Smart a la Carte?

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy coverage in the media for a flat fee the same way you buy ads in a magazine or on TV? Well, now you can.”

That’s the chirpy pitch being made a Burnsville-based agency, Pay-Per-Interview Technology. In their words, “With a pay-per-placement publicity structure you pay only for stories about your product that appear in the media. Pay-Per-Interview Publicity® is our guarantee that you will get media coverage for your money. We think it’s a better way to sell publicity, and more than 1,000 clients have agreed, making us the nation’s top performance-based PR firm.”

In a world where most PR agencies are offering esoteric value proposition pyramids and selling lots of old wine in “new” bottles, these folks are selling something in rare supply in the PR world — simplicity, clarity and certainty.

This is a beautiful selling proposition, and I bet it sells like corporate welfare in red states. But I ask you, is it the best approach for clients?

14 thoughts on “Smart a la Carte?

  1. Its sounds, but it goes against everything good PR is supposed to do. Katie Paine, a PR measurement guru (they say), once said, “You are what you measure.” If your measure of success is getting clips, that’s all you’ll ever be: a cold-calling, dialing-for-dollars, clip-clinging machine.

    But if your goal is something more lofty, like actually trying to put useful information in front of a somewhat targeted audience (I don’t just mean the people watching the 6 o’clock news) and perhaps trying to go beyond “getting press,” you’re going to need more than a smile-and-dial product-pitching sweatshop. This Media Relations (generically named) company has been around for a while, and it doesn’t worry me. I don’t want to work with or for anyone who thinks what they do can be described a PR success.

    Still, you have to admire the desire to do exactly what the client wants and not charge for failure: We get you press or you don’t pay. Unfortunately, there’s so much more to this PR game than that.

  2. Shecky says:

    Funny that this subject came up. I actually received this spam message today . I removed my name from the “To” line to indemnify myself.

    One can debate the wisdom of pay-for-results, but what strikes me as odd is the gleeful disclosure about how many people quit the firm. As a potential client of this agency (and I could be if I chose to), this message turns me off.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Media Relations, Inc []
    Sent: Thu 5/24/2007 10:07 AM

    It’s not unusual for our publicists to quit or be let go. Over the last two weeks we lost four of them. We are the nation’s largest performance-based PR firm, and because we charge per story and not by the hour, there is immense pressure on our staff to perform. Our publicists are paid a small base, but the lion’s share of their salary comes from bonuses related to the volume of stories they arrange.

    Pay Per Interview Publicity® breeds a high-pressure company culture. But who would you rather have trying to convince reporters to write about your product, a company whose employees get paid by the number of stories they arrange, or one whose employees get paid no matter what?

    Once thing is certain, our clients love the accountability of Pay Per Interview Publicity®. We had our best quarter in eighteen years, and last week we hired ten new publicists who were eager to fill our openings.

    If you aren’t happy with the amount of media attention your product has been receiving, maybe you just haven’t hired the right firm. Why not try us on a project and see how we do. Because we charge per story, and not by the hour, you will always get media coverage for your money.

    Please call Mark Tipler at 612-798-7211 and he will help you get started.

  3. jloveland says:

    I got that email forwarded from a friend who is a senior executive of a small company. This guy is very PR savvy. His take? “Now that’s an interesting, and tough, approach to PR.” I gotta believe lots of clients feel that way.

    This goes to the crux of the problem of marketing PR – the most valuable thing the industry has to sell is hard as hell to define, and our attempts sometime makes us sound like flim-flam artists. Is experiencing good PR the only way to understand the full promise of good PR?

  4. Or, Mr. Loveland, maybe it’s the case that experiencing bad PR is the only way to understand the promise of good PR. (I bet a similar concept is true for practicing PR, too — thus the exodus of people unhappy with “high-pressure company culture.” Ooh, sounds fun!)

  5. Jerry Penacoli says:

    I wouldn’t want my brand represented to media by publicists acting under threat of Darwinian consequences.

    In my considerable experience, desperation isn’t a quality journalists, producers, news directors, etc. respond to.

  6. jloveland says:

    If the most marketable part of PR is dialing reporters and reading a pitch script, why not base it from India at substantial savings? You could turn down the sitar music and no one would be the wiser.

  7. Norman Paperman says:

    Full disclosure: I once worked for this company.

    Top 10 Reasons Why “Media Irritations, Inc.” Publicists Quit or Are Let Go:

    10) Pitching stories about companies/products you know little or nothing about is hard and irresponsible

    9) Pitching canned stories to reporters/producers you know little or nothing about is hard and irresponsible

    8) I don’t know what to do if a reporter/producer actually shows interest and asks a follow-up question about my “client”

    7) Nobody has ever heard of my “clients”

    6) I’ve never heard of my “client”

    5) I’ve never met my “clients”

    4) I’m not really a “publicist” (see numbers 5 and 6)

    3) Reporters get really pissed when call them day after day after day after … just to “check in” and see if they’re interested (Seriously, this is what they tell you to do: “Call them back until they tell you they don’t want you to call back again.”)

    2) I just got hired, I’ve never studied journalism, I used to be a farmer, now I’m a “publicist”. What should I do?

    1) It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror when you’re working under so many dim bulbs

    I think that the concept of “pay per” publicity is a good one–especially for consumer products that have mass distribution, long shelf lives and the ability to enhance peoples’ lives. But I think this company’s execution is piss poor.

  8. Jorg Pierach says:

    Norman: For all the reasons you list, “pay-per” publicity is not a good approach in consumer products either. I would argue that the media relations bar is raised even higher for mass-distributed consumer products. The competition for national consumer media coverage is ferocious. Dial and smile rarely cuts through the clutter in any meaningful way. Further, if you do not have a deep understanding of your client’s brand strategy and target audience, you are likely doing more harm than good with any coverage you might manage to generate. “Did you get my press release?” is not media relations. It’s telemarketing at best. Bottom line: If you incent people only for the short term, you should expect to pay a long-term price.

  9. jloveland says:

    But why must a pay for performance model necessitate poor quality pitching?

    Setting aside for a moment the accusations about this particular agency’s allegedly poor execcution of the pay for performance model, I pose this question: Is it possible to have high quality pitching under a pay-for-perfomance contractual arrangement, or are those two things fundamentally at odds with one another?

    If it’s NOT possible for quality pitching to happen under a pay for performance structure, why is that? If it IS possible, why haven’t good agencies gone in that direction?

  10. I think it’s possibly but highly unlikely to have high-quality pitching (which, to be clear, is still different from “high-quality *PR*”) under a pay-for-performance structure. The most basic reason is that with this approach, your value is measured in a strict, unit-based way.

    When your business is based on “widgets per hour” or “X dollars per widget,” you’re going to be constantly pushed to deliver more widgets per hour for less dollars per widget. That encourages a sweatshop-like environment, which can’t be good.

    And again, I refer to Katie Paine: “You are what you measure.” If you measure your success in clips, you’re only going to work toward clips. If you only work toward clips, you’re going to have to harass the hell out of a lot of journalists and contribute to the bad light in which this business is so often seen.

  11. I’m Lonny Kocina – President and Founder of Media Relations, Inc. I’d like to set the record straight.

    As for the former disgruntled employee who calls us Media Irritations, dim bulbs, and claims they didn’t know anything about the clients they worked on—any guesses as to why this person is no longer employed by us?

    In response to Jerry Penacoli who says, “I wouldn’t want my brand represented to the media by publicists acting under the threat of Darwinian consequences.” I think you are being melodramatic. We all work under the threat of losing our jobs if we can’t perform them. When I think Darwinian, I think of death and extinction. These people simply find other jobs that fit their skills better.

    And Mike—do you really think that a culture that promotes productivity translates as a “sweatshop-like environment” and that aggressively calling the media is “harassing the hell out of journalists?” I’m tired of people like you trying to buffalo folks into thinking PR is some lofty, intellectual quest. It’s not.

    For fun I teach marketing at the college level. PR is simply one step in a fairly straightforward marketing process; pick a product; define the market and submarkets; choose a market segmentation strategy; list the features, benefits, and desires; draft a full value position; create a positioning statement; state your desired results; evaluate the channels of the promotional mix based on where the product is in its lifecycle—if it is in the first two stages of the product lifecycle, use reach and teach promotional channels (of which publicity is one), if it is in the second two stages, use reach and touch; and then build content chains that lead to integrated marketing.

    There is an artistic flipside to the science of marketing and public relations, but it’s not esoteric. Keep in mind that my company arranges tens of thousands of media stories. I’m speaking based on empirical data, not speculation.

    I had to chuckle when Mr. Loveland said. “Is experiencing good PR the only way to understand the full promise of good PR” and you answered, “Maybe it’s the case that experiencing bad PR is the only way to understand good PR.” What gobbledygook.

    As for Shecky who thinks I take too much “glee” in publicists quitting my company, I guess I didn’t think people would interpret it as glee. My intent was to point out that our Pay Per Interview Publicity® business model breeds a high-pressure company culture. For some people it’s not a fit, but others thrive on it. The point I was trying to make, and may not have, is that the people who stay with us are truly second to none. They are incredibly productive folks—the kind of people you want representing your product.

    You seem like unhappy people to me. Why spend your time dreaming up the worst about things?

    Mike, you call us a “cold-calling, dialing-for-dollars, clip-clinging, smile-and-dial, product-pitching sweatshop.” You really have a knack for catchy, hyphenated digs.

    Would it change your opinion of us if you knew that last year my staff donated hundreds of hours of work to a nonprofit called WomenVenture? The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce presented our company, along with The Target Corporation, The Pohlad Family of Companies and FreightMasters, with an award honoring our exceptional community service. We also creatively tie employee awards to a local church and donate thousands of dollars in their names. It’s a way to teach our staff the value of giving to the poor. Last year one of our employees was sick with cancer and every single morning I watched a group of employees gather to pray for her—we encourage people to speak freely about their faith in our company.

    If you want to know who we really are, go to our website and look around. Click on our company video and take a look at the people you so casually ridicule.

    If I thought negatively as you guys do, I wouldn’t have the wonderful company that I have today. I wonder what opportunities you’ve missed by focusing on what’s wrong, rather than what’s right.

    The bottom line is that our company has earned the respect of our clients, the media with whom we work, and our community because it is based on morality and integrity. There is no room for slackers or negativity. We hire bright, energetic people—and unless you’re an ‘A’ player with a positive attitude, you aren’t going to fit in.

    You can write what you want from here on out, but don’t expect me to engage in any more conversation. Clients pay us by the placement so I’ve got work to do.

  12. I’m sympathetic to Lonny’s point of view. Okay: I’m a pariah — I’ve used pay-for-performance in my own practice.

    That’s not my sole business model; indeed, I only use it occasionally — one out of ten, 20 times, perhaps. But I believe there are occasions where it actually fits: New client; doesn’t understand the “nuances” of public relations, just wants a clip they can reproduce to send out to some prospects. AND they’re business people! So they understand risk and reward, the whole “win-win” thing.

    So you tell them: Here’s how this will work — let’s work on a pitch. If I get you a story in X or Y publication, where I think your story has a legitimate shot (i.e., it’s NEWSWORTHY), you pay me X dollars. If I can’t get it placed, you don’t pay me anything.

    A couple of distinctions here: I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself or my business partner, primarily because I haven’t structured my whole business this way. If we’re successful, great; if not, no big deal. Moreover, I’ve also found that success can also lead to a would-you-be-interested-in-a-little-more-sophisticated-media-plan-approach discussion, one that doesn’t involve pay for performance. And I also recognize that a persistent beat-the-reporter-into-submission approach doesn’t work and tends to do a really good job of burning bridges down the road.

    But I’ve also sat in on way too many agency meetings — both on the client side and the agency side — where the bullshit is sooooo deep with talk about the “art and science” of Public Relations (I actually had a senior executives at a former firm talk about the science of PR — oh, gag me).

    Sorry, but some people just want a little ink, for gawd’s sake. To me, that’s a pretty simple proposition. You pick a publication or two, decide what’s news here and pitch the story. Sure sounds like particle physics to me. So I guess that makes me one of those heathen, unwashed “publicist” hacks. So be it, I suppose. But I also would submit that I hear way too much self-righteous proselytizing from kids too young to know their ass from a hole in the ground about the “nuances” of public relations. Then the client gets a bill for essentially nothing.

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