Startups sometimes request a pay for performance arrangement instead of our standard subscription fees. Startup PR agencies have even come out in recent years offering this payment model, giving startups this enticing payment option they claim is going to disrupt the PR space.

At PressFriendly, we always say no to pay for performance models. While it may seem like the most logical and tempting choice, pay for performance is not in a startup’s best interest.

Why pay for performance is a bad idea

  1. You’re paying for coverage you can get on your own. This is the dirty little secret of PR. If your startup is worth covering, it’s worth covering no matter who contacts the reporter. Great PR agencies don’t get great coverage for their clients because they are much better than any other agency at pitching. It’s because they can afford to be picky and accept only the best clients. Similarly, if a pay for performance PR agency gets you coverage, it’s because your story is good enough to get coverage. It has nothing to do with the agency.
    Dirty Little Secret of Startup PR

  2. It hurts your story. The focus of getting coverage at any costs may hinder later opportunities to tell the story of the company. TechCrunch and other publications have gone on the record of strongly disliking pay for performance. By treating press like search engine marketing, you’re risking your company’s reputation for a short-term gain instead of building out a long-term PR plan.

  3. The reach is limited. Pay for performance PR firms tend to trade exclusives for coverage. They do so because this is the easiest way for them to get paid. Send off one or two emails and then cash your check. Once you offer an exclusive to one publication, you are throwing away waiving any chance at coverage with other publications that may have interest in your story.

  4. You’re paying for someone else to build THEIR relationship with the press. One of the things that we stress at PressFriendly is that you should build the relationship with the press, not be dependent on the relationships of outside PR agencies. In the case of pay for performance, you’re dependent on whatever favors the PR person can call in to get your story covered. The problem is that those reporters may not be the best reporters to cover your story. You need to find the reporters who are the best match for your startup.

Public relations is a journey, a process. It’s the telling of your company story to the public via the press. It’s called “earned media” for a reason. There are no shortcuts.

About The Author

Joel is the CEO of PressFriendly. He is an enthusiast of startups, his three sons, Scotch and Philadelphia sports teams.

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