Gini Dietrich

Coghlan Consulting Group Run By Morons

By: Gini Dietrich | November 22, 2011 | 
110

Oh this is good! You’re going to love this one.

A nice little PR train wreck on the Tuesday of your short week.

You may have read a couple of months ago about the Coghlan Consulting Group and their practice of setting up fake news sites on behalf of its clients.

Yes, they created fake news sites in order to make it look like their clients were getting loads of coverage.

They made the sites look so real, in fact, that Google News was indexing them.

The  first time it was for the Central Basin Municipal Water District of California, who has since ordered Coghlan to remove stories from News Hawks Review…the fake site.

According to the LA Times:

News Hawks’ coverage of Central Basin began after the district hired public relations consultant Ed Coghlan last year. Under the deal, the district agreed to pay Coghlan’s firm (upwards of $170,000) in exchange for services that included producing positive stories and placing them as news articles on Google News.

But it’s just gotten better.

Now the LA Times is reporting, in fact, that none of the “reporters” at News Hawks exist.

Take Mike Adams. There were more than 20 stories that had his byline on them. His bio stated he had a degree in construction services from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

But there is no such program at the school.

Then there was the issue of his photo (since removed, but shown here), which was lifted from Flickr. Sources in Adams’ stories say they never met or talked to the man.

More from the L.A. Times:

The site also claimed its award-winning general assignment reporter, Hannah Grimm, was a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. But Bill Santin, of Columbia’s Registrar’s Office, said no person of that name has graduated from the school in the last 100 years.

Adams’ stories are now credited to “publisher” and, upon further investigation, it was discovered Tony Marino is the publisher. Marino defended News Hawks when this all broke a couple of months ago, but now he has no comment.

Could he be fake, too?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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110 responses to “Coghlan Consulting Group Run By Morons”

  1. KenMueller says:

    I don’t know why, but this sort of thing still shocks me. I can’t believe that any one could be so stupid as to set up a company like this, and that anyone would hire them. The fakery has to stop. I just love that it’s so much easier to catch people at this because of the Internet, and hopefully it will help this sort of practice die off. It’s up there with social sites that operate with fake accounts just to make them look legit and busy.

    In the words of @ginidietrich ….. “Sigh”

  2. danielnewmanUV says:

    All I can say to this is WOW! The things that people will do in order to avoid really working?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @danielnewmanUV The thing is this is A LOT of work. I think it likely comes from getting paid by placement (which is a big no no in our industry) so they created the stories.

  3. RonSandack says:

    @GeneneMurphy Even worse than that pseudonymous blogging mayor who was tired of bad PR.

  4. faybiz says:

    It takes time and enough to be this deceptive. You gotta respect THAT right?

  5. glenn_ferrell says:

    Ha ! Good for the LA Times 🙂 I’m surprised the Central Basin scam lasted an entire year. Did they honestly believe that no one would ever want to follow up on one of these articles with a reporter ?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @glenn_ferrell I’m not sure they really thought it through? I thought it was interesting that the sources named in the stories had never actually been contacted by a reporter. I read one blog post that said it could be construed as content marketing, making it ethical. But I don’t know how you make up an entire news site, with fake reporters, write stories, quote people you never talked to, and call it ethical.

  6. ginidietrich says:

    @GeneneMurphy I saw you tweeting about the Utah pen name. I have that blog post in my drafts, too!

  7. Alex Greenwood says:

    People never seem to entertain the idea that they will get caught. Or perhaps they truly don’t care?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Alex Greenwood I’m not sure they even thought about getting caught because they don’t see it as unethical. They see it as creating content.

  8. samtaracollier says:

    They were getting paid $170,000+ to do this!? OMG! I can’t believe people are stupid enough to do this (and people are dumb enough to pay people to do this for them too). Did the clients know about it – that they were posting stories to fake news sites? What a kiss of death for this company. Thanks for sharing – you brightened up a dreary Vancouver morning for me @ginidietrich <3 You!

  9. samtaracollier says:

    They were getting paid $170,000+ to do this!? OMG! I can’t believe people are stupid enough to do this (and people are dumb enough to pay people to do this for them too). Did the clients know about it – that they were posting stories to fake news sites? What a kiss of death for this company. Thanks for sharing – you brightened up a dreary Vancouver morning for me ginidietrich <3 You!

  10. samtaracollier says:

    They were getting paid $170,000+ to do this!? OMG! I can’t believe people are stupid enough to do this (and people are dumb enough to pay people to do this for them too). Did the clients know about it – that they were posting stories to fake news sites? What a kiss of death for this company. Thanks for sharing – you brightened up a dreary Vancouver morning for me ginidietrich <3 You!

  11. KDillabough says:

    Just goes to prove: truth is stranger than fiction….this story that is, not the fake new sites. Cheers! Kaarina

  12. KeithTrivitt says:

    Definitely not one of the shining moments for the PR industry, nor for local governments, who either got duped into hiring this fake news service or were too ignorant to understand the many ethical issues this type of dubious work raises.

    At PRSA, we have been following this issue closely since the LA Times first broke the story back in September. We wrote about the ethical perils of paying for positive media coverage when the story first broke (http://ow.ly/7BNfv) and Denis Wolcott, a member of PRSA’s LA Chapter blogged for us about this latest example of fakery two weeks ago (http://ow.ly/7BMV2).

    Let’s be very clear: this type of fake news generation on behalf of clients, whether they know about it or not, is absolutely not ethical and not the type of PR anyone should condone. We certainly don’t condone it. There are plenty of legitimate tactics to counter negative Web traffic. Misleading the public into thinking they are reading “real” news stories is not one of them.

    But I think Mr. Wolcott said it best: disclosure wins, every time. In this case, the LA-area water district had a responsibility to inform the public and its constituents that it was using a firm to produce this type of fake positive news. It failed in that regard, doing not only the public a grave disservice, but also irrepreably harming its reputation in the process.

    Keith Trivitt

    Associate Director

    PRSA

    • ginidietrich says:

      @KeithTrivitt From what I’ve read, it sounds like the water district didn’t know about it and, when they found out, demanded the stories be taken down. Is that not the case?

      • KeithTrivitt says:

        @ginidietrich From my understanding, yes. I will say that the water district, at least from the reports I have read, has been fairly transparent with its responses. It seems to be a case that it got conned into a service that it thought would produce great results but wasn’t properly aware of or informed of what was being done to generate those results.

        Buyer beware, it would appear.

        • ginidietrich says:

          @KeithTrivitt It also sounds like they’re doing some pay for performance, which means they created stories in order to get paid. And likely Google News ranking was among the measurements. Oy.

  13. TgicImporters says:

    Stories like this one are why I prefer to keep it real. Geez. ~Andrea

  14. sydcon_mktg says:

    Why anyone would go thru the trouble of creating these sites is beyond me. Whether they be WordPress or not, making sure all the links work, doing all the design, etc = PITA!

  15. lisagerber says:

    @belllindsay ha! That’s what the www stands for. 🙂

  16. jacque_PR says:

    Another example of the perpetual stereotype existing for those of us in the PR industry. BLEH!

  17. mdbarber says:

    If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat…it’s a rat. This story, the Burson scandal earlier this year and last week’s Utah mayor episode are really unbelievable. I just don’t understand where people’s sense of right and wrong are these days. PR has a Code of Ethics these folks don’t follow but, in my opinion, it’s just plain dishonest…and you don’t need a Code to tell you lying and deceit are wrong.

  18. katskrieger says:

    I want to be shocked by this, but I’m not. I am shocked by the herculean effort in creating the actual deception. One would think they could have spent the time getting actual press.

  19. bdorman264 says:

    I.am.appalled. Not really, but should I be? It seems like so much stuff like this becomes the norm and it is so far from the truth, but most of the time nobody really cares. Where does it stop? When do we say enough is enough and ‘out’ people who continue to work this way?

  20. PattiRoseKnight says:

    I can’t believe he thought he’d get away with this.

  21. jenzings says:

    Wow. Just…wow.

    I wonder how many are out there like this?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @jenzings Unfortunately, I think it’s pretty rampant. I mean, you have tech PR firms creating smear campaigns. You have global PR firms creating whisper campaigns. You have astroturfing. As long as they’re are unethical people in the world, this stuff will continue to happen.

  22. ginidietrich says:

    @bdorman264 You are crazy

  23. ginidietrich says:

    @neicolec I don’t understand

  24. ginidietrich says:

    @_davidhorne_ For real

  25. ginidietrich says:

    @Elyse_D I don’t understand why you would go to those lengths

    • Elyse_D says:

      @ginidietrich Agreed! For all that effort, they might have been able to get legitimate press coverage. But…. nah that would be too smart.

  26. shelholtz says:

    Astounding, indeed. Neville and I reported on these guys when they first made news a few months ago, then did an update on the FIR #625 (from Nov. 14). The more PR people call out this kind of bad behavior in our own ranks, the better our public image will be.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @shelholtz I actually listened to your podcast this morning as I was formulating my blog post. I wanted to hear what you guys had to say about it.

  27. KevinVandever says:

    douche canoes!

  28. ElissaFreeman says:

    The thirst for controlling/obtaining positive news coverage ultimately drives this sort of behaviour in the first place. While I agree it’s reprehensible of Coghlan to engage in this behaviour, there was a client who condoned the behaviour in the first place. I’m not sure who’s worse?

  29. ginidietrich says:

    @kbloemendaal I didn’t recognize you!

  30. ryancox says:

    This is wonderful. haha Sooooo much effort to do bad work. They should win an award for being the biggest doofuses!

  31. Ben Johnston says:

    I suppose stuff like this is part and parcel of search engine optimisation and PR becoming closer.

    Spend enough time in the SEO game where content is used to leverage rankings and you’ll come across a lot of things like this. This isn’t new and it does contravene Google’s guidelines, but it works (just by way of clarification – this is not how I do SEO, but I do know that it happens. I’m also not saying that tactics like this should ever be used for PR purposes). Perhaps off the back of the closer SEO/ PR integration, a lot more companies seem to be being caught for pushing fake news/ content like this – I’m not sure whether it’s because A) more people are doing it (probably) or B) the people doing it just aren’t very good at it.

    In this case, it’s definitely the latter. Epic fail!

  32. JodiEchakowitz says:

    It’s no wonder PR has a reputation issue. Ugh!

  33. ginidietrich says:

    @IanGertler LOL! I suppose you’re right

  34. HowellMarketing says:

    @JodiEchakowitz thx. Wow!!! Just read it. Unbelievable!

  35. ginidietrich says:

    @HowellMarketing Crazy, huh?

  36. ginidietrich says:

    @CMMoffitt Right?

  37. The craving for acquired constructive information exposure eventually constrain this kind of deeds.Stuff like this is horrible.

  38. AmyMccTobin says:

    Wow. Just Wow. I thought PR firms were supposed to clean up messes, not create them.

  39. HowieSPM says:

    This is Andrew Breibart worthy stuff! This is where I am ok if they guy gets punched in the face. Twice. Lots of people make money be pond scum. Very sad.

  40. ginidietrich says:

    @skypulsemedia That’s crazy, huh??

  41. […] week we had Coghlan Consulting Group. This week we had Governor Brownback and Mayor […]

  42. […] week we had Coghlan Consulting Group. This week we had Governor Brownback and Mayor […]

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