I was asked my opinion recently about “pay-for-performance” models in the PR profession and I thought it might make a nice little post, so here goes. First, just so we’re all singing out of the same hymnal, pay-for-performance or pay-for-play is a compensation model where the agency or practitioner only receives compensation when certain target media placements are made. Sounds grrreat on paper, but there are serious fundamental flaws in this model. And (drum roll please) they are:
- PRSA Code of Ethics — forbids promising results out of the practitioner’s immediate control. And when dealing with earned media, that’s everything we do. We can put our clients in a favorable position to earn media coverage, but it becomes VERY dangerous to make promises about it.
- Devalues expert advice and counsel — One big reason companies hire PR firms and counselors is, well, counsel. Pay for play models don’t take into account the incredible value of just knowing cool stuff about the media and the world that clients can use to reap untold fortunes. In the knowledge economy, knowledge is a great way to get paid.
- Makes the PR process tactical — This ain’t an SEO campaign or a throw-away Google ad here folks. This is real business strategy stuff, real strategic messaging work and really powerful “how you should operate your business” level planning and execution. To limit it to a pay for play model really changes the client’s thinking about the profession. And as hard as PR has worked to “get a seat at the table” I’d rather not sit next to the many tacticians out there who are only interested in this month’s search rankings and sales funnel.
My final point is that ALL PR is Pay for Performance. As in, you don’t perform, you lose the client and you don’t get paid. In fact, all work is really pay for performance, right? Ok, maybe not in the government, but everywhere else? In conclusion, my opinion stands that pay for performance, while a clever way to temporarily fool prospective clients into believing there is absolute control and no risk to PR and marketing, ultimately violates the PRSA Code, devalues our counsel and makes the profession much more tactical. No matter how you pay for it, the good news is that PR has never worked better for companies. According to some brand spankin’ new research, earned media is 88 percent more effective than traditional content marketing in influencing purchase decisions.