In 2013, we accidentally launched the PESO Model™.

And by “accidentally,” I mean there was no forethought or strategic plan to what might happen when people read Spin Sucks and found the pretty little graphic we had created. It was the model we used internally and, at the time I wrote the book, we were still testing out what worked and what didn’t—most often on us and sometimes on clients.

The model itself was created because, during the book editing phase, my publisher really pushed me on it. She said it needed a name. Once we had a name, we had to make sure it wasn’t already used or copyrighted. Then we had to create a graphic to go along with it. So I hired a designer and had it beautifully created…and then we published the book.

Fast forward to today and let’s just say it’s everywhere by means both fair and foul. 

From where my team and I sit, the PESO Model is a total no-brainer (although we’ve been constantly refining and improving it over the years), but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for people to implement

The 4 Reasons We Struggle With the PESO Model™

The PR environment that led to the PESO Model has changed a lot, too. Back in my day…hahaha! Just kidding. I’m not ancient. Yet.

But A LOT has changed in just the last 10 years.

Some of you will remember when we were glorified scrapbookers. We used to cut stories out of newspapers and magazines and use glue sticks to paste them into clip books.

But that’s not the landscape we’re looking at anymore, is it? Not even a little.

Times have changed, and a new model has been developed by clever people (ahem) to help communicators of all kinds.

Sometimes using the PESO Model can be a struggle for communicators, especially because it’s different from what they’ve used in the past—and from what executives expect. 

Let’s get started with what those struggles are and then we’ll talk about how to get over them so you can start implementing the PESO Model with great success.

There are four key reasons people struggle with the PESO Model: 

  • Experience and wisdom 
  • Being. So. Excited. About. Tactics. 
  • Wishful thinking and untrue assumptions
  • Lack of a big picture understanding 

Experience and Wisdom

Those of us with many years of experience know that can’t be replaced. We’re wise and we have an expertise that only comes with experience. At the same time…we get stuck in our ways.

Not intentionally because we often know what works and what doesn’t—so we stick with the what works part. But that also doesn’t leave room to learn new skills, add new strategies, or figure out which tools we can add. Even as forward-thinking and willing to take risks as I am, I struggle with adding new things—especially when we’re crazy busy.

We had a client who will always be one of my favorites. He would come to our weekly calls with a list of questions to ask me and we’d have really high-level conversations about what was changing in the industry and how he might incorporate those things into his business.

One day, probably eight or so years ago, he asked me what I thought about doing some things on Pinterest. I told him, because he didn’t have a very visual business, I thought it was a waste of time. Well, he had a crack jack intern who totally proved me wrong!

Because their centers of influence—the people who influence the decisions in school systems—were teachers, they were all over Pinterest. And it ended up driving about 80% of their new leads.

The point is, don’t let experience and wisdom stop you from implementing the PESO Model. And don’t let a lack of those two things prevent you from suggesting ideas and moving things ahead, particularly when it comes to shared and owned media.

Using Data to Make Your Case

What do you do if a colleague, boss, or client is stuck in the past and it’s looking impossible to implement the PESO Model because all they care about is follower counts and media impressions? 

You have to hit them with the numbers.

While they may ask for media impressions—and you probably do have to provide them, much to my dismay—you can also show them what types of data and metrics work when you do more than earned media.

Look for case studies with similar companies or even your competition.

  • What do they do?
  • What can you see has worked from the outside?
  • Hard data helps here. Did their page rank change? Are they showing up on the first page of Google results? 
  • Did they suddenly start getting tons of mentions or reviews or stories?

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a published case study, but if you have to develop one, a little research will get you there. 

The best part of the PESO Model, in general, is you can make decisions based on data. Communicators often ask me if they should be tracking web traffic and social media fans at all.


While they are vanity metrics and don’t mean anything as they relate to real business goals, they will tell you if something is working or not. I’m a big fan of showing the “metrics” an executive or client asks for—and providing the ones you can deliver through the PESO Model.

You know, the things that actually amount to driving an organization’s objectives.

Another strategy is to start small. If you have a decision-maker who is a little gun-shy about adding a totally new strategy to their communications plan, start small. One platform, one project, or one campaign so that you, and they, can understand it and figure out how it will affect the organization. 

The main concerns people tend to have is that something new will take too much time to learn and implement, won’t be as effective as older strategies, or aren’t as reliable.  Sometimes, they may even be right. And sometimes they’ll have a cracker jack intern prove them wrong.

It’s easier to get a yes for something small and low-risk than to implement a massive campaign. Sooner or later, everyone has to come to grips with what actual audiences are using and how they’re behaving.

This leads me to the flip side of the problem of being stuck in the past: being SO excited about every new thing that comes along. 

Being. So. Excited. About. Tactics. 

I get it. New things are exciting. And every new thing feels like a new chance to launch yourself to the top of the market, move faster and smarter than your competition, and make waves as an innovator. 

That’s not going to happen.

Not because the tactic isn’t great, and not because you don’t implement it well, but because tactics aren’t strategies. And they certainly don’t represent a good execution of the PESO Model. 

I have a really good friend who just took a new job overseeing operations in a start-up. He texted me the other day and said, “Hey, my boss wants to know if I know any PR bullshitters to create some press releases.” He followed it up with, “And he’ll only pay per placement.”

Unfortunately, this happens all the time. In working with agency owners, I hear story after story after story like this:

  • A prospect asked for a list of media contacts (because the other agency they’re talking to started with that) while discussing their business goals.
  • A prospect said using PR to drive lead generation sets us (the PR industry) up for liabilities if we can’t deliver.
  • An RFP asked to provide the client with a weekly report correlating published results with impressions and earned media value.
  • Another agency suggested the client focus not on a PESO Model approach, but on building their website SEO by working on the keywords in the website’s footer. Yes, working on keywords in the footer. 

Ultimately, tactics are always just steps along the path to fulfilling the goals in your PESO Model communications plan. When a lot of the work that we do can take a long time to see returns, a new tactic that promises fast results can be really compelling.

The fix for this one is to allow some wiggle room in your PESO Model program to experiment with different tactics. You know, like using Pinterest to build engagement with teachers. 

When you find something to get excited about, ask yourself which of the media types it will help you attain, and add it to your strategy, complete with expectations, budget, timeframe, and a win-lose scenario you can evaluate after you’ve made the attempt. 

It’s like when you’re trying to eat a consistently healthy diet. You can still have the cake if you plan to have it when it’s fun and makes sense and doesn’t disrupt your other plans.

You know, like on your birthday once a year.

Wishful Thinking and Untrue Assumptions

I love to tell this story so you may have heard it before. A few years ago, I got a call from a very nice man who needed some PR. He had just had a meeting with his buyer at Target who told him, if they didn’t sell out of his product by Christmas, they wouldn’t be able to reorder in January.

The trouble with his phone call—and his panic—was he seemed to think if we got a story about him and his product in a massive media outlet, such as the New York Times, he would sell out at Target and all of his troubles would be solved.


And it was a week before Christmas.

I felt bad for him and I could sense real anxiety on his part, but I also knew there was no way we could deliver that. 

It’s hard. I wish I could do what lots of business leaders think we can do. I’d be a lot richer if I could. So rich. Heck, we’d ALL be rich.

Is What We Do Black Magic?

A couple of years ago, I spoke at a Vistage meeting and one of the members told me he thought PR pros and SEO marketers were wizards.

He said, “It’s all black magic, as far as I’m concerned.”

Of course, that’s not true. We’re strategic planners, good communicators, and logical thinkers.  Strategy, communication, and logic aren’t quick fixes, however.

We’re in PR for the long haul, and if you find yourself in the position of having to correct some really wild assumptions, the best way to do that is to use the PESO Model itself and tie it to specific short-term goals that lead, eventually, to long-term outcomes.

If you can demonstrate to a client, colleague, or boss that you have a clear path to follow to achieve their goals, they’re going to be a lot more likely to let you run with it. 

I recently had to have a tough conversation with a client who has a massive dream, but completely unrealistic expectations. I thought long and hard about how to approach it—and finally settled on showing her how, even if we reached the goals she had set for the year, what it would do to her business operationally and why she wasn’t ready.

We talked about how to get her there and what she’d need to do on her end. The annual unrealistic goals moved to a very doable, but aggressive, three-year plan. We could have gone back and told her we couldn’t achieve those goals and moved forward. That also probably would have eroded some trust and we’d have eventually parted ways. But now we’re all in on helping her reach her three-year plan.

Lack of a Big Picture Understanding 

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the last struggle we can face when trying to implement the PESO Model.

Once upon a time, you had your corner of the world in one industry. You knew all the important people, the influencers, the competitors, the journalists, and even the jerks. Now it’s that plus every other industry and every person with a smartphone who is even tangentially interested in the topic.

It’s significantly different today than it was even five years ago. And highly specialized knowledge doesn’t cut it anymore. We talk a lot about artificial intelligence and how it will change the work that we do and what it means both for our careers and for the industry.

One of my favorite descriptions of what this will all look like comes from one Mr. Christopher S. Penn.

He said you should think about artificial intelligence as a symphony—and you are the conductor.

This means you have to know everything about the PESO Model, how it works, and how to integrate all of the media types to create authority, credibility, reputation—and results. If you are going to be able to conduct your symphony of robots, you have to become a generalist in how it all works together.

You won’t actually do the work (which, in some cases, is music to our ears), but you’ll have to know enough to be able to be strategic and smart…and to make sure your robots are doing the job they’re supposed to. 

If you don’t yet have the skillset to be able to do that, or if you don’t understand the big picture, now is the time to get there. The PESO Model is well suited for this industry shift and you still have time to get yourself there.

Get Your PESO Model Groove On

A couple of years ago, Eric Schwartzman wrote an article for Spin Sucks about the lifespan of a brand as it compares to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how the PESO Model fits into it.

Before you head over to read it, the sneak peek is that you start with owned, add shared, grow into earned, and then add paid.

This is a great way to think about how you’ll add the skills you don’t have. Figure out the big picture—what you need to achieve in the end like our client who has massive goals and just needed to temper them a bit so she can actually achieve them.

Gain the skills you are missing. And be ready for the future.

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.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich