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The real deal or a real rip off?

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Clients often forward us emails with subject lines that read something like: Exclusive interview opportunity for your CEO! And, Congratulations! You’ve been selected…

Naturally, they’re excited, and as their healthcare PR agency, they ask us to line it all up.

Unfortunately, we often have to be the proverbial emotional balloon poppers and explain to them this “opportunity” comes with a cost, and sometimes it’s even a scam because there’s limited or even no visibility. More often than not, these pay-to-play outlets are the equivalent of lighting money on fire.

So how can you tell if an opportunity is trustworthy or a trick? Here are some of the most common media cons, and what to look out for so you can avoid being bamboozled:

The company profile: This usually comes in the form of an unsolicited email with a lot of exclamation points!!!!, followed by name-dropping top-tier outlets like NBC and Forbes. There’s also some cut-and-paste flattery about how your company is the perfect fit. (Sorry to break it to you, but yes, they say that to everyone.)

The email explains how producers or an editor would love to prominently feature your company, and even better, you can promote whatever you want! This is the first sign this isn’t a legit media opportunity. Real reporters and media outlets aren’t interested in marketing on your behalf, they’re interested in telling a story of impact - one they dictate.

Sales reps for these opportunities might initially claim it’s free, but after a little digging, you’ll learn there’s a “production charge” or “licensing and distribution fee,” either of which can be tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, the organizers have purchased a block of undesirable airtime or an advertising insert and they’re reselling pieces of it.

When all is said and done, the cost is typically far higher than what you’d pay for an old-fashioned advertisement. And since ethically, this type of content should be labeled as “sponsored,” it’s considered far less credible to any potential viewer or reader. People know an ad isn’t objective.

The CEO feature: This is similar to the Company Profile, except the likelihood that anyone outside of your company + your CEO’s mom will ever see it is even slimmer. These tend to be unknown publications with promising yet vague names like American CEO or Business Leaders Monthly. They sound professional, and often their website or a printed version of the publication looks slick, but there’s no substance. The executives featured are either vain or suckers. Possibly both.

A quick glance on LinkedIn will likely confirm the sales rep is one of the outlet’s few employees. The email you receive is often filled with compliments and designed to get you excited about elevating your CEO’s profile, and rarely is the price disclosed. That comes after you’ve invested your time and forwarded ego-boosting emails to your boss.

The award for anything: KNB Communications regularly submits for healthcare and health tech awards on behalf of our clients, so we want to be clear there are many legitimate award opportunities that can elevate your company and build credibility. The trick is to suss out the awards that don’t.

A general rule of thumb — if you’re notified you’ve been nominated, or even “won” and didn’t apply, it’s probably not a valid award. Any worthwhile award should have a detailed submission process and be clear about past winners, the judging process, and list qualifying (or disqualifying) criteria. It’s true many credible awards have submission fees. These can cover everything from promotional costs to compensation for judges to shipping the actual awards. Submission fees should be clearly listed, along with any licensing costs. Winners should be able to promote they’ve won the award at no cost, but some organizations will charge a licensing fee to use the logo. Last year, KNB Communications helped a client win the prestigious “Editor’s Choice” award at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Certainly a reputable award! Our client was able to promote winning the award at no cost but did have to pay a considerable fee to use the CES logo. That’s not uncommon.

Still not certain if an opportunity is authentic? Here are some additional considerations and questions to ask:

  • If the email is unsolicited, have your hackles up.
  • In your email response, ask plainly, “What fees are involved?” If you don’t get a direct answer, or you receive a reply requesting a meeting, know it’s a sales call.
  • If the sender doesn’t have a title in their signature line, look them up on LinkedIn. If they have a sales or business development title, know this will be a paid opportunity.
  • Request the outlet’s reach and the name of its auditor. Ask about circulation, viewership, readership, social media following, and other numbers to prove reach. If the outlet won’t provide this information, heed the red flag warning.
  • Review the website. Is it filled with ads? Is all the content sponsored? Is it only company and executive profiles? If so, nope the heck out. Look for informative, relevant, and newsworthy content.
  • When it comes to awards, look at past winners. These should be clearly listed on the website. Are the winners people or companies you recognize or aspire to be like? If not, plan to pass.
Amy Roberts

Amy serves as the Vice President of Communications and Client Services at KNB Communications, where she enjoys a proven track record of producing innovative and persuasive storytelling campaigns, securing top-tier media coverage, and driving corporate vision. Her extensive experience in the healthcare industry includes serving as the Public Relations Director at Intermountain Healthcare, where she led crisis communications, media relations, and community outreach efforts for more than a decade. Prior to becoming a PR exec, Amy spent years on “the other side of the microphone” as both a print and broadcast journalist. Her career has been punctuated with prestigious recognition, including two Edward R. Murrow Awards. She continues to freelance write for a number of publications.


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