Pay per placement cheapens the public relations model

May 4 - News outlets Good friend and erstwhile client Julie Farin called my attention to a recent blog entry from a 'PR firm' called Ink, Inc. Pay per placement is a flawed way to measure and charge for public relations services. To begin with, they're not practicing public relations. They're doing media relations. Pure media by the pound. So, from that perspective the Ink, Inc. folks don't understand that comparing hourly and monthly billing rates with pay per placement is like comparing apples with oranges.

Ink, Inc. also claims that the standard billing model is a 'game' played by larger agencies. They say, and I quote, 'The game comes in the recording of the time actually spent doing client business, including writing timesheets, and is often the most creative thing one does weekly.' That's pure BS.

What the Ink, Inc. people don't, or won't, get is that public relations is far more than mere media placements. It includes everything from strategic positioning and crisis counseling to helping a client organization develop corporate social responsibility programs and effectively communicate in the new social media world. That sort of work demands high level counseling that should be tracked, and billed, on an hourly basis. To do otherwise is to cheapen and demean the work being done by top public relations professionals.

I'm a big believer in live and let live. If these guys want to charge a gullible client on a payment-by-placement basis, then I say go for it (but, what do you base your rates on? Corresponding advertising dollars? If so, that too, is ersatz). But, please, don't confuse prospective clients by suggesting larger and more respected firms are playing some sort of billing shell game. It's unfair and untrue.

4 thoughts on “Pay per placement cheapens the public relations model

  1. No argument, Alan. I’m all for incentive-based billing as long as the time and counsel is fairly compensated.

  2. Pure pay per placement is a mistake, but a hybrid of sorts is one way to go. This way, we’re not faced with giving it away upfront and we get reimbursed for our expertise.

  3. Thanks for the first person narrative. Moonlighting, eh? I agree the pay-per-placement model may make sense for a small, start-up entrepreneur. My problem was Ink Inc’s comparing ‘PPP’ with strategic public relations. It’s a fringe, cottage industry at best.

  4. Let me preface this by saying I’ve moonlighted as a pay-per-placement “media specialist” and overall, it was not a good experience. It was easy to find the client (what’s there to lose on their end, plus one was family) but tougher to devote the time needed to truly understand the client’s business, learn about the media landscape for said business, and to develop compelling story lines to tell (I did have a job, after all). It sucked and I lost out. Lesson learned.
    I do believe that there is room for a variation of this business model somewhere in the industry, however (I am not saying I am the guy to do it). Whether it be for smaller companies, maybe an out-side-of-the-box project(s), etc., it would and does appeal to smaller companies that don’t have the ability to pay pricey retainers. I know this for a fact.
    Maybe it would be a type of hybrid billing on top of a retainer that includes positioning, crisis comm., partnership developments, social media outreach, etc.
    As a rank and file employee, who did much of the grunt work at various agencies; I know that I would’ve welcomed additional fruits for my labor. If INK is able to win some for their clients and stuff their pockets, good for them and their entrepreneurial spirit. To say they are more than what they are, well, I can just as well as charge them for not pitching this story to PR Week.
    Kidding aside, I am a believer in live and let live, too. But it would be nice to see an extra zero or two for feature coverage that is won in major media vs. coverage won in the trades.