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Thoughts on the Pay-Per-Placement Model of PR

I was scanning some PR questions in LinkedIn Answers today and I came across a user looking for referrals to PR agencies or professionals that work on a pay-per-placement model. While there are firms out there that use this model I always hated this topic when I was running my agency. While it’s a seemingly fair request from the client’s point of view, it’s the wrong way to go about pricing and managing PR campaigns.

I thought it would be a good topic to through out there for discussion. First, my perspective on the topic – I’ll debate a couple different angles for you.

Why Pay-Per-Placement Makes Sense for Clients

PR can be expensive. While PR is about much more than clips or placements, a lot of clients don’t see it that way. Most of the time, they hire a PR firm to generate publicity for them. So why not expect that a firm would be willing to work on a contingency basis? Why should clients take all the risk, shouldn’t the agency put some skin in the game. If you hired a new sales manager, and the manager wanted to receive their entire salary, commission and bonus regardless of how many sales they closed, they would quickly be shown the door. Why should it be different for a PR agency? If the firm has extensive experience in media relations, with solid relationships in your industry, shouldn’t they be able to capitalize on this structure to earn more fees? Why are firms hesitant to adopt this model?

Why Pay-Per-Placement Doesn’t Work for Agencies

There is a lot of work that goes into developing and executing PR strategy for a client. An agency should be compensated for that work. Whether it’s research, strategy development, messaging and positioning, or the tactical work of pursuing and securing coverage, there’s a lot of legwork that goes into the process. It’s not just picking up the phone and getting somebody to write about the client’s news.

Secondly, it’s near impossible to develop a pricing structure based on the results generated. There are too many variables. What is a one sentence mention worth in TechCrunch, versus a product review in a trade magazine? Do you get paid more for quotes or mentions of a phone number or URL? What if a journalist does an interview, but doesn’t write a story? The client now has a valuable relationship they can leverage down the road, and isn’t that worth something? Even if the client and the agency can agree on compensation for specific types of coverage secured, there’s always going to be disagreement after the point – and agencies will be hard-pressed to collect those fees.

Finally, the PR reps have no control over what gets covered. This is where the real problem lies – many PR firms don’t do a good enough job at educating clients and setting expectations. Many clients don’t understand the ins and outs of PR, and what they should expect for results. If some clients truly understood the realistic amount of coverage that could be generated for them, based on the news value of the stories they give the PR firm to work with, many wouldn’t sign-up. PR firms are in active competition with each other, and projected results often get inflated during the proposal stage. If you don’t promise to deliver a certain level of results for the client, your competitor will – and they’ll get the business. Clients want to believe you can get them in BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal. If they believe you’re the firm to deliver, you’ll probably get the business… for a while at least. [Read more...]

Selling the Story – What PR Can Learn From Sales

I’ve been fortunate to work in both media relations and sales over the course of my career. I see a lot of similarities between the two. For starters, you’re selling a product to the journalists and bloggers you’re targeting… they are your prospects. Your pitch, your story, is the product. I’m not talking about used car sales here – think more complex, consultative or solution selling.

It’s your job as the sales rep (work with me here) to do your best job at communicating the features, benefits, differentiators, and value of your story to them – to get them to buy. If you fail to get them interested in a couple of seconds, you’re never going to get the sale. They are overwhelmed with other offers all day long.

So, what do the best sales people do that help them meet quotas consistently quarter after quarter? [Read more...]

Community Funded Journalism – The Spot.Us Model

I recently stumbled across the website for Spot.Us, an interesting model in news production. Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change. It’s goal is to pioneer “community funded reporting” – enabling the public to commission journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories.

It’s an interesting concept, but on the surface it seems flawed on several levels – at least based on my basic understanding of media ethics. I have never met a journalist that would write a story that somebody paid for. Okay, I take that back – there are plenty of outlets that ‘secretly’ operate on the pay-to-play model, but that’s a topic for another post. It’s not common – at least not that I know of – at the mainstream media level.

Here’s how it works (based on what I could gather from the Spot.Us website). Let’s say there’s a story I think needs to be told, and the media isn’t covering it. I can pitch the story and commit funds to sponsor the production of the story. In turn, reporters can commit to doing the story. Now if the news organization buys the rights to the story, my tax deductible donation is reimbursed. So that is an approach media organizations can use to get around the payment issue. [Read more...]

Journalists and Bloggers Are In Control… Don’t Piss Them Off

If you work in media relations, journalists and bloggers are your boss. I think a lot of media relations pros overlook this basic fact when working with the media. It’s easy to think the client is the boss, since they’re paying the bills each month. Throw best practices out the window and pitch the story – you need something for this week’s status report, right?

Really though, you can’t make a journalist or blogger write or talk about you. YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL, they are. Why am I writing about this? Because I keep seeing complaint, after complaint, after complaint about how PR reps are pitching the media today. A lot of PR pros consider themselves equal. They make the mistake of believing it’s a two-way street. They think journalists and bloggers need them as much as they need them. They don’t. They keep telling you they don’t, but you don’t believe them. [Read more...]

A Conversation Between Journalists, Bloggers and PR Folks – #journchat

If you’re a Twitter user, chances are good you’ve come across #journchat, a weekly discussion between journalists, bloggers and PR folks that takes place each Monday night in the Twitterverse. It’s consistently one of the top trending topics on Twitter on Monday nights, right up there with presidential addresses and the latest talk about Heroes. #journchat was created by @PRsarahevans and is a brilliant idea and use of Twitter to discuss the most current topics related to journalism and media relations.

What’s most encouraging about this effort is the participation of journalists and bloggers. When I first swung by to check it out, I expected to see mostly PR pros handing out and pushing their agendas. I’m so jaded sometimes. What I found blew my socks off – there was some real insightful dialogue from both sides of the table about working together for the greater good.

Discussions follow an organized Q&A session, where participants can Tweet rapid-fire about their perspective on the issues. It’s an open discussion that’s often hard to keep up with, but will no doubt be the best investment of my time on a weekly basis moving forward. There’s also a weekly recap posted on the #journchat website following each week’s discussion, if you want to get an idea of what you can expect next week. [Read more...]

Can PR Spam Be Stopped?

Any journalist or blogger will admit to receiving a lot of off-topic pitches and press releases. Some would classify this information as “PR spam” – others would just complain that PR pros are lazy and don’t take the time to learn what they write about, or approach a pitch unprepared. They’re right. I haven’t met a journalist yet that didn’t have a couple of war stories about how bad the problem of PR spam is. Some areas are better than others – for example, financial reporters seem to receive more relevant information than technology journalists, perhaps due to the tighter restrictions around public information.

On the other side of the table, most PR professionals you talk to will tell you that they do their best to only pitch relevant information to journalists and that push-back they receive is the result of catching a journalist on a bad day. Many will admit to sending off-topic information or spam pitches at some point in their career – many have learned from these mistakes, many have not. You’ll always have a couple of bad eggs that resort to pitching journalists cold – playing the numbers game, in hopes that somebody will respond and want to write about the “news” they are pitching.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about new solutions entering the market that will address the problem of PR spam head on. I’ll talk about some of those solutions in upcoming posts – and I recently wrote a post about MatchPoint’s new solution as one example of a new product trying to stop PR spam. Some bloggers have already taken this issue into their own hands, publishing lists of PR spammers – in an attempt to help other bloggers eliminate the problem with the email filter. You’d have to be living under a rock the past year or so to miss those examples, so no need to reference them all again in this post. [Read more...]

Using Twitter for Media Relations

There’s no question that Twitter is the new playground for media relations professionals looking to connect with busy journalists and bloggers. It’s a new frontier, that when managed professionally, can serve as a powerful platform for learning about journalists’ interests and preferences. It’s probably one of the best resources to come around that truly gives PR pros the insight they need to tailor pitches journalists will actually want to receive.

There are many articles and posts out there about using Twitter as a public relations tool. I recently stumbled across Bulldog Reporter’s Journalists Speak Out on PR newsletter and have found the content to be very interesting. A recent issue of the newsletter featured an article, “Bloggers Dish Twitter Tips for Building Relationships with Online Influencers,” by Editor Brian Pittman that shed some light on the topic. I couldn’t find a permalink for the story on the site, but wanted to paraphrase a couple of the tips here (you can subscribe to Journalists Speak Out on PR newsletter for free here):

  • Many journalists are open to being pitched through Twitter because it forces PR pros to get to the point quickly – in 140 characters or less
  • It’s easy for PR people to learn what a journalist is interested in writing about if they follow them – and pay attention
  • It’s a bad idea for your first interaction with a journalist to be a direct message (DM) pitch – especially if it’s off-topic
  • The best bet is to show appreciation and acknowledge that you’re following the journalist’s tweets

Of course, the key with any interaction with journalists through any medium is respect. Communicate in a professional manner and pay your dues before jumping in the tweetstream or pushing your agenda. You should always take the time to understand what a journalist is interested in, what type of information they are interested in receiving, and how they like to be contacted through this channel. [Read more...]

MatchPoint Wants to Put An End to PR Spam

I came across an interesting new product for PR professionals today called MatchPoint. MatchPoint has developed a search application tool for PR professionals who engage in media relations that enables them to match their pitches to content reporters have written about using search engine technology.

Simply paste the content of your pitch or press release into a large search query box and MatchPoint will search its database of media content for relevant stories related to the content. This solution has big potential in saving PR pros time during the research and targeting phase of the media relations process. The ultimate goal of this solution is to eliminate off-topic or spam pitches from PR professionals – in theory, because they would only be pitching outlets based on relevancy of coverage.

MatchPoint has an impressive database of content – containing 3 million articles from 11,000 print publications, 25,000 online news sites and 10,000 blogs (according to a recent Bulldog Reporter article). While MatchPoint certainly represents one of the more innovative solutions to be developed for PR professionals in some time, it’s probably best used as a starting point for media targeting at this point. It’s possible to generate a lot of results that match the content of your pitch based on relevance of keywords and phrases, but that doesn’t mean the outlet or journalist is a good fit for the story you’re pitching. For example, if you were to search MatchPoint’s news release, it would suggest various high-tech publications that have written about innovations in search – and sure, you could adapt a pitch for those outlets based on these findings – so again, it’s a great starting point.

My concern – like that of any new PR tool – is the potential for less-professional or less-experienced PR professionals to abuse the system. Conducting a search based on relevance of content and than pitching all the outlets in the search result would be a no-no – and it would result with even more off-topic pitches and spam for journalists. However, if the tool is used responsibly, I could see how it could save a lot of time and be a very valuable tool in the PR arsenal.

MatchPoint is currently offering a free 10-day trial for PR professionals, after which the company will charge $65 per month for the service. I’m sure the algorithm will only get more exact over time as MatchPoint adds to its database. I’m personally looking forward to trying this solution out more for our media relations efforts at Journalistics.

What do you think of MatchPoint? How do you think this tool will help you in your media relations efforts? Do you think it will help reduce the amount of off-topic pitches journalists receive? Let us know what you think.

Big Challenges for Journalists in the Current Media Environment

Yesterday we did a post about some of the most common challenges facing media relations professionals in 2009. Now we’ll shift gears and touch on the biggest challenges facing journalists today. Like the media relations challenges, we’ve had some great discussions with journalists about their current working environments and the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Some of the most challenges cited by journalists are:

  • Having to write content across multiple formats (print, Web, blog, etc.) – asked to produce more content than ever before
  • Dealing with constant changes to coverage areas and beats
  • Working in uncertain economic environment – layoffs are happening all over the place
  • Forced to do more with less – staff cuts means there’s more work for those left behind
  • Competing against other outlets for the best stories – working around challenges of a 24/7, global news climate
  • Adapting to new media – social networking and Twitter for example
  • Processing and filtering incoming information efficiently – including the high-volume of pitches and press releases
  • Managing relationships and sources for ongoing story development
  • Dealing with uninformed PR reps and off-topic pitches
  • Finding necessary information from PR reps and online press rooms

Many of these findings will come as no surprise to professional journalists or publicists, but the problems seem to be amplified in the current uncertain economic environment.

Do you work in the current media environment? What challenges are you facing on a daily basis? In what areas could you use more help to do your job? What could media relations professionals do to make your job easier? What tools or resources do you find most helpful in your daily work? Let us know your thoughts.

What Are the Biggest Challenges for Media Relations in 2009?

We recently conducted interviews with public relations professionals across many different environments and positions – from entry level to management, from agency to corporate, and from small agency to big agency, to gauge what the biggest challenges were for pros in dealing with the media on a daily basis in today’s environment. While we are continuing these discussions with anyone that will listen – and we welcome your feedback – some of the more consistent themes we’ve found include:

  • Keeping up with changing media contacts and editorial changes in a rapidly changing media environment
  • Having accurate media contact information and pitch tips on hand – not having to re-research information pulled from media databases
  • Being able to collaborate more efficiently across media relations teams – moving away from static spreadsheets of contacts
  • Breaking through filters to reach the right contact, at the right time, with just the right information
  • Adapting to new formats and uses of the press release
  • Leveraging new media like Twitter (see MediaOnTwitter wiki) in appropriate ways
  • Working around changing opinions around traditional approaches – like the embargo
  • Having better access to what journalists are writing about, what information they value most, and how they like to best work with PR pros – if at all
  • Quantifying the value of media outreach and placement to clients and other stakeholders – beyond impressions, release pickup and ad value
  • Developing more effective processes for one-to-one media relations – moving away from one-size-fits-all pitching
  • Training junior staffers on the new rules of engagement for PR

These are just some of the more common themes we’ve discovered through our initial discussions. What are the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis? What should be on this list that we missed? How are you adapting to change? What solutions help you the most in your job today? Where are the gaps? Let us know what you think.