I have written from time to time about publishing scams, whereby retailers have been persuaded to buy advertising space in magazines that claim to support the emergency services or promote drugs awareness in schools.
Sometimes the magazines are extremely poor quality, other times they don’t exist at all. (And a few years ago the DTI, as it was then, closed down a handful of these mostly Liverpool-based ‘publishers’.)
But when Nishi Patel sent me a copy of Community Aware magazine, which his father had agreed to advertise in over the phone, I was taken aback at the sheer sleekness of it. Glossy paper, some big, albeit few, editorials (one of them predicting riots in the streets) and the whole thing backed by a proper website with numerous worthy links, including one to the Community Education awards which were presented by Esther Ranzen.
But now the downside to all this. The magazine is about 80% ads, a forest of little business card-type ads (16 to a page). I counted more than two dozen symbol store ads (Spar, Costcutter, Nisa, Londis) alongside Kiran and Nishi Patel’s Londis at Bexley Park, Dartford. There were a similar number of independent restaurants, a fair few c-store indies, a clutch of farm shops and other local businesses. When I say local, I mean local to wherever they were trading in the southern half of the country. They had all been sold on the idea that they would be supporting police clubs in their area.
However, the Association of Chief Police Officers had not heard of the magazine and neither had Nishi Patel’s local police, who said they did not endorse the company.
To make it viable to an advertiser, the magazine would need to have many thousands of copies printed and circulated in each of these local areas and this clearly couldn’t have happened.
I spent several days investigating and eventually spoke to the founder of the Police Community Clubs, Barry Jones MBE, a jovial sort who got Ian Doyle, customer services for Community Initiatives Associates (responsible for the admin and invoicing of Community Aware magazine), to ring me.
Doyle maintained that Community Aware did have various local police club members and added that there were at least 25 scamming spin-offs out there (everything from other, similar-sounding mags to a child cancer ‘charity’).
Since the little ads each carry the phone number of the business advertising, bogus collectors are ringing up and harassing advertisers for payment, says Doyle. He found one company sending out bogus invoices from a virtual address in Bristol and offered to send me copies. Apparently, they jump in the minute the mag is out.
“If we want their business again, there is no way we would get heavy with advertisers,” says Doyle, although the Patels say that Community Aware is pushing hard for £250 payment.
I have to say, one cannot label Community Aware as a scam. It is fringe publishing and is itself being scammed. However, retailers can find other, better ways to support their local communities than advertising in a magazine that probably won’t be seen by many of their customers.