, asking if he'd indeed hired The Albee Agency to do PR for him. His response:


Author Myke Cole also apparently luuuurves The Albee Agency:


And author Maureen Johnson is SUCH a fan:


However, their testimonials are no more authentic:



I haven't heard back yet from other authors I contacted, but I'm sure their response will be the same.

So....fake testimonials. Nonexistent authors; authors quoted without permission. There are no gray areas here: The Albee Agency is engaging in fraudulent behavior. This just emphasizes--as if y'all didn't already know--that writers need to watch out for scams.

The bigger point, though, is that even without the fake testimonials, there is plenty to beware of here. If Albee were absolutely, scrupulously honest about the authors it has worked with, it would still be offering services of dubious value for too much money, with no assurance of professional expertise.

And that, my friends, is a much bigger danger these days than an outright, bona-fide scam.

(Note: I emailed Chuck Wendig just before 3:00 this afternoon. By around 5:30, when I'd finished and proofed this post--which took me some time because of screenshotting and double-checking--most of the fake testimonials had vanished from Albee's website. The only testimonials that appear now are from Barry Krusch (who actually seems to exist) and "Suzie Plackson" (she seems to be real also, albeit with a different spelling.)

Edited 1/13/13 to add: The Albee Agency--which, amazingly, is still in business--now appears to be claiming that this and other blog posts about its attempts to hoodwink the public with false testimonials were "faked and paid for by a competitor" (presumably, Smith Publicity--see the comments to this post).

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another telltale sign: in November, Mike Albee tweeted, "Just booked one of my authors for an interview on Fox News. Woohoo!"

Wouldn't a REAL publicist say, "Just booked [author's name] on [name of show] at [day/time] for an interview about [title of book]." You know, information that further PROMOTES the book? (Even if the day/time/program name was still to be determined--and if so, why tweet about it--you should at least throw out the name of your author and the book.

BuffySquirrel said...

Did they really nobody would check? Or that nobody would look? Or that authors don't google themselves...?

BuffySquirrel said...

+think

dbschlosser said...

Also worth noting that the photo of "Stemphanie (no, that's not a typo) Lambert" in your screen shot is Hallie Ephron's publicity head shot.

Suziw said...

Sounds like someone is trying to scam Indie Authors. Stated they have been in business since 2005 but only has a handful of blog post, with a FB page created last month. Major scam artist at work here.

Victoria Strauss said...

dbschlosser, good catch! I figured those photos (which are also all gone from the website now) had to be fake.

Victoria Strauss said...

Suziw, you're right on the money. WHOIS info shows that Albee's URL was registered in July 2012.

Lorane Leavy said...

As me saintly father used to say, "You live, you learn, and you die stupid." - Joseph B. Grocki, father of Lorane G. Leavy. . . .

Lorane Leavy said...

Is there a dark significance in that 'trashcan' icon? My Dad never went to college, but there's a world of difference between 'education' and 'intelligence'. DO explain the icon. Don't get out much. Lorane. . . .
(BLOGGER: Last Seen Wearing Thin)

Lorane Leavy said...

Or not.

Victoria Strauss said...

The power of Twitter and Writer Beware! Albee's website now has no Testimonials section at all. Barry's and Suzie's testimonials remain scattered through the site, but their last names have been removed and replaced with initials.

C. M. Albrecht said...

Thanks Victoria for your continued interest in making this a better world for people who write. To me, this stuff borders on felony.
http://cm-albrecht.webs.com

Anonymous said...

Suzie Plakson? As in, my teenage obsessive Trekkie wonders, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzie_Plakson? I wonder if she knows...

N. Byran said...

It took a bit of digging, but the location office described in the "About Us" section on the website? The "110 year old General Store" in Villa Grande, CA? Yeah, about that—like the testimonials, the place exists, but it has nothing to do which any publicity company. It apparently became a private residence in 2011, and is still used for some local events and tours today. The store actually has some interesting history to it, but that’s neither here nor there.

I suppose our Albee friend *could* own the location, seeing as mail does go to a PO box within Villa Grande, but it's far more likely he wanted a place that sounded exotic, yet wasn't particularly well known elsewhere in the world, in order to paint a serene picture that anyone other than me would even think to check the location of.

It's a minor when compared to the fake testimonials, but it's sort of amusing that even buildings aren't safe from false representation in this company.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that Carlos Ruiz Zafón would be happy to know that Max Slater, whoever he is, wrote Shadow of the wind. Odd.

Thom Reece said...

Great bit of reporting! Thanks for posting this. It's hard to imagine that the scammers can be so bold... but, I suppose they are fooling a lot of folks and stealing a lot of money. I posted this to my FB Page @
http://www.BooksByThomReece.com to spread the word.

Rosanne Dingli said...

A few of my colleagues and I discussed this firm on Facebook and elsewhere with the same conclusions, Victoria.

What surprised me was not the ease of setting up such an operation, or the slickness of the fakery, but the willingness of some new authors to part with their money without two minutes of armchair research.

Victoria Strauss said...

On this post at another location, I received the following comment from Dan Smith of Smith Publicity:

"Albee’s website consisted of content that was at least 60% taken directly from my company website, www.SmithPublicity.com. I mean, literally, word-for-word, just changing out my company name. Testimonials he previously had on his site were testimonials from clients of my company! He just put a fake author name and book to actual testimonial.

Unbelievably, he also had listed on his LinkedIn profile that he had worked for me for 10 years — I of course had never heard of him.

I had a pointed conversation with a woman who identified herself as “Vice President” of the Albee Agency. Since that conversation, much — but not all — of the website content he stole from my company website has been removed, and he removed his fake employment with my company from LinkedIn. I do have many screenshots of the content he previously used."

Fred L Tate said...

Actually, while it may not be a felony, any author whose name is used without their permission in a fraud can successfully sue the perpetrators of the fraud; especially when the fraud is this obvious.

Christina Fifield-Winn said...

Nice catch and CHEERS to our big heart for exposing that fraud. Indie authors work way too hard to be taken advantage of in this way.

Christina Fifield-Winn said...

+YOUR
Damn broken "Y" key..see? give us poor indie authors a break!

Morgen said...

Once again, you provide timely information and do the footwork for us. Thank you, Victoria!

Becky said...

Susie Plackson is an actress!!!Not an author! Btw, hi, A. C. Great blig!

Anonymous said...

No! You all misunderstand. It's just a typo. They said 'publicity agency' when they meant 'duplicity agency'. Coulda happened to anyone...

Anonymous said...

Article about the Albee scam in today's NY Daily News:
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/small-businesses-protect-web-copycats-steal-site-content-article-1.1239301?localLinksEnabled=false

Anonymous said...

Is there any more news about Albee? His phone number does not work. Has any writers complained about his service? Has any writer come up and said that he helped them? Wondering if he has helped anyone?

Dan Smith said...

Albee has shut down his old fraud agency and started a new fraud publicity firm, Sandpiper Publicity. Writers beware!

Victoria Strauss said...

Dan--

I checked the Sandpiper site. It's similar to Albee's (with the same warning signs that I identified in my post) but not identical. Why do you think Albee (or whatever his real name is) is behind it?

Anonymous said...

I had a publicist who didn't show up when I was filming my project, editing & creating a movie trailer as witness. And she (Jea@inpromos.com) blogged that I'm forging my way to Hollywood. So be careful when you're paying a fake publicist. Do your research before hiring & working with a publicist.