All too often we hear from companies looking to bring on a PR firm that they will pay for “results.”
They wax poetic about how they are willing to pay top dollar or “market rate” for the best work—they just want that amazing work to be done without any guarantee of payment.
Their definition of paying for performance comes down to paying for hits. There are many reasons why you should never hire a PR team or contractor that is paid for “hits”—below are six of them:
1. You are motivating around the wrong thing.
Of course, you need media results, and ultimately your dollars should be spent on things that drive your bottom line. But positive performance doesn’t just mean hits in this day and age. (Frankly, I’m not sure if it ever did.)
Paying based on tactical outcomes motivates your team to simply drive tactics and ignore strategy. What if something not media related is a better use of time? What if meeting the right VCs or speaking directly to your community would better impact your bottom line? If you work in a pay by hit model, you could be out of time and money before you figure that out.
Even when it comes to actually driving coverage of your company, paying by the hit motivates quantity—completely ignoring quality. What about the slow-burn media opportunities that take time to foster and offer more than a quick news blurb? Depending on your business and goals, those are almost always worth far more.
Though a pay by the hit model may address a feature versus a news hit, the motivation is still way off base since working on the in-depth article is more time consuming and risky.
Just because it may not happen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and paying by the hit makes taking the big swings (which could miss) financially imprudent for the PR person on the other end. Why would I be motivated to take a risk and get one big hit if getting three quick hits yields the same money and is less risky?
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2. You are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The best people in this business get paid for their time and their craft. By hiring someone who is willing to only get paid when they secure media coverage you are likely going to get someone who can’t negotiate to save their lives (and negotiation and consensus building are core strengths in this business).
Even worse, you will probably get someone who is desperate for business and can’t demand actual cash for their services. Do you think you’d get the best designer if you told them you would only pay them once their product was live and it proved to drive conversion? Anyone worth their salt would run like hell from that proposition.
Vet the people you hire, talk to your network, get referrals, and protect yourself with 30-day cut/change clauses in contracts—but then go with your gut, and pay us for our work. You wouldn’t expect a high school teacher to get paid only if your kid got into Stanford—maybe your kid is just not that smart, and maybe your product is just not amazing enough to warrant top media coverage.
3. You can screw yourself financially.
You should plan for your PR spend and work with a firm you can trust (see above). The goal is to quickly find your maximum ROI point—that spending amount that most effectively leads to maximum results per dollar. (Note
: This can and should change over time; find a partner you can trust to communicate that to you and adjust with your needs.)
If you have pay per hit PR help, they might get 50 local radio hits in backwoods DMAs across the country that drive zero
actual value for your business. (Flip this analogy if backwoods DMAs are your sweet spot.)
If you pay even $500 for each of those hits, you owe $25k for one month of service that yields you nothing. The same could be true on a “big hit.” Say you have to pay $15k for a large national morning show hit, and I happen to get one as your pay per hit PR person. Let’s say it doesn’t move the needle at all, and it’s all I do over a two-month period.
I just made the money I need to pay my bills. You, unfortunately, got nothing other than a pretty clip to add to a brag reel and burned a large percentage of your budget. Ultimately, neither of us got strategic insight about your business and its needs for the future.
4. You will drive the wrong tactics, even if you attempt to control the strategy.
PR people can get coverage with news, and sadly even crap press releases get picked up somewhere. So, if you motivate me with pay per hit, I will push to make news out of every sneeze that comes out of your company. Even if it makes the company look bad, gives me and all PR people a bad name, and continues to degrade the value of the press—I get paid.
As many entrepreneurs know, sometimes you need more time—launch windows slip, user testing brings up things you didn’t think of, a key team member jumps ship completely obliterating the planning product roadmap. At times like this, marketing should be motivated to find other high value work that helps long term – not just get quick hits.
What about the times when you think you are ready and you are not? Your PR folks should be able to level with you and tell you to pause and make the product better, get more user interaction in or clean up your web site before you launch. Pay per hit PR people won’t be able to tell you because the second you do the smart thing, their opportunity to get paid disappears.
5. You will get the media I know, not the ones you should know.
Every PR person has relationships—some better and stronger than others, but we all have them. Those getting paid by the hit will pick the lowest-hanging fruit to make sure they make their monthly numbers, and can you blame them?
You’ll get hits from media they know best, not the media you should be targeting. They may even honestly be able to justify why those press outlets are a good fit for your story—and maybe they are. But they are certainly not the only outlets you should reach, and pay per hit compensation means putting food on the table for that PR person is tied to ignoring that fact.
6. Contrary to popular belief, PR people can do math—especially when there is a dollar sign in front of the number.
If you grow up in agency PR you live and breathe billable hours, forecasting documents, and budget versus actual check-ins. It’s part of the services business and there is no reason to apologize for it.
Unfortunately, with a pay per hit model, those math skills are used to maximize results around what the PR team needs to get paid to be profitable, not around your business needs or even your coverage goals.
For instance, if I know I can make my numbers most securely by getting you five tech blog hits, that’s what I’ll put my energy into—even at the expense of laying the groundwork now for a business press feature in two months and print coverage in a long lead holiday gift guide in six which may be a better use of time when it comes to your businesses long term needs.
Ultimately, if you hire pay per hit PR help, you are just giving your money away. Go ahead and burn your hard-won resources on something that is not tied to business objectives, not long term, not strategic and likely a total waste of time if it floats your boat, but don’t come crying to legitimate PR pros about how shady the PR business is after you get burned—you made your bed.
Julie Crabill is responsible for the overall vision and direction of Inner Circle Labs and its team. Before founding the company, Julie spent 10 years in agency side PR with SHIFT Communications, Edelman and Weber Shandwick.