When I was a public relations consultant I sometimes met with people who thought they wanted to start a PR program for their organization. In many instances, these people had never developed a PR plan or worked with any PR professionals. So, as you might expect, they often didn’t understand how PR (media relations) works.
During some of these initial meetings a businessman would state that he wanted a guarantee that I would get his company positive media exposure. One business owner stated that he wanted to pay only for each media placement, but he admitted he didn’t know how to value each placement. At the time, the PR firm for which I worked and I thought this arraignment wouldn’t work for us. We explained that we had to be compensated for our time, much in the same way the businessman pays for other professional services such as attorneys and accountants. He admitted he didn’t pay them based solely on outcomes, so we were able to get past this idea pretty quickly. (In fairness to this businessman, some PR firms have developed a model where they are compensated based on the media placements they secure. I have not worked with such a program.)
I recalled the meeting from many years back when a friend of mine at a PR firm told me about a client who was presented with an opportunity to take part in a TV program that was meant to help people find jobs. Various organizations would be able to participate, appearing on live TV as potential job applicants called in about jobs. The client was actively seeking employees, but stated he didn’t want to appear on the program unless he was guaranteed an interview. The format of the program was such that there was a high likelihood of being interviewed, but no guarantee. The host would be moving around and randomly speaking to people who were participating in the program. My friend’s client was adamant about receiving a guarantee that he would be interviewed. My PR friend explained that she couldn’t guarantee it, but stated there was a very good chance of being interviewed, however, if he didn’t appear on the program there was no chance of being interviewed. The client still balked until he saw a promotional spot on TV announcing the event. He then saw the value and agreed to appear.
It’s understandable that people who have little or no experience with media relations would want a guarantee that their money and efforts would result in something positive for their organization. Good PR people will tell clients there is never a guarantee and then give an honest assessment of what they do think they can achieve. It can be a scary first step for a company, but more often than not it has been my experience that once an organization begins a PR program the leaders see the value and are then reluctant to abandon the program.