Ask the PR Pro: Can PR be done on a pay-for-placement basis?

There are three ways that PR firms bill for their services: on retainer, by project and as a fee for placement.

In a fee for placement scenario, clients are billed when their company or product appears in an article. At first glance, this may seem appealing to companies on limited budgets or to managers who are risk adverse. After all, why invest in PR activities that don’t deliver coverage?

There has been a lot of debate over the years about this practice. Last year, prominent tech blog TechCrunch came out condemning the practice and said it would not work with PR firms that bill for their services using this method.

The chief criticisms of pay-for-placement strategies include:

  1. Conflict of interest. One of the main goals of a PR firm should be to help clients build strong, long-term relationships with reporters so the client becomes a trusted, ongoing resource. This is at odds with a pay-for-placement strategy that is focused on getting coverage above all else, and oftentimes results in an overly aggressive approach that burns bridges with reporters.
  2. Lack of strategy. Successful PR programs are strategic. Time is spent up front developing key messages, understanding audiences and researching where prospects and targets get their news. This strategy often is missing in pay-for-placement programs because the PR firm isn’t compensated for this work and also because there isn’t any incentive to deliver more meaningful results, such as media placements that drive sales leads.
  3. Potential for problems. When a PR firm is solely focused on delivering a media placement, what happens when the placement isn’t positive or contains incorrect information? Is the PR firm penalized for the content? What happens if the client blows the interview or if the placement is delayed? There are a number of ways for things to go wrong with few incentives for fixing them.

A better strategy is to come to an agreement with the PR firm on reasonable results that you can expect for your investment in a sufficient timeframe. During regular intervals, review what’s been accomplished against what was expected and make adjustments. You’ll learn quickly if your PR program is delivering results.

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