Pay-Per-Placement PR: Where is the Love?

Whatever happened to the “Pay-Per-Placement PR” debate?  A few years ago, when Pay-Per-Placement (PPP) made its big debut as a serious PR alternative, a discussion of its Pros and Cons raged on – whether it was more cost-effective to use PPP, which is essentially a “commission sales” type of public relations, or traditional “retainer-based” public relations.

PPP sounds great to some prospective clients, especially small business owners who want an inexpensive way to publicize themselves.  After all, isn’t publicity the goal here?  Why not just pay for coverage when you get it?  That seems like the smart choice, doesn’t it?

While there are still plenty of PPP firms operating, you don’t hear as much about them anymore.  It turns out that there are some drawbacks to this approach, and they mostly relate to the services PR firms provide – and client expectations.

What PR Firms Do.    Public relations is more than publicity.  Retainer-based PR firms offer strategic planning that focuses on the client’s long-term goals, its short-term objectives, target audiences, audience-directed messaging, and the tactics (including, but not limited to, traditional media coverage) that can be used to effectively reach the targeted audiences.  PR firms also offer training for spokespersons and counseling in times of crisis.

Traditional PR Firm-Client Relationship.  When it comes to publicity, a retainer-based PR firm works hard to design and write releases, articles and pitches that will generate valuable media coverage for their clients – i.e., media coverage that will clients reach their goals.  They often develop a strong bond with, and loyalty to, their clients and spend hours researching media outlets and journalists who would be receptive to their approach and whose coverage would serve the best interests of their clients.

The Value of Strategic PR.  If you were working on commission, where you would get paid only if you sold a product, you probably wouldn’t be too picky about who bought the product.  Consider PPP in that light.  If you are being paid per interview or press clipping, you are going to be tempted to seek out the easiest placements to get, regardless of whether or not it benefits the client.  This can lead to disjointed and scattershot editorial coverage, with no strategy behind it.

Is PPP Really Cheaper? You may think that paying a PR firm for performance is the cheapest way to go.  After all, if they don’t get an placements for you, they won’t get paid.  But let’s take a look at some numbers.  Let’s say a retainer-based PR firm charges you a fee of $5,000 per month, while a PPP firm charges you a range of fees based on categories of coverage, such as these sample fees from a PPP pricing list:  For publications with limited circulation (e.g., a small town newspaper), costs for a feature story would be $1800; for focus coverage (where you are the main one quoted in a survey story), $1,450; and for a mention, $800.  For large circulation publications, a feature story would be $5,000; focus coverage, $4,500; and a mention, $3,400.

Here’s a recent example of what our firm generated recently with a simple news release:  two mentions and one large circulation publication feature story.  The PPP price for that would be $6,600.  The previous month, a front page feature story for the same client was generated by an exclusive pitch to the right journalist.  The PPP price would have been $5,000 – or maybe more, since front page positive features are rare.  (This does not include the Web URL for the feature, which would add $700 to the PPP costs, according to that pricing structure.)

Another reality check:  It is not unusual to get at least 10 mentions from a news release or a pitch.  For the PPP prices listed above, that would cost at least $8,000.

Where are the savings?

To Be Fair…There are some good PPP firms available, and there are retainer-based PR firms that will do PPP pricing for some projects.  Depending on your business, the PPP publicity model may be right for you.  It just may not turn out to be as inexpensive as you initially thought.