If you follow literary or science fiction news, you may have heard of the recent unveiling of the Albee Agency scam. In brief, a supposed literary publicity agency was caught with a whole page of faked testimonials – leading writers to discover their extremely tenuous credentials and creating suspicion that the agency as a whole was a complete scam.
It’s always a delight to see a scammer caught in the act, particularly early on in the scam so as few people as possible are taken in by the ruse. With the Albee Agency, the slew of faked testimonials was an obvious giant red flag for the company’s legitimacy. But as Victoria Strauss, blogger for Writer Beware, noted, there were actually three elements of the site that pinged her scam detector: lack of credentials, lack of specificity, and the big one – faked testimonials.
It’s worth noting that the Albee Agency website has a crisp, professional-looking design. Where’d they get caught? Their website content. So before you get too wrapped up in the schadenfreude, you might want to review your own company’s website to see whether you’ve made any of these three mistakes that might make your customers think you’re peddling a scam:
1. Lack of credentials. The Albee Agency claims to have been in business since 2005 – a pretty decent lifespan for a PR & social media marketing company. However, when you dig into their brand, you’ll note that their domain was registered in July 2012, their blog dates back to September 2012, their Facebook profile debuted on Sept. 13, 2012, and their Twitter account was only set up in August 2012. There’s no evidence for their claimed history, and plenty of evidence that they are a brand-new business.
While the other evidence makes it clear that the Albee Agency’s start date is a bunch of bunk, there are legitimate reasons for an online presence that’s more youthful than the business itself. Your company may have started out offline-only, or you may have gone through a major reboot or rebrand that necessitated all new web accounts and addresses. But if that’s the case, it’s important to give your customers proof of your history. And if you’re just starting out, don’t fake a history you don’t have! Being a startup won’t prevent you from gaining business success; being a fraud almost certainly will.
2. Lack of specificity. Who is the staff at the Albee Agency? What is their background or experience? Why should you trust them to promote your book? What, in fact, will they actually do for you? There’s nothing to go on at the Albee Agency website that would answer any of these questions. They claim to have worked with over 10,000 authors, and to have had clients appear on or in Good Morning America, Family Circle, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, and yet there’s not a single link to a specific story or author.
What’s the lesson here? If you’ve done great work and you know you’ve got a great staff, toot your own horn! Show off a picture of your staff hard at work. Stock your portfolio with examples of your best projects. Let each staff member write a blog post about their history and what they do for your clients. Be specific throughout – give your prospects a clear picture of exactly what you can do for them.
3. Faked testimonials. Now, I know you would never actually fake your testimonials. After all, if you’re doing great work, you don’t have to. But are you presenting your testimonials in a way that makes them seem less-than-convincing? Whenever possible, use full, real names for your customer testimonials, and don’t try to edit them into a perfect quote – leave them exactly as you received them. If you have them, photos of the customers who gave the testimonials can go a long way toward showing prospects that you are the real deal.
It’s a good idea to have a customer or friend review your website from time to time, to get that outside perspective. You know you do great work, so make sure your presence on the internet echoes the values and value you’re offering your clients. And if you find yourself getting stuck on what to say, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to help.