Better Business

Robb Hicken: How to tell if an award serves only vanity

ROBB HICKEN, chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionOctober 15, 2013 

Robb Hicken

Being recognized for the work you do is the bump you need at times to carry on.

"We all like to be recognized for our work, when you've earned it," says Patti Murphy of Murphy Media Services in Boise. "When I got the email from the SBCA [Small Business Community Association], my first thought was that it was some sort of scam, and I didn't know whether it was going to be a virus or what."

Murphy, who has earned awards from the Idaho Press Club and Capital City Communicators, has been in the public relations business since 2005. She has entered award contests before and knows the selection process. She says her next thought was, "I didn't enter any award contest with the SBCA, and how'd they get my name?"

Thinking scam, she passed it on to the Better Business Bureau.

The Small Business Community Association offers vanity awards to empower and recognize small business owners. To receive award, the recipient needs only to confirm and to register with the SBCA.

Small-business owners try to set themselves apart from competitors, and awards and other recognition can provide a great differentiator.

BBB warns that some "awards" are about making money, rather than acknowledging outstanding companies. These vanity awards and listings are bought, rather than earned.

When approached with a vanity offer, ask:

Is this publicly listed?

Ask where the award is vetted, registered and listed. Ask about its visibility. Are customers encouraged to trust the award?

How was I nominated?

Some signs of a scam include receiving an award that you didn't apply for and an award website that lacks phone numbers, an address and other basic details about the organization giving the award.

Is information on past winners available?

An organization offering a reputable award will not hesitate to answer in-depth questions about its program, including how many businesses are honored every year, how honorees are chosen and exactly why specific businesses were chosen.

Are there any fees?

Entry fee? Inclusion fee? Judging fee? Banquet/award fee? With less-than-scrupulous awards schemes, the company is typically trying to make money by peddling books or plaques. While having to spend money to receive an award can be a red flag, it isn't always the sign of a scam.

In some cases, businesses must pay a fee in order to submit an entry to an awards program. If the company is to be honored at a gala event, there are usually sponsorship opportunities - such as purchasing a table for attendees - to help offset the cost of the event.

The BBB recently concluded the application process for the Torch Awards for Ethics to acknowledge businesses that infuse ethics into daily business decisions. For more small-business advice you can trust, go to

Reminder: "Secure Your Identity Day" is set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 19 at the College of Western Idaho's Micron Center for Professional Technical Education, 5725 E. Franklin Road, Nampa. Bring outdated documents with personal and financial information to the event. Mobile shredding trucks will demolish the materials on-site.

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