As a marketing exec for over 25 years, I have worked with numerous PR agencies from large, well-known ones to smaller boutique ones. In all cases, I experienced the same results – overpromises and under performance. I cannot think of any other instance where the outcome is not in line with the cost.
As I have started a new position in corporate marketing I am looking to increase brand awareness for the company I represent. Earned media is one of the best ways to achieve this and thus, I have started my search for a PR agency to help in this effort.
I put out a message on two private marketing networking groups I am a member of stating, “I am looking for a PR person (or agency) that is willing to work on contingency (as opposed to retainer). I am willing to pay per interview and additionally per publication.” The company I work for has a very promising future as we have a solution that truly delivers value and solves real issues in cannabis supply chain operations and marketing to consumers. While we have a strong future ahead of us, we run as a lean company with limited, but adequate funds. Given my experience with PR agencies, I decided I would only pay a PR agency for performance.
The responses I got to my request from various people on the private marketing networks were not a surprise ….
“Pay for pay on interviews doesn’t work and if I’m being honest, undervalues the role of a PR professional.”
“If I had a dollar for every time I heard this, Steve, I’d own a yacht! When working with a PR agency, my suggestion is to find one that’s already immersed in the industry. I turn down clients all the time simply because I am not as invested in the industry.”
My response – “maybe there is some truth behind what I said given you hear it so much. Maybe the PR industry (as a whole – not you) over promises and under delivers. Maybe it is time to rethink a model that has been around for decades and is challenging for potential clients. Not saying that I nailed what the model should be. In any event – thanks for the conversation.”
“I’d be very leery to work with an agency that works on contingency. It’s asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success. I’d be curious to see what sort of responses/results you get with this type of arrangement.”
My response: “But how is ‘asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success’ worse than paying someone on a retainer in hopes of success? This is the exact challenge I have found in working with numerous PR agencies – over-promise and under-delivery.”
“This kind of arrangement diminishes the PR team and can lead to contention. Perhaps you haven’t worked with the right PR team in the past. There has to be a foundation of mutual trust.”
“Most good agencies tend to not work on contingency. The risk factor is too high and it’s not like a pay-per-lead business as it must include very specific factors. I would be careful on working with an agency that works on contingency as they might try to get quick but weak wins and ask for a payment … ”
My response: “what constitutes a ‘good agency?’ Like I said, I have worked with agencies that on paper are ‘good’ or are well known that people would say ‘are good’ but they have under delivered. Most of the comments on this thread have come from PR Agency people that have told me I should beware. Maybe I am suggesting something that is radical. It is worth continuing conversations. This email trail reminds me of the commercial that I often see on TV from the investment firm that highlights they only get paid when their customers do well.”
One person did respond to me, “if you find anyone regarding your PR request- feel free to pass them on to me as well…thanks in advance.” I asked this person to follow up and let me know about their experience, to which they replied, “Same – 5-10k monthly retainer, and let’s go…I sometimes look at it the other way – if you are really good at getting desired press – charge more and change the model.”
I have worked in the marketing profession in many different industries. Many companies in these various industries have had to morph based upon consumers and clients changing perspectives and needs. Companies that do not change with the times get left behind and no longer succeed.
I believe that PR agencies are now facing this fork in the road. Too many companies feel exactly the way I do – what did we actually get for a retainer of $5-10K per month for the past six months?
Don’t you think it is time for PR agencies to hold a greater responsibility for the outcome of a paid contract with them? If yes, I see no other alternative than a contingency contract.
Your turn – chime in.