Gini Dietrich

Is a PR Firm Really Worth the Money?

By: Gini Dietrich | April 5, 2017 | 
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Is a PR Firm Worth the Money-There comes a time in every career where you work yourself out of a job.

It’s inevitable, but it also marks the sign of success.

As painful as it is to lose a client, I always tell my team when we lose one because we’ve taught them how to fish, that means we’ve done our job.

I am reminded of this as I troll the web and see questions such as:

Is a PR firm really worth the money?

The answer, of course, is … it depends.

Which is the worst answer possible, but it does depend.

A Quick Story

I tell this story a lot, because it was the catalyst to changing our business model, so forgive me if you’ve heard it.

In 2009, I had one of the highlights of my career.

We were agency of record, which we’d won away from a global communications firm that may or may not have been my alma mater, for a large organization.

It was the largest client retainer we’d had at that point in our business history.

And we were crushing it.

Every, single journalist we pitched produced a story.

And it wasn’t small potatoes, either.

We had the front page of the LA Times, a 10 minute segment on Bloomberg, and a full hour segment on 60 Minutes.

The creme de la creme was when I secured a front page, right below the fold, story in the Wall Street Journal.

The director of corporate communications and I sat on the phone and kept refreshing Google Analytics because so many people were visiting the site.

It even created the opportunity to have a conversation with their editorial board about partnering on an annual CEO survey.

It was seriously one of the highlights of my career.

Until the Next Day

I received a FedEx package from the CEO of this client’s business.

In it, was a copy of the New York Times and a post-it note stuck to the front page that said:

When are you going to get this?

And poof!

All of the wind came out of my sails.

I couldn’t even mention it to the team, who were all still on cloud nine… and still refreshing Google Analytics.

And that’s when I set a plan in motion to change our business model, which finally came to fruition in 2010, when I wrote, Arment Dietrich is No Longer a PR Firm.

What Does PR Actually Do?

Most executives (and even some PR professionals) have this idea that if you can just get one more story, all of your woes will be solved.

Product will fly off the shelf. Memberships will increase. Services will be locked in for five year contracts.

The cash register will sing…and all it takes is the front page of the New York Times.

The problem, of course, is that media relations is incredibly difficult to measure, in terms of business results.

It drives a ton of website traffic. And builds incredible awareness. It provides credibility. And allows for thought leadership.

It does all of the things you need it to do so you can sell.

But it does not, alone, create the sale.

Which is why, the day after a front page story in the Wall Street Journal runs, you want more.

You need to show a return on your PR firm investment.

It, unfortunately, does not work that way.

It Depends…

This is why entrepreneurs, business leaders, and startup founders post questions like this one in forums:

We’re trying to increase our marketing activities and visibility in the channel to attract new customers. So, we’re considering hiring a public relations firm to help coordinate relationships with the media and write news releases for us. Is a PR firm really worth the money? Are there additional ways they can help my MSP grow?

If your expectation is that the PR firm will increase your visibility in the channel to attract new customers, the answer is a resounding YES.

The PR firm will be worth the money.

If, however, your expectation is that the PR firm will attract new customers, your sales cycle will decrease by 500 percent, your sales will increase by 300 percent, and you’ll be able to retire to Fiji, the answer is NO.

I exaggerate here, but you’d be amazed at the level of expectation a chief executive puts on their PR firm.

They also typically expect to hire the PR firm and walk away, letting the organization do their magic with zero involvement from them (which is a different story for a different time).

Of course, there are plenty of times a PR firm can be a change agent, when it comes to increasing qualified, inbound leads, but taking those people from lead to customer requires an operational structure most don’t yet have.

Is it Just Earned Media or a PESO Model Approach?

The PR industry, as a whole, is working hard to measure the effectiveness of what we do.

That includes showing a return-on-investment, as it relates to business results.

That begins with an integrated PESO model approach, which can be measured because it does more than the typical media relations.

It includes building awareness and thought leadership at the top of the funnel, while creating the opportunity to have conversations and engage leads so they move to the middle of the funnel, and then to the bottom.

But the PR firm isn’t the closer.

You still need a sales person or team to actually take the leads the PR firm has generated and close them.

Most do not want to do that because they’re not “their” leads.

Yes, even if the person is ready to buy (which is yet another story for different day).

So is a PR Firm Worth the Money?

If, like the example above, you are going to hire a PR firm to “coordinate relationships with the media and write news releases,” I can almost guarantee you will not think them worth the money.

And it will take you less than six months to be unhappy, no matter how many relationships they’ve coordinated and news releases they’ve written.

If, however, you are going to hire a PR firm to create an integrated PESO model approach, which is responsible for generating qualified leads and engaging them through the process, they will be very much worth the money.

But that is going to require a larger commitment from you: Both time and money.

It also requires an investment in software and a dedication to analytics.

A PR firm is definitely worth the money if they can prove past success in building revenue for their clients.

They should be able to show you an average return-on-investment they achieve.

You also can expect they’re going to have a large list of requirements from you, but know how to onboard you quickly and effectively.

The results won’t materialize overnight, and it certainly depends on how active you are, but you can expect to begin seeing a return as early as 90 days.

So the answer really is: It depends.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • paulakiger

    A client recently said to me “I wish I could do my own strategy and just have you send out the tweets.” While, yes, that’s an option, strategy is an area of expertise for a reason. Tweets with no goal are just …… 140 more characters in the noise of life.

    • I have no idea what to say to this. I’ve sat here staring at that for a good three minutes. I just…can’t.

      • paulakiger

        If it weren’t so jaw-droppingly mystifying, it would be great fodder for a blog post: sort of a riff on “this is your brain on drugs” but “this is your brand without strategy.”

  • A communications friend of mine mentioned a few years ago that his ED was only happy with PRINT coverage. Sigh.

    • You just made me laugh out loud. Been there, done that. We had a client we ended up firing last year for that very reason. And, what’s better about that, is they want print coverage, but they don’t want to wait the three to six months it takes to get it. Instant gratification + print coverage do not work.

    • paulakiger

      Oh no.

  • Bill Dorman

    That sounds like our business model; the more ‘safer’ and efficient we make our clients it ultimately drives the premium down and if we are being paid on commission then it drives down our revenue. Say what? Our larger ones we do have on a fee for services basis, but many, many more on commission. Of course, ours is one of the few industries that I get paid year after year as long as I maintain the relationship w/ that customer. In other words, don’t suck too bad and you might be able to actually make a living at this.

    We seek out our customers, we expect little to no inbound prospects. That is where I think a PR firm would be invaluable to us in assisting with the message/image/brand we portray on a consistent but not blending in with the crowd basis. Certainly the referral from the satisfied customer to their peers is the best but if you are creating buzz around that and people identify you for all the ‘right’ reasons then that sounds like money in the bank to me.

    You can help with that, right?

    • Yes, and to keep you top-of-mind, too. Your business is one that people don’t pay attention to until they need you. So if you are everywhere when a person begins their research, you’ve already won. PR can help you with that.

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