Gini Dietrich

The Challenges and Solutions of the PESO Model

By: Gini Dietrich | March 14, 2017 | 

PESO ModelIt’s been a long time since I’ve gotten fired up and stood on my soapbox to discuss something.

But the time has come.

I am stepping up there to have a conversation about The Problem with PESO, an article written by Adam Sanders of Strategic Objectives.

The best part of the article is he is discusses the merits and faults of the PESO model, an integrated communications tool we created when Spin Sucks (the book) was published.

I love communicators who tangle with traditional methods and work to find new ways to do things.

I love to see what other communicators think of the PESO model—how it works in practice, what they love, what they hate, and what they would change.

And I always comment on those articles to start a dialogue so we can continue to better the industry and work toward the vision of changing the perception people have of us.

What Adam wrote—including that I’m venerable—is valuable.

To a certain extent.

But I did not comment on his article because so much of his analysis of the PESO model is wrong.

The “Challenges” with the PESO Model

Had I left a comment, it would have been a blog post, so I am publishing it here, instead.

Here is exactly what the articles says are the challenges with the PESO model:

  • The term “PESO” either prioritizes paid channels or treats all channels equally. This may seem like semantics but, as someone who believes that what matters isn’t just what we say but how we say it, the fact that paid comes first problematic. Because if a strategy puts paid channels first, PR probably isn’t fated to play a leading role.
  • PESO isn’t ownable by PR. Advertisers and digital agencies can leverage the exact same model. It doesn’t provide a competitive advantage that will compel brand managers to invest more of their finite budgets in PR.
  • PESO isn’t a PR model, it’s an integrated communications model. Yes, they are different. It fails to highlight the unique strengths of PR, including deeper storytelling and third-party authority. While certainly pushing the industry in the right direction (away from a media relations-focused paradigm), PESO may actually make the role of PR more tenuous in the long-term.

To his credit, he suggests a different acronym—(A)ESOP—after the famed storyteller, which I really like and wish I’d thought of that instead of the Mexican currency.

It’d certainly be more fun to use that to tell the model’s story.


The History of the PESO Model

When we launched the PESO model in 2014, it was with the idea that communicators do more than media relations.

And to educate business leaders on what communicators do—along with the kinds of things we do to generate business results.

In today’s digital world, the PESO model does all of those things…and more.

There is almost nothing that makes me more crazy than business leaders who want to hire a PR firm solely for publicity.

And it makes me more crazy when communicators only do media relations, and speak to PR in that silo.

Both of those things hurt our industry, don’t allow for evolution, and stick us in a tactical corner.

Those things also speak to the issues with the article’s line of thinking.

Solutions to the PESO Model Challenges

Let me address each:

  • The term “PESO” either prioritizes paid channels or treats all channels equally. Paid media is first only because it allowed for an acronym that was easy to remember. If I were to place them in order of preference, it would be OESP. And no one would remember that. The first rule of branding is create something people remember.
  • PESO isn’t ownable by PR. I don’t agree that advertisers and digital agencies can leverage the PESO model. Yes, they can absolutely do paid and shared media, but communicators are trained to build relationships, earn media and influencer commentary, and write with value. Advertisers and digital agencies are trained differently so their earned and owned media (should they attempt it) comes across differently. For example, there certainly is a place for demand generation copy, which digital agencies do very well, but it doesn’t fit with the PESO model we’ve created for communicators.
  • PESO isn’t a PR model, it’s an integrated communications model. YES! Exactly! We are storytellers, but we have to do it through more than our relationships with journalists and influencers. We are not one-trick ponies. What we do is more than one tactic. We are strategic thinkers who can change the face of an organization with the work we do. We absolutely should be focused on an integrated communications model. Anything less is selling all of us—and the entire industry—short.

The PESO model definitely is my baby and I defend it with the same vigor as a mother hen.

But I’m also willing to accept it’s not perfect and it needs to evolve, given the right analysis of challenges that allow us to present new solutions.

If these challenges advanced the PR industry, I would definitely invite the discourse.

But I don’t agree that an integrated communications framework makes the PR industry tenuous (not to mention the other two challenges).

This does, however, leave the door open for you to have your say.

Do you agree or disagree with the challenges described, and the solutions presented?

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Adam Sanders

    Hi Gini – truly honoured that you took the time to respond to my little blog, written and published first for a class I’m taking to, perhaps ironically, grown my integrated communications skill set.

    I hope that you didn’t take my article as an attack on PESO. Though the title was meant to be provocative, my intent was to build on the work you’ve already done to continue to stoke the conversation. The more we, in the industry, think about, talk about and argue (in the Hegelian sense), how PR can move beyond the nexus of media relations towards a truly integrated model, the better. By the very dint of this discourse, we advance the industry.

    I take your feedback to heart – truly. The only thing that I want to clarify is that I absolutely wasn’t trying to argue that PR should focus solely on media relations. Not at all. My preference to put Earned Media first is rooted in the idea of grounding what we do in historical perception and nothing more. You and I are, I believe, in violent agreement that the PR industry needs to move beyond this one channel to remain relevant and viable.

    The truth is, and I hope you’ll agree, our models are exceedingly similar. That being case, I would have no problem if the entire industry were to adopt the PESO model – which I believe is actually (though too slowly) happening. I have no doubt that this change will have a positive and lasting impact.

    Thank you for all of your work and providing the theoretical platform for my argument to stand upon.

    Respect and admiration – AS

    • I meant it when I said I love (A)ESOP and wish I’d thought of it, if only because it’d make for much better storytelling. If we go with your argument, though, that the first letter is the most important in the model, I would argue O has to be in that place. So then neither of our acronyms work.

      You’re fortunate to be entering the industry during such great change. You have an opportunity to see how things should be, and not how they’ve always been done. That is the kind of critical thinking we look for at Spin Sucks and I appreciate the fact that you weren’t scared to tackle this, nor to comment here.

      Thank you!

      P.S. Now go tell Deb Weinstein I said hello.

      • Adam Sanders

        We agree on the most important point… the industry needs to continue to evolve/change.

        I’ll definitely give Deb a kiss on the cheek from her friend Gini. Cheers – AS

  • paulakiger

    Just popping over to say how much I appreciate this willingness to turn things over and see them from a different angle, including the dialogue below between you and Adam. And, yeah, OESP would have been a little awkward.

    • I’m super impressed by him!

      • donnapapacosta

        Gini, I’m loving this debate. Adam is a student in my class AT U OF T.

  • Challenging something that already exists should stir up the conversation and help make it better. However challenging something without offering a solution, is just making noise. Yes, I know, that’s harsh. But way too often we focus on the negative instead of finding ways to make it better.

    I love how many of our readers apply the PESO model in their businesses and then write about it. The most recent is Katleen Peeters’ article

    It’s exciting to see how people use their creativity and find new ways to understand and apply the PESO model.

    To answer your question, no, I don’t agree with the above challenges.

    As for the solutions offered, I see them at work every single day.

    • I loved Katleen’s article! I love to see it in practice.

  • Edward M. Bury

    Great spirited discussion here. As someone who works in the public sector, I have not had an opportunity to incorporate the “P” aspect of the PESO model into the work I do. But I fully support the premise and maintain it will become more accepted, understood and prevalent in the near future.

    • You guys don’t do any pay-per-click, Google advertising, or social ads? What about email marketing?

      • Edward M. Bury

        Hello: There is no budget for these options. Besides, my charge is to promote research results; it’s called technology transfer, or sharing relevant results/products with audiences that can benefit through incorporating the knowledge to make transportation safer, more encompassing and more efficient.

  • the argument your article brings up had a few serious flaws. i feel first and foremost it was protecting of the PR silo vs trying to eliminate it. I also think the Paid leading a silly comment. it depends on the business which quadrant is more important with factors of size, resources, and customer profile playing roles in deciding. There also seems to be a misconception that sales, marketing and pr have equal; stature in every firm. they don’t.

    I would like to bring a nuanced discussion to break down the silo even you are building. instead of placing the lead on this work in a defined manner ire PR is best qualified or should lead. instead state there needs to be a lead and the group with the best talent and fit should lead.

    • Dear Howie, when you left this comment, were you smoking something? I can’t figure out the translation. 🙂

      • My Dearest Gini
        You know I never smoke on Tuesdays. And you knew very
        well the esoterical hypothetical divergence of probability my comment
        was relating to.

  • First time seeing this model, and it’s a great tool for bringing some clarity to the conversation of how integration can work. Though the acronym puts Paid in a place of prominence, the model is where it’s at, and there Earned takes the top spot. Better yet, it shows how everything works together and where there are overlaps.

    • Traci, you have no idea how happy your comment makes me. I feel like I talk PESO non-stop (and am getting a little bored with myself). But the fact that it’s the first time you’re seeing it makes it worth my boredom. Thank you!

      • Glad I could bring some enthusiasm back for you! I love this kind of stuff. I remember the earlier days of integration, and it’s still a challenge sometimes to get a full-scope view of how it all fits together. Of course, with some companies focusing more on Paid and others on Earned and every other combination, how it plays out in execution varies, but this PESO model is really helpful.

  • As the owner of an agency that struggles every day with the boxes imposed by the industry, I actually resent a bit of the dialog of “communicators” vs “advertisers” vs “digital agencies”. At the end of the day, we are all on the same side and we all need to recognize the convergence and disruption in front of us. I always took PESO to represent that convergence in a positive light.

    I hope we can someday all be beacons for our clients and potential clients that moving hearts and minds is the task at hand and the medium matters less today than ever. As long as we continue to act territorially, drawing circles around our disciplines, we prevent our very own audiences from seeing the bigger picture. Doing so closes their minds in using us to our full capabilities and ultimately limits our own potential in the process.

    • When I worked for a global agency, one of the things that drove me insane was the fighting between departments and other offices. We were working with a client who needed the DC office regulatory expertise, but the partner of our profit center didn’t want to share the budget with them.


      So I agree and I do think communications is better suited to some things, such as earned and owned media. Just like ad and digital agencies are better suited for others.

      That’s why it’s SO IMPORTANT we gain new skills and work inside an integrated model.