News & Views

How to Spot a Pay-to-Play Hoax in Economic Development

Enterprises TV

In DCI’s work in economic development media relations we’re often contacted by our clients in search of insight into media outlets they’ve never heard of before, reaching out with seemingly amazing opportunities. From our perspective, this is an immediate RED FLAG. In the midst of all the challenges in today’s media marketplace, pay-to-play media opportunities are becoming more common each day.

Pay-to-play media models are by no means new to the industry – where printed editorial coverage comes with the expectation of ad buys or broadcast segments are produced with a ‘surprise’ price tag late in the ball game, turning a seemingly earned media opportunity into an advertisement with the snap of a finger. These days, though, these “wolves” of the world of earned media, prying on our desires for big client successes, are disguised more and more within modern “sheep’s clothing.”

Our DCI team has spent a lot of time collecting, vetting, and documenting exactly which media opportunities have fallen into this pay-to-play model in disguise, and we’re finding a higher and higher frequency of this type of opportunity – especially within our economic development sector and particularly offered within the broadcast format. Here are just a few examples of these broadcast outlets, or programs, that almost crept past the watchful eyes of our team and our clients’ as of late:

o   Larry King’s “In View” TV Series

o   “Today in America” with Terry Bradshaw

o   Enterprises TV, production company

Since it’s often hard to see these scams coming, and in an effort to save us all the time wasted in the vetting process, here are a few common trends we’ve see within these ‘opportunities:’

  • Celebrity B-Listers Find a Second Career – Whether these celebrities are actually attached to these projects, we can’t be sure, but what we can be sure of, is that their name is being used as a means to entice us. Producers and content developers often note celebrity hosts in the subject line or in a high profile position within their outreach – such as the iconic voice of James Earl Jones or football legend Terry Bradshaw – as a means to bring credibility to the offer. Truth-be-told, though, seeing a celebrity name attached to an area well outside their wheelhouse might be one of the easiest ways to identify the pay-to-play model.
  • All Signs Point to Florida – Unbeknownst to us why, these pay-to-play providers often seem to be based in the sunny State of Florida. Florida’s state laws might be more accommodating to these businesses, or pay-to-play providers just have a high affinity for Mickey Mouse, but either way, when you see that Florida address in the signature of a production company email, make sure to take an extra look before proceeding.
  • Generic, Generic, Generic – In pay-to-play programming, evidently vagueness rules. With program titles like “Discover America,” “Communities of Distinction,” Building a Sustainable Future,” or “In America TV,” you should be especially cautious when the program and its mission sound open-ended and lack in clarity. If a broadcast opportunity comes your way from an unrecognizable outlet or a very specific story request, chances are, you’re in for a rather hefty price tag.
  • You’ve Won! – Another common tactic used by these scammers comes in the form of award notifications. Keep an eye out for “You’ve Won XXXXX, Now Join us at XXXX” notifications, as these folks are simply trying to flatter you into your spending. If an organization you’ve never hear of is awarding you with a prize you’ve never heard of, the legitimacy is likely nil, so be sure to save your time and simply hit ‘delete.’
  • You’re Probably Not the First – When you’re suspicious of an opportunity, also make sure to go online and search for it. Chances are you’re not the first organization to have been contacted, and with sites online like Snopes, Wikipedia, and more, you’ll very likely find that those before you (probably the ones who first fell for the scam) have gone online in an effort to warn you about the costs and lack of legitimacy of the supposed opportunity. So oftentimes, just one quick search can end your concern.

Remember, earned media should never come with direct costs. You may pay an agency or consultant fees for their time to help you earn the media, or even expenses for a freelance reporter’s efforts, but the end product should always be cost free and the outlet should never receive a check in its name. Always make sure you consult your communications team or your agency of record when receiving an offer that looks anything like those above.

That’s where DCI’s value really comes in – we’ve “heard it all” and we can save you lots of time as you sift through these countless offers. Our firm works hard to earn our clients high quality, editorialized press coverage through our media relations services, and legitimacy is core to our business model.

So keep your eyes peeled, and your expectations high in your work with the media, and let us know if we can help.


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