In a bold and self-promoting publicity stunt, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has announced on its public website that Jehovah’s Witnesses have just been awarded two “Telly Awards” statuettes at the 36th Annual Telly Awards.
As impressive as this sounds, JW Survey has uncovered details revealing that these statuettes are in fact purchased by the Watchtower organization from a marketing company which deceptively promotes itself as a well-recognized awards competition. Both registration and awards are paid for in a sketchy scheme designed to mimic legitimate, notable awards such as the Oscars and the Emmys.
The phrase “the 36th Annual Telly Awards” is designed to imitate reputable televised awards ceremonies which are recognized around the globe. The Telly awards are neither televised nor widely respected, and their certificates and statues amount to a clever way to sell membership and merchandise.
Furthermore, the Watchtower issued a carbon copy statement on its website acquired directly from Telly marketing materials, along with a fake quote from Telly executive director Linda Dey. The same quote is issued to every Telly “winner.”
The Watchtower and Awards
The practice of using donated funds from Jehovah’s Witnesses to purchase a very high probability of “winning” an award is not new for the Watchtower organization. Since at least 2002, Watchtower has amassed a collection of certificates and statues, the result of dozens of submissions to numerous for-profit organizations, bypassing legitimate and critical sources of acclaim.
Located just outside the Brooklyn, New York office of senior Governing Body aide Robert Wallen stands a bookcase featuring a collection of Telly and Aurora certificates and statues, purchased over a 14+ year period. A glass wall is all that separates this display from tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witness tourists who pilgrimage to Brooklyn Heights each year.
During a 2011 tour of Watchtower headquarters, a visiting Witness missionary informed me that the organization had won several awards for broadcasting excellence, including an Emmy award. This was extremely impressive, but it was not until years later upon closer examination of the awards display, I found that this “Emmy” award was not, in fact, an Emmy at all, but was a “Telly” award.
It appears that the Watchtower organization did, however, register one or more of their PSA videos with the Emmys, but failed to win the award. JW Survey contacted David Winn, Senior Vice President for News & Documentaries, and Paul Pillitteri, Chief Administrative and Information Officer, but neither could confirm any nominations for 2002 or other years in which Watchtower submitted entries.
Winn admitted that the Emmys, like most other awards competitions, charges up to $400 to register a single video.
What are the Telly and Aurora Awards?
Out of every successful venture comes the inevitable copycats, the businesses which thrive on packaging a popular idea or item, then sell it for a lesser price than the competition. This is true in the film and television industry, with the Academy Awards (the Oscars) and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (The Emmys) inspiring a number of imitation awards competitions, primarily aimed at smaller, lower budget enterprises, or organizations seeking as much publicity as possible in exchange for a fee.
The next best thing to having actually won an Emmy award is apparently having someone think you won that award. For a few witty entrepreneurs, a golden opportunity emerged.
According to its website, the Telly Awards was founded in 1978 and “is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online commercials, video and films.”
[NOTE: – in their press release package, Telly declares 1979 as the date of their founding instead of 1978]
Combining a website with a shopping cart, clever marketing campaigns and a contract with the same manufacturer who produces the Oscar and Emmy statuettes, Telly zeroed in on an untapped market of emerging video creators who would jump at the chance to showcase a trophy which bears a striking resemblance to the Emmy statue.
How does it work? When Watchtower produces a video or online news release, it uploads the video or URL to Telly using a web submission form, paying for this opportunity according to the number of entries and categories chosen. Per the Telly website: “The Telly Awards Final Entry Fee is $105 (U.S dollars) for single entries and $190 (U.S Dollars) for campaign entries.”
After the published “deadline” for entries, Telly contacts the “contestant” and advises them that they have won, in most cases, either a silver or bronze award. Once notified, the organization must cough up $210 U.S. for the trophy, which weighs approximately 4.5 pounds, one half the weight of an Oscar. You would think that a frameable certificate would come with your victory, but sadly, this too is for sale – for $45.00.
While Telly claims to be hosting the “37th Annual” awards contest, messages posted on their Facebook group and website indicate that there are multiple “deadlines” and “extended deadlines,” clearly raising suspicions that the Telly organization is more concerned with collecting entry fees than in maintaining the integrity of their so-called competition.
Further revealing is the fact that this “competition” is in fact not a competition against other entries, but a subjective choice of an unlimited number of “winners” chosen by the “Silver Telly Council.” Their website states:
“entries do not compete against each other. Instead, entries are judged against a high standard of merit.”
“Empowered to uphold the historical standards of the Telly competition, judges may award top honors to more than one entry or no entries in a particular category.”
[Bold added by JW Survey]
This is the equivalent of saying ‘Brie Larson, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan all did a phenomenal job this year, so they will ALL get Oscars for their movies. They will be allowed to purchase their Oscars online, and may order as many Oscars as they wish for anyone remotely connected with their efforts…’
There is no question that awarding multiple “winners” in a category is both beneficial for the Telly award participants as well as the Telly corporation, which stands to profit to the tune of hundreds of dollars for each declared winner. Considering the thousands of submissions and winners claimed by Telly, the award business is an extremely profitable enterprise.
JW Survey contacted the Telly Awards and found that with minimal effort, any person claiming to be associated with the Jehovah’s Witness video production team can easily purchase as many statues and certificates as they desire, with no vetting procedures whatsoever. If you have the money, they will bend over backwards to sell you these awards. Customization of the award takes no longer than the time it takes to enter your credit card number.
And the Telly Awards are far from being the only player in the awards business. The Aurora Awards has cashed in on this scheme, with Watchtower shelling out statue money as far back as 2002.
Based on a nearly identical set of “rules”, the Aurora Film and Video Competition also awards unlimited numbers of winners from any given category. In their FAQ, they ask:
Q – “How many winners are there per category?”
A – “Because entries are judged against an absolute standard of excellence there is no fixed number of winners. Technically all or none could be winners.”
And for only $214 U.S. Dollars, you can order your own gold or platinum colored statue, as did the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The Aurora FAQ reminds entrants of the value of this award:
Besides, winning an Aurora Award, seeing your certificate, and holding your beautiful (and heavy) statue in your hands feels good! The beautiful statue on your desk or in your foyer will speak volumes without having to say anything.”
Watchtower would like members to believe that it has been recognized by well-known media organizations in an attempt to improve its public image and shake off the label of “cult” that has followed it around for over a century.
In an ironic twist, the Watchtower entered multiple pay-to-play competitions in 2002, submitting not one but three videos on the benefits of bloodless surgery. These videos were submitted to multiple “competitions” including the U.S. International Film and Video Festival and the Telly Awards.
The 2002 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses announced:
“That first video was completed in time to qualify for entry in the 34th annual U.S. International Film and Video Festival. In all, there were 1,500 entries from 33 countries… The awards show that experts within the film industry recognize the quality, accuracy, and professionalism of the video, thus contributing to the credibility of its message.”
What the Yearbook failed to mention was the fact that the judges can award as many or as few awards in any category they wish. There is no competition, and there is no festival. In fact the word “festival” is just a catchphrase designed to mimic legitimate, established events, such as the Cannes Film Festival.
By submitting multiple video entries in several categories, Watchtower practically guaranteed itself a victory. The current price to enter just one video over 30 minutes in length is $525.00 U.S. And like the Telly and Aurora awards, winners can purchase as many statuettes and certificates as they like.
In addition to the aforementioned organizations, Watchtower continued writing checks, entering multiple additional competitions in 2002 including the World Media Festival, sponsored by the German company Intermedia, and The Communicator Awards.
Both organizations issued awards to Watchtower.
Of interest is the fact that the Communicator Awards “Frequently Asked Questions” reveals there may be multiple “winners” in each category, using the exact phrases posted on the Telly Awards site, as mentioned in this article.
Q. How many winners are there per category?
A. There may be several winners in a certain category or there may be none. Winners are chosen based on the content of their piece; there are not a set number of winners per category. Judges evaluate entries to recognize distinction in creative work – entries do not compete against each other-rather entries are judged against a high standard of merit.
Is there no honor among these awards corporations? Which is worse: plagiarizing each other’s list of rules, or awarding multiple victors in any given category to drastically boost profits?
Watchtower publishes phony quote
Perhaps equally misleading to readers of the JW.org website is the Telly Award quote published on March 7th under Global News. Telly executive director Linda Day is quoted saying:
“The Telly Awards has a mission to honor the very best in film and video,” said Linda Day, executive director of the Telly Awards. “The Witnesses’ accomplishment in the jw.org Newsroom illustrates their creativity, skill, and dedication to their craft and serves as a testament to great film and video production.”
This testimonial from Ms. Day implies that as executive director of the Telly Awards, she personally endorses the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ production. However this could not be further from the truth. In a package of marketing materials published on the Telly website, all “winners” are encouraged to insert their name into the same stock quote from Linda Day, and pass this off as an official endorsement.
This bizarre and accidental discovery reveals that the Jehovah’s Witness religious corporation will shamelessly publish a fictitious quote, knowing that in all likelihood, no one would ever audit their news post. They were wrong about that. JW Survey found scores of websites guilty of using the same form-quote. Three of these are seen below:
Examples of other websites using identical quote
This deplorable and phony quotation serves to further diminish the integrity of both the Telly Awards and the Watchtower organization. Already known for quote-mining, photo-plagiarism, and failed prophecies, the JW writing department stands on a paper-thin sheet of ice, a precarious position for anyone whose pants are on fire.
The fact that Watchtower has subscribed to such sketchy advertising tactics comes as no surprise to students of this organization. As far back as 1914, Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell spent a fortune developing and promoting his famous Photo-Drama of Creation, a video production ultimately aimed at boosting sales of his six volume Studies in the Scriptures books, along with subscriptions to the Watchtower magazine.
Over 100 years later, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses purchased and housed an elaborate high-definition television studio in Brooklyn New York, and maintains extensive audio/video production facilities in Patterson, New York. Like never before, Watchtower is churning out an increasing number of video productions, while decreasing the printing of magazines and books.
The question then remains, if Watchtower is a genuine charitable organization that creates video productions free of charge, why do they find it necessary to spend thousands in donated funds to gain acceptance in the entertainment industry?
The Awake Magazine of May 22nd 2005 provides a clue in an article on Kona coffee. Discussing the coffee cupping competition, it states “Competition is keen, for the coveted awards can mean greatly increased sales for the winners.”
When this article was written, the JW media and public relations department had already entered multiple “competitions” in an effort to promote and legitimize their videos. This is in complete opposition to what they printed in the very next issue of the Awake magazine, June 8th. In an article on the subject of ambition and humility, the Awake stated: “People who are honest and reliable and who work hard often get noticed, find good employment, and earn respect. Surely, following this course is better than resorting to the manipulation of others for personal gain or competing with others for position.”
The article further warns “true” Christians against ambition, telling them to shun it completely. It says that Christians should “simply try hard to do their best in all situations, for God’s glory, and leave the outcome in his hands.” It would appear that the Watchtower leadership follows a different set of rules than individual rank and file Witnesses. If the JW media department applied these principles, they would clearly have no interest or need to promote their videos through questionable (and costly) “worldly” competitions. The Governing Body could choose to humbly let their productions stand on their own merits, rather than entering sketchy competitions, then boastfully declaring their victories.
In the jw.org Telly news report, Watchtower name-dropped Richard Polton and Jared Kushner, then concluded their article with a copy-pasted statement from the Telly Awards marketing kit, topping it off with a phony quotation from Telly executive Linda Day. From an ethical and journalistic standpoint, this is inexcusable. But, I suppose they will leave the outcome in God’s hands.
By the Fall of 2016, Jehovah’s Witnesses deleted the Telly Award post from its website, along with the Jared Kushner interview.
Watchtower Office of Public Information declined to comment.
JW Survey contacted the Telly Awards and was permitted to purchase a Telly statuette using Watchtower’s identification code without any identification.
Additional public commentary on the Telly Awards:
Church of Scientology also participates in Telly Awards…