Gini Dietrich

Coghlan Consulting Group Run By Morons

By: Gini Dietrich | November 22, 2011 | 

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • 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”

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller You know what’s worse? They’re still employed by Central Basin.

      • @ginidietrich of course they are, because companies like that have the ethics of a dead skunk.

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller That is quite the image!

        • @ginidietrich@KenMueller dead skunks aren’t ethical?

        • @Lisa Gerber@ginidietrich more ethical than this company.

  • danielnewmanUV

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

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • RonSandack

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

    • GeneneMurphy

      @RonSandack Yeah, I immediately thought of that and kind of laughed (again).

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

    • ginidietrich

      @faybiz LOL! Suuuuure.

  • glenn_ferrell

    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

      @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.

      • aakomas1

        @ginidietrich @glenn_ferrell In the “news” world, very unethical & people lose their jobs for that. Unbelievable!

  • ginidietrich

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

  • I have no words.

    • ginidietrich

      @Lisa Gerber Can you imagine all the work that goes into creating something like this?

      • @ginidietrich@Lisa Gerber Wouldn’t it be easier to do the real, albeit hard, work than spend time putting all that effort into something fake?

        • ginidietrich

          @Erin F.@Lisa Gerber One would think so…creating this fake site had to take a TON of work.

        • glenn_ferrell

          @ginidietrich@Erin F.@Lisa Gerber Actually, it looks like a pretty hastily thrown-together WordPress site (Thesis theme). Most of the pages have identical structure. Wonder if they paid for the images ? (i.e. just how far back are their ethical guardrails 🙂 )

        • @glenn_ferrell@ginidietrich@Erin F. Easier, and less expensive too.

        • @Lisa Gerber@glenn_ferrell@ginidietrich@Erin F. I bet I could come up with better fake stories for much less money. Why can’t I find a client like this??

  • Alex Greenwood

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

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • samtaracollier

    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!

  • samtaracollier

    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!

  • samtaracollier

    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!

    • Ike

      @samtaracollier TOTALLY!

      (i would have done it for half of that.)


      • ginidietrich

        @Ike@samtaracollier I totally would have done it for half, too.

    • ginidietrich

      @samtaracollier The client knows now and asked them to take down their stories. But they still work with the firm. Which I don’t get. At all.

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

    • ginidietrich

      @KDillabough Right?! You can’t make this stuff up.

  • KeithTrivitt

    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 ( and Denis Wolcott, a member of PRSA’s LA Chapter blogged for us about this latest example of fakery two weeks ago (

    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


    • ginidietrich

      @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

        @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

          @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.

  • TgicImporters

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

    • ginidietrich

      @TgicImporters I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to keep it real anyway. Amazing, isn’t it?

      • TgicImporters

        @ginidietrich I’m not that surprised. It’s an extreme example, but I’ve heard of people doing such things just to drum up publicity. ~Andrea

        • ginidietrich

          @TgicImporters I prefer your strategy. It costs less in the long run.

  • 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!

    • ginidietrich

      @sydcon_mktg RIGHT?!

      • @ginidietrich For the record, I think they were robbed. $170k for all that hassle!?!?! Sorry, that’s not enough money to create all those! LOL!

        • ginidietrich

          @sydcon_mktg LMAO!!!

  • lisagerber

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

    • belllindsay

      @lisagerber Ha! True!

  • jacque_PR

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

    • ginidietrich

      @jacque_PR Exactly. That’s why, wait for it, SPIN SUCKS!

      • jacque_PR

        @ginidietrich Wocka wocka 😉

  • 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.

    • ginidietrich

      @mdbarber Totally agree. The Mayor scandal is in my drafts folder. I’ll probably run it next week. Why is it so hard?

      • @ginidietrich Shouldn’t be that hard. I believe many of these folks are so arrogant, they think they’ll never be caught.

        • ginidietrich

          @mdbarber I guess. Or stupid.

        • @ginidietrich@mdbarber What? Oh, I thought you linked me……….

        • @bdorman264 Did we need to link you?….Seriously though I think the more we can out these folks like @ginidietrich@deniswolcot and others have done the more we can (I hope) stop it. Once we stop calling them out, it’s almost like we’re accepting the practice.

        • ginidietrich

          @bdorman264 LOL!! I love you so much.

  • katskrieger

    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.

    • ginidietrich

      @katskrieger I think it would be easier to get the actual media to pay attention. It’s A LOT of work to fake something like that.

      • katskrieger


        Oh for sure, completely agree. That’s what makes it so funny.

  • 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?

    • ginidietrich

      @bdorman264 Oh I’m outing them. Hence the whole reason Spin Sucks began.

      • @ginidietrich I knew you would come to the rescue, but that’s because you are special like that……….:)

  • PattiRoseKnight

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

    • ginidietrich

      @PattiRoseKnight Oh you know people. It’s amazing what they’ll do to short cut things.

  • jenzings

    Wow. Just…wow.

    I wonder how many are out there like this?

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • ginidietrich

    @bdorman264 You are crazy

    • bdorman264

      @ginidietrich Certifiable too…:)

      • ginidietrich

        @bdorman264 True

  • ginidietrich

    @neicolec I don’t understand

    • neicolec

      @ginidietrich Was talking about the Coglan agency creating fake news sites.

      • ginidietrich

        @neicolec No, I know. I meant I don’t understand why they did that.

  • ginidietrich

    @_davidhorne_ For real

    • _davidhorne_

      @ginidietrich crazy. why do people insist on taking the low road? the high road sure has a lot less traffic

      • ginidietrich

        @_davidhorne_ I guess they think it’s easier? I”m not sure…

  • ginidietrich

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

    • Elyse_D

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

      • ginidietrich

        @Elyse_D I’m willing to bet they did pay for performance. And the measurement was Google indexing it as news.

  • shelholtz

    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

      @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.

  • KevinVandever

    douche canoes!

    • @KevinVandever Triple like! I cannot believe this post was written without the word douche canoes. In the headline!!! LOL.

      • KevinVandever

        @Lisa Gerber i agree. The phrase had to be used.

        • @KevinVandever@lisa I would say Morons is a pretty good substitute! 😉

  • ElissaFreeman

    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?

  • ginidietrich

    @kbloemendaal I didn’t recognize you!

    • kbloemendaal

      @ginidietrich u like my new pic?

      • ginidietrich

        @kbloemendaal I do like it! A lot

  • ryancox

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

    • ryancox

      Where did all of my pts go?

  • 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!

  • JodiEchakowitz

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

  • ginidietrich

    @IanGertler LOL! I suppose you’re right

  • HowellMarketing

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

    • JodiEchakowitz

      @HowellMarketing Isn’t it crazy (and sad at the same time)?

  • ginidietrich

    @HowellMarketing Crazy, huh?

    • HowellMarketing

      @ginidietrich looking forward to seeing you in march @markwschaefer gig

      • ginidietrich

        @HowellMarketing I can’t wait!

  • ginidietrich

    @CMMoffitt Right?

    • CMMoffitt

      @ginidietrich It does make me wonder what the heck they were thinking. Who thought that was a good idea?

      • ginidietrich

        @CMMoffitt I think they told the client they’d agree to be paid by placement. And they got placements. Ha

        • CMMoffitt

          @ginidietrich Wow, way to focus PR activities on helping accomplish the client’s business objectives, not!

        • ginidietrich

          @CMMoffitt People. Sigh…

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

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

  • 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.

  • ginidietrich

    @skypulsemedia That’s crazy, huh??

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