Charging By the Clip is a No-Go

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  • November 14, 2012
  • Starr Million Baker

TechCrunch wrote a provocative post last Friday. In it, editor Alexia Totsis bashed PR agency PRServe for a pay-for-play business model in which the agency apparently charges $750 for a  hit in TechCrunch. Alexia pointed out from her publication’s side what was wrong with this structure in her eyes; below is what’s wrong with the practice in mine:

Charging by the clip tells your client that PR = coverage.

Public relations is actually defined as communicating with your audiences – you know, having a relationship with your “publics.” Yes, one conduit for doing that is via the media, but there is SO MUCH MORE to public relations. There’s message development (this is actually a real thing), and audience analysis (NOT talking about media analysis here), and you know, figuring out who your client needs to be communicating with, either directly or indirectly, and what they need to say. Fighting this perception that PR = coverage has become the bane of my existence and situations like this don’t help. And you know what? Media relations is absolutely a specialty of ours. We’re good at helping a client figure out their story, and tell it in a compelling way to a journalist we believe – based on research and relationships – would be interested in it. We “get” great coverage for our clients. But there is so much more that goes into a successful public relations program – the biggest piece being a true partnership with your client to where you understand their business and they listen to your counsel.

Charging by the clip tells your client that you have control over what a reporter writes.

This is a huge falsehood that cannot be allowed to perpetuate in our industry. We HELP reporters do their jobs by making sure they have the information they need, as fast as they need it. We HELP our clients get their stories heard by taking their great stories and matching them up with the reporters who would be most interested in them. We should not be gatekeepers, we should not spin or tell untruths, and we absolutely should not think we have any control over what a journalists chooses to write – nor should we present it to our clients that we do.

Charging by the clip tells your client that all of the other aspects of public relations are not of importance to them. 

This is the biggest mistake I think PRServe is making. PRServe’s founder says his company is turning the PR industry on its head and he is leading the way with this new business model. Here’s what he may be turning on its head – the future of his business. I agree with Chris that the start-ups he works with very much need that initial validation that a top-tier article can provide. I even understand why a start-up, faced with little-to-no cash flow and huge goals to meet, says “I just want the hit right now, I’ll think about the other stuff later.” But it’s that later that I’m worried about, both for Chris and for the start-up. Start-ups (hopefully) grow up. They get customers and realize they need to communicate with them in a more sophisticated way – maybe a newsletter, or email, or social media campaign. They get investors and realize they need to communicate with them in a more sophisticated way – perhaps IR programs, or web portals, or BoD presentations. They get partners and realize they need to communicate with them in a more sophisticated way – maybe bylined articles, sales materials, event participation. And then where does that leave Chris? Sure, he can sell a piece of a coverage (perhaps), but in the grand scheme of things if that clip isn’t supporting a business goal, that client probably won’t even pay for that. And that start-up that can’t understand they need more than a few clips to truly have a two-way communication with their audiences? Well, they’re probably not going to make the leap out of start-up land anyway. That’s a bummer for both Chris and his start-up clients.

It’s also a bummer for me because the biggest thing this whole charging-for-clips stuff is doing (as indicated by this latest round of PR bashing) is hurting our industry as a whole. Who knows, maybe it’s working for PRServe, and to each his own in terms of how we choose to run our businesses, but this “innovative PR business model” misses the mark in my book.

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