It’s been nearly two years since I authored my first article outlining the top four pay-to-play scams in tech PR. Amazingly, all four of the swindles at the core of my argument continue to exist:

  • CIO Review still has its awards;
  • PR flacks that “guarantee” Tier 1 media placements may be getting more popular and not less;
  • Rob Lowe’s “TV show” The Success Files lives on (I still have not met a single person who has seen an episode);
  • The Forbes Technology Council continues to solicit contributors.

Unsurprisingly, my classification of the Forbes Technology Council (FTC) – an overpriced advertorial medium with salespeople masquerading as editors, without the search and share value of LinkedIn’s publishing platform, and offering no social syndication – generated the most pushback. Even to this day, when tech marketers read my blog for the first time, they’ll often ask me why I’m so bearish about paying for a byline under the Forbes umbrella. After all, it’s Forbes, right?

My main issue with FTC (yes, I have more than one issue, but we’ll focus here) is and has always been, that despite the hefty price tag, the outlet intentionally limits the SEO value of contributors’ articles by deploying the nofollow attribute on all posts. This means that the story that you worked so hard on will have zero SEO benefit to your company’s website. While I don’t agree with it, I can understand earned media utilizing the nofollow attribute. But for a paid opportunity, it’s just not cool.

Interestingly, a recent Google announcement provides some potentially good news for tech marketers who have already paid for FTC or who are considering it. In September, Google revealed that it will begin to interpret the “nofollow link attribute as a hint rather than as explicit instruction to ignore the linked content.” This means that even if FTC editors keep their nofollow attribute rule intact, Google might simply choose to ignore it.  

SEO, media relations and award opportunities to stay clear of

But enough about Forbes and its Councils. There are plenty of other proliferating scams that tech marketers need to be knowledgeable about. Here are three of the most common:

·      SEO on the Cheap – SEO is essential to PR, and if your current agency doesn’t prioritize it within their overall PR strategy then I strongly suggest you read my colleague Renee Spurlin’s blog on SEO and media relations stat. Recently, companies guaranteeing significant SEO improvements for just a couple of hundred dollars or less per month have started targeting startup and growth-stage technology companies with promises of going from SEO rags to SEO riches. For tech companies with lean marketing teams, affordable SEO is an attractive opportunity. So, what’s the problem? As with steak, tequila and air travel, the less expensive option most often isn’t what’s best in the present or in the future. Without exception, for SEO efforts to maintain positive gains requires consistent on-site, technical and off-site work and extensive collaboration between content, PR, and digital teams. Simply put, even if some of the employees at these SEO firms are knowledgeable, it is simply unrealistic for so much work and so much collaboration to occur on such a small budget. Not to mention the fact that with SEO there are absolutely no guarantees.

·      SuperbCrew Editorial – If you’ve sent out a press release any time in the past five years then either you or your agency has received an almost immediate interview request from SuperbCrew Editorial. Defining itself as a “news website with worldwide audience covering innovative companies,” SuperbCrew Editorial has a miniscule UVM of 8,814 and a domain authority in the low 40s, which is atrocious for any media property. Despite its rather pathetic readership however, SuperbCrew Editorial exhibits some tremendous hutzpah in how it directly asks for a “symbolic fee” for what I’m sure they believe is the privilege to be interviewed by one of their journalists. In today’s media landscape sponsored content is on the rise and to be honest, it’s not always a bad option if budget allows. As more and more pay-for-play media opportunities arise, and earned media continues to decline, a core capability of any good tech PR agency moving forward must be to know how to distinguish the promising and debatable opportunities from the ones like SuperbCrew Editorial, which belong nowhere but in the trash.

·      Create Your Own Category Awards – Tech marketers are perhaps as skeptical of awards as they are of any PR tactic. They often question the value, prestige and return-on-investment, and rightly so. Interestingly however, my colleague Christina Dela Cruz recently finished a deep dive into awards and came up with several compelling reasons as to why industry awards should still matter for tech marketers. As we know though, not all awards are created equal. In recent years, the proliferation of our “everyone’s a winner” society has inspired the rise of create-your-own-category awards, which have emerged across industries like cybersecurity and FinTech, and likely many more. For an entry fee of a few thousand dollars, companies are afforded the opportunity not just to choose a category best suited for their product or service but to make one up. And if no other company enters into said category that was created, then the company is of course still a winner. In cybersecurity, there’s even a create-your-own-category award that isn’t judged; rather winners are based on public voting, for which there is no limit to how many times that company’s employees can vote. This type of award may be attractive to some tech marketers looking for any means to generate an edge, but the risk of ridicule from illegitimate awards is as real as any potential benefit a company may get from purchasing the outcome.

At the end of the day, a good tech PR agency can smell bullshit opportunities from a mile away, and counsel their clients appropriately. The scams in this article, or my previous one, aren’t the first to impact tech PR, and they certainy won’t be the last.

Evan balances his time between scheming up client service initiatives, talking hacks and zero days with cybersecurity clients and serving as the agency's de facto CISO.

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