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TV Casting Scams: Much Ado About Advertising and Fake PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Quick Quiz, Flacks: $$$ + An Appearance in the Media, Anywhere = Advertising. Right? Well, according to the recent rash of TV casting scams caused by a ridiculous "PR agency," it seems we need to redefine the whole "paid vs. earned media" conversation. Here's why: 

According to a story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its ace investigative snoop Gitte Laasby, we have a hilarious excuse for a PR agency raising enough red flags to be mistaken for communist China. Let's count the red flags in this cold call that came to the voicemail of the MJS' obituary writer — you know, the chick who writes about people who died, for those scoring at home: 

"Hello, this is Tyler," the man said. "I'm calling you because the Oprah Winfrey Network is looking for a marriage and relationship expert for a few shows they're working on. We also have Rachael Ray looking for a relationship and marriage expert. We don't work for any of these shows. We're a PR firm. We charge $700 if you choose to participate and do the interviews. We also require a five minimum commitment, so whether it's CNN, Oprah, USA Today, Rachael Ray, The Today Show or whatever. I'm at (815) 633-3375 if you wanted to beat the deadline to be on the show."

If you counted the red flags prior to the call, which would include 1. It's a cold call and 2. It was targeting the dead people writer lady, I have...well, I lost count. Meet the foolheaded and imbecilic Champion Media Worldwide. In case you were thrown off by the fabulous non-customized WordPress website that looks like it was made on WebTV in my garage circa 1985, they are a professional "high powered traditional public relations" agency. Yeah, they look it. I think they may be surprised to note what Laasby did next — she called OWN and the 'Rachael Ray' show. Doh!

Network spokespeople were surprised to learn about the solicitations. They called it "the craziest thing I've ever heard" and a scam.

Chelsea Hettrick, a spokeswoman with the Oprah Winfrey Network, said the show is not affiliated with the Champion Media. The company only uses the Oprah network website and "reputable agencies" to recruit guests for the show.

Lauren Nowell, a spokeswoman for CBS, said the network doesn't hire outside agencies to do casting.

"Neither Tyler nor Champion Media have any affiliation with the show and are not authorized to book guests for the Rachael Ray Show," Nowell said in an email to the Journal Sentinel. "Although (the voice mail) does disclose, 'we don't work for any of these shows,' we have requested that Champion Media discontinue using the Rachael Ray name in its solicitations."

MEMO to the cracked PR pro 'Tyler': Find a day job and stick to it because, to quote a street philosopher of the '80s, "pimpin' ain't easy."

That is all Champion Media, and many others like them, are doing. In fact, they have nine complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau, including one poor soul who paid $6,000 and never got on TV. They are charlatans trying to get a quick buck from ignorant people who think all it takes to get Oprah's attention is $700. The reality in PR is that there are no such thing as guarantees. If you are fortunate enough to be represented by a PR firm that earns you coverage, it's because you are a client who has something that is newsworthy and you hired an agency who knows how to position it to the media. In other words, you pay for the skill — the press should be free. 

What's unfortunate is that there will be some ne'er-do-wells in the business world and media alike saying, "See, PR is right up there with snake oil and used cars. Can't trust 'em. Don't need 'em." Well, good luck with your business and no one knowing about it. To the rest of the non-knee-jerk reactionaries out there, agencies like Champion Media do not represent PR, much like some seedy televangelists with "ministries" on at 2 a.m. do not represent the Church. If you need more proof, check out Champion's address, brought to you by Ms. Laasby: 

One address for Champion Media, 4012 Renn Hart Hills Road in Loves Park, Ill., appears to be an apartment building. Another, 4408 Windsor Ct. in Loves Park, Ill., is a house in a residential neighborhood.

Stay classy, Pimps...eh, Champion Media. And the rest of the nation, stray from these wolves in zoot suits. 

(Have a comment? Leave it below. I respond. Have a question or want to leave a shout out? Hit me up on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood.)

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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