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.