Jason Yormark

The Agency Award Scam & How It Works

agency award scam

“I am glad to inform you that we have shortlisted your company as one of the most valuable companies in the “50 Most Valuable Brands of the year” list. It will be two full-page in-depth feature about your company’s differentiators, products, services, challenges, road-map, and how the CEO is driving the company with an interesting photograph and heading. We will also talk about how all 50 valuable brands are giving their best to the business community and their effort towards the ecosystem.”

The Silicon Review (see original email here)

“I’m glad to share that you have been pre-qualified for the Top 100 Marketing & Advertising Leaders Awards to be held at the MADcon conference at MGM, Vegas from 16-18 June, 2020. Here’s the link to my calendar, let’s connect and take this forward.”

MADcon Conference (see original message here)

These are just 2 examples of emails/messages I’ve received over the past few months “congratulating” me for being “pre-qualified” or “shortlisted” as a prestigious award winner for the “insert clever name here” award or honor. There is a growing trend for this practice and it’s pretty simple…and quite clever honestly.

It pretty much works like this:

  1. These companies or organizations build up a following or audience and leverage that to create either an event or offering designed to drive revenue.
  2. They target small or up and coming marketing agencies that covet being an “award winner” to help drive their business.
  3. They use tactics and language to make you feel like you’re part of an exclusive group and that you’re eligible for the award by simply replying that you’re interested.
  4. This is usually followed by an “interview” or “selection stage” which is nothing other than a period of time they pre-determine is long enough to make you feel like there is some sort of process involved. There isn’t.
  5. You get contacted later with a congratulatory email saying YOU’VE BEEN SELECTED! Followed by some nonsensical process about how you “won”.
  6. You then are instructed to fill out whatever forms and simply pay their substantial event, registration or advertising package fees.

Many agencies probably already know there is no substance to these awards and just want to be able to slap a badge on their website or send out a press release (see here and here for examples), because the fact of the matter is, most potential clients won’t know or take the time to vet these claims out. They pretty much are paying for the “awards” or “accolades” and don’t care that they hold no real weight in the real world. See here and here for some more info on how these are scams and not legit.

The truth is, I almost pulled the trigger myself for Socialistics. I actually followed through on the MADcon invite just to see how it would play out. It was tempting, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t do it because it flies in the face of one of our core values; authenticity. So even though most of my competition does it, we made the decision we wouldn’t. We’ll stick with our work speaking for itself and winning awards that are truly earned.

There are of course real and legit awards out there that aren’t too difficult to identify. Some more well known ones such as the Clios or Ad Age to name a few of the more well known ones, but typically legit operations are much more difficult to win, and involve an established, vetted out process that involves diving into the real work you’ve done.

It’s frustrating to see scams like these exist because many agencies might actually think these awards are real…and no one seems to be calling these companies out for it. I hope this post at least helps shed some light on these practices and makes it harder for them to mislead people.

Jason Yormark
I'm a 20 year veteran of digital marketing & the owner and founder of Socialistics, a social media agency based in Seattle. My spare time is filled with writing, baseball, my boys and everything Seattle has to offer.

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