Six Ways to Get the Most From Your PR FirmBy Gini Dietrich

In the past four months, I have had countless new business meetings that, when we get to the budget question, the prospect says, “I’d really like you to work on pay-for-performance.”


Payroll and benefits and other expenses notwithstanding (and I could write an entire blog post about why this isn’t a sustainable business model for any service firm), this is such a short-sighted way to look at working with a public relations firm.

What this really means is, “You get us in the Wall Street Journal and I’ll happily pay you a percentage of the sales that come from that story.”

Now, we all know that one story does not equate sales and that it takes months—even years—to place a story that big.

And I’d venture to guess if a customer of these business owners asked them for terms similar to what they ask of us, they’d scoff at them and walk way.

And yet…

Pay-for-Performance Doesn’t Work

It’s a good thing I have a filter because I always want to respond with, “Do you eat in a restaurant and tell the chef you’ll pay him only after you go home and digest the meal and don’t end up with heartburn?”

Alas, I speak to our process and explain why pay-for-performance doesn’t work in our model, but we are more than willing to discuss a percentage of sales we procure on their behalf, in year two and beyond.

Typically, though, the prospect only wants media hits and we walk away from the opportunity.

This is how strongly I believe in the PESO model and the process we’ve created around it. In years past, we might have taken the work to bring in the revenue and then regretted it later.

Today, though, we know exactly what works and the kinds of work it takes to be successful.

And that it takes a good 90 days to get going and start to see results, which aren’t typically reliant on earned media.

There isn’t a business in the world that can work for free for 90 days.

Well, there is. It’s called a non-profit.

But most of us are running—or work for—for profit organizations.

Six Ways to Get the Most From Your PR Firm

While the PESO model drives everything we do, there are certain things entrepreneurs, business leaders, and executives can do to be certain their PR program is a success, regardless of it being executed internally or externally.

And there is work that needs to be done. PR is not a practice that you can hire the experts and walk away. There is major involvement that needs to happen on all sides.

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

  1. Trust the experts, but provide input. While the people who work at your PR firm (or in your PR department) know what kinds of content will get read and shared, what your customers want, and what the media will be excited to run, you have a unique look at the business. Provide story ideas, brainstorm content topics, and make time to be interviewed—both by your PR firm and the media. But also be smart enough to agree a story isn’t a story if they give you the pros and cons and explain why they don’t think it’ll have any play.
  2. Treat your PR firm like business partners. If you have business issues, there are always a handful of advisors you call. For me, it’s our CFO and two friends who have built—and sold—businesses. If you like your PR firm enough and trust the work that they do, someone from that team should always be on your “first to call” list. If you have that kind of relationship, they can counsel you on not just business issues, but what might make for great communications—everything from social shares and blog content to a feature in a large, targeted publication.
  3. Be collaborative. Aly Saxe and I just had this conversation earlier this week. You would not believe how many PR firms keep their clients in the dark and won’t share creative ideas, media pitches, what’s working and what’s not, and even metrics. Ask for these things. Review them. Ask questions. Allow them to educate you. If something isn’t working, treat them as you would a valued employee and work through it.
  4. Keep up with the trends in your industry. We always read and suggest articles for our clients to not only read, but comment on and that sort of works. What works even better is if the executives as totally in tune with their industry and other trends and can provide ideas to the PR firm. It’s not on autopilot. You can’t just assume the PR firm is doing your reading for you and will have the same perspective you do. That’s just not the case. Your perspective is different and extraordinarily valuable.
  5. Keep your PR firm in the loop. There is almost nothing more frustrating than finding out about something big at the company after the fact. This goes to new hires, awards won, promotions, product launches, lawsuits, and derailed labor talks. All of those things should have PR firm involvement from the very beginning. There isn’t much we can after the fact…and it makes us look like we don’t know what’s going on, which isn’t appreciated by the customers, media, community, brand ambassadors, and other stakeholders with whom we will communication on your behalf.
  6. Make time and consider your PR firm an investment. The very best relationships work when there is two-way communication. This can happen through weekly meetings, being invited on sales calls, introductions to important customers, and town hall meeting attendance. Imagine if you had to communicate on behalf of someone, but no one gave you any information. You probably chuckled when reading that, but it happens all the time. Make the time to meet with your PR firm at least weekly. Go to each meeting with an agenda and include recent updates, decisions that need to be made, and any challenges you might be facing. One of the very best client relationship I have ever had is with Jim Schultz from AES. He would show up every week with a list of questions on marketing, communications, email marketing, and metrics. He learned about my business and I learned about his. Create that kind of relationship.

Too often, we hire experts and expect them to do their magic without our involvement. I’m certainly guilty of the same.

But if you follow these tips, I guarantee you will always be happy with the work from your PR firm.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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