I’ll Have 101 Media Placements, Please—Hold the Strategic Planning and Relationship Building

Can you imagine lawyers who only required payment if they won your case? Or doctors who made you pay only if they cured you? What about PR agencies that charged you solely based on media placements? These instances seem outlandish, but the latter practice is growing in popularity among small business owners.

I recently joined YoungPRPros, a list serv for those in the first 10 years of their careers, and I’ve been following the hot topic of pay-per-placement PR for a couple of days now as young professionals debate the issue.

The buzz started with the Wall Street Journal article “Pay for PR—But Only When It Works”, which discusses the pros and cons of hiring a PR firm and paying it based on the number of media placements it acquires. While this may benefit small businesses without the resources to pay expensive retainer fees, it also demeans the PR industry.

Even as a student, I realize that PR goes beyond landing stories in the media. PR practitioners provide counsel, they develop relationships on behalf of the client, and they launch campaigns that aren’t entirely media-focused. If a client is paying per placement, PR professionals will cut out these other services to focus on placing stories so they get paid well. This eliminates functions that differentiate public relations from publicists or press agents.

I understand that small businesses sometimes struggle to afford PR services, but if they were ever featured in a top-tier publication, they would be footing the bill of a hefty placement fee. A better investment would be a full-service PR firm responsible for media placements, relationship building, branding, AND strategic planning.

I don’t think there is enough support for pay-per-placement PR to make it a mainstay in the industry, but it is interesting to look at the different billing options available for both clients and practitioners.

To maintain the integrity of PR as a strategic business function, I don’t think I’m going to be championing for placement-billing PR anytime soon.

Are you?

6 thoughts on “I’ll Have 101 Media Placements, Please—Hold the Strategic Planning and Relationship Building

  1. Can’t say I would, Meg. QUANTITY of media placements doesn’t always mean QUALITY.
    These press releases may garner attentionp- but even if they don’t result in the worst case scenerio, how could they possibly result the in the best way?
    It’s hap-hazard, to say the least.
    Only when pr professionals take the time to fully understand the company and the message– an on-target one and focused one– will public relations be worth the money spent.

  2. This is exactly what I was thinking, Tory. I truly believe that the strategic function of PR will be lost if clients choose firms that are billed per placement.

    Thank you for your comment!

  3. Great post, and I love the title. It says so much about our industry unfortunately. It boggles my mind that companies would pay agencies based on the number of media placements they generated! Would you agree that PR is about relationship-building and that media relations is only a tool to getting that done? That’s my opinion, but I’d be interested in hearing another take.

  4. Adam,

    What scares me the most about pay-per-placement PR is that it completely eliminates relationship building, both with the client and the media. Media relations is a very important tool in developing relationships– media coverage helps customers and shareholders keep track of the client and often adds credibility.

    If you only get paid based on the number of placements, you’re going to do whatever you can to get your ideas printed, which will most likely lead to “spamming” press releases and hoping for some coverage. Where’s the relationship in that?

    Again, I am too proud of my profession to let it be downgraded to a mere press agent role. Relationship building and strategic counsel are what set PR professionals apart from the rest, and these elements are far too important to let them disappear.

    Not that I think that will happen anytime soon, but that it is happening on a minimal scale already.

    Thanks for the great insight!

  5. You make an excellent point, Meg. I manage communication for three financial companies — they’re owned by one guy — but as much as he talked about planning and strategy to get me in the door, we haven’t sunk to pay-per-placement, but he likes “throwing on the wall to see what sticks.”

    The problem is that pay-per-placement erodes our profession and our professionalism. While you make a great point about attorneys only getting paid if they win a case, or a doctor if his cure works, we PR professionals need to work hard to continue the fight to professionalize our work. One way to do that is to seek out and earn advanced degrees. Earn an APR,and ABC or both.

    And I understand the small businesses may not have the budget to pay high-price retainers and hourly rates, but there’s a solution for that too. But to read that check out Your PR Guy in the coming days.

  6. Was wondering if you would be interested in working with my new search engine? Not sure if you are an actual business or just one person. Me and my business partner plan on doing a soft launch in tampa, work out the kinks, then hit the rest of the country!

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