Freedom and the Press
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It seems like heresy for an executive at a public relations firm to say he does not believe in press releases.
But things at the 13-employee PayPerClip are, in fact, somewhat heretical. The firm, an affiliate of the 43-employee Stephenson Group, has abandoned the standard bundled services approach. Instead of charging monthly retainers to craft publicity plans from strategy to implementation, PayPerClip allows its PR clients to pay only for results.
“A lot of companies do not need [us] to have strategy meetings. They know what they need in terms of PR, and they just need us to do it,” says Richard Virgilio, managing director of the Califon, N.J. based PayPerClip.
Rather than distribute traditional written press releases, PayPerClip assigns staff members to work their Rolodexes of journalism contacts to interest the media in an article or broadcast featuring a client.
The approach was developed 1 1⁄2 years ago when Stephenson Group managers noticed two trends. An increasing number of clients knew exactly what they wanted. And some smaller prospective clients could not afford PR because of high initial retainer fees.
“The bottom line is, they need our media relations contacts, not our writing services,” Virgilio says. “They need to have press in targeted publications–be it local media, newspapers, magazines.”
Eschewing the traditional closed-door price negotiations, PayPerClip posts its rate sheet on its Web site. Rates vary based on the size of the mention and the circulation of the publication that publishes it. (A reference in a larger story is less expensive than a feature article.) For print placement, for example, the cost ranges from $750 to $4,700. And the company bills only for intended results: If a client targets the Chicago Tribune but instead appears in the Los Angeles Times, there is no charge, Virgilio says.
Nor is there a charge if a client is unhappy with the resulting article or broadcast. Since the agency’s beginning, Virgilio says, no client has ever asked for a refund.
While such transparency hasn’t been standard industry procedure, Virgilio says it was just a matter of time before companies that calculate their return on investment for other expenditures started to demand the same of their publicity efforts.
Taking a Targeted Approach
The PayPerClip approach begins with a questionnaire. Clients are asked about their PR objectives: What do they consider newsworthy? What key publications would they like telling their story? What are their goals for getting their message out in public?
PayPerClip vets its clients and refers those deemed to be better-served by a retainer based approach to the Stephenson Group.
Some industry experts don’t endorse the pay-for-placement model. “Clients get PR by the pound, but they don’t get anyone working strategically on behalf of their business objectives,” says Deborah Radman, who chairs the Public Relations Society of America’s Counselors Academy. “We are not order takers.”
Radman recommends that clients who can’t afford costly retainers should look at small, independent PR firms that have lower overhead than large corporate firms.
Yet the unbundlers seem to have found a niche. Virgilio cites music that can be downloaded by the song, rather than the album, and software targeted to specific needs. It’s also popular in many service industries, he says. “You are seeing pay-as-you-go everywhere.”