The Truth About Pay For Performance PR

A quick Google search about Pay for Performance Public Relations (PR) will drop you down a rabbit hole into hundreds of posts about the downsides and negatives of this model. Unfortunately, the content of these posts is misleading and often plain wrong. I will be covering this subject in the context of the Matrix Marketing Group Pay-for-Performance Public Relation program only. I have not reviewed nor analyzed other programs in the market for this post.

That being said, Performance based PR is not for every organization. Let me just say, I’m sure there are PR programs and PR agencies that fall into what has been reported. But, I’m here to dismiss the myths and explain my position on this matter. There are benefits and drawbacks to each pricing model. So, let us dive into the most common misconceptions that litter the digital space.

1. You are paying for coverage you can get on your own.

PR List

If your story is worth covering it does not matter who is submitting it to the media outlet. The question though is, do you have time for this? Pitching takes a significant amount of time and effort. Our program is focused on pitching services like a traditional PR agency. Clients select the media sources, give us their story, and we do the groundwork. That frees you up to accomplish more strategic tasks for your organization.

Can you think of something you would do with an extra eight hours of free time? Say, for example, you have the extra time to dedicate two hours of pitching media sources, is that something you really want to be doing? People are busy, we have a multitude of tasks to complete on any given day, and this is one that might not be the best use of your talents or time.

Working with a Pay for Performance model, we take on the time-consuming pitching and relieve your workload. In exchange, you pay the predetermined price for a media placement or brand mention. The media outlets that clients may be placed within are also predetermined and agreed upon. There are multiple tiers and outlets for clients to choose from, based on their needs and focus.

2. You are paying for someone else to build their relationship with the press.

This misconception comes from the idea that Pay for Performance PR is “pay for play” which is nonsense. Pay for play means that you are dependent on favors to get stories published which is not the Pay for Performance model. Pay for play can also mean the media accepts compensation for mentioning your business or placing a client. That is not what Matrix is about, and it breaks our code of ethics.

The Pay for performance PR model is designed for you to choose the media outlets that fit our business objectives. Those stories are picked up based on their own merits and if the story has traction. Regardless of our relationship with the media if the story is not worth covering it will not be picked up. While pay for play has a dodgy (an unethical) reputation attached to it, our model ensures accountability with no chance for overbilling or hour padding. In our 15 years, we never heard of a media outlet allowing their employees to accept gifts let alone bribes.

3. Pay for Performance PR is a way to fool clients into thinking there is absolute control and no risk to PR and marketing.

I would love to know where this misconception initially started. Pressfriendly is merely another blog repeating this myth about Pay for Performance PR. We are not here to fool you. We are transparent about our goals, expectations, and pricing. Matrix’s pay for performance model allows the client to pick where they would like to receive placement through a list of calculated media outlets. This isn’t about bombarding as many media contacts as possible, it’s about finding the recognition that places your brand in front of interested prospects.

Once a client’s story has been placed, then they are invoiced for the placement. The concept of “risk-free PR” is an interesting claim, but I would argue that there is more to risk with a traditional agency. In a traditional PR framework with significant upfront retainers, you have to endure activity-based billing.

What does that mean you ask?

  • If someone walks to the copy machine, you can be billed.
  • If someone answers an email, you can be billed.
  • If someone takes a bathroom break, you can be billed.
  • If someone decides to talk about the latest Game of Thrones episode at the water cooler, you can be billed.


Then at the end of the week if those managing your account have not accurately recorded hours during their hectic week you run into the ‘unintentional lie.’ This is what happens when people report their hours, yet cannot exactly remember how many hours they truly spent on the account. Was it 25 on this project or was it 30? They can then put down whatever they please to satisfy their internal reporting system. This scenario forces a lack of accountability and a danger of overbilling.

Therefore, I argue there is a greater risk with a retainer-based model than with a model that is results based. Matrix has structured its program around results based billing, not activity. You are only paying us when we get you placed. Doesn’t that sound like a lot less to risk than counting on the accountability of a traditional agency?

Agencies that use Pay for Performance charge for each media placement, but it can be difficult to put a genuine price on the value of PR. This can ultimately result in less-helpful PR receiving a higher payment than better placements.”

An interesting claim picked up by Chron Smallbusiness.

 Again, this is a misconception about our PR model. Arguing that the price and value of PR are hard to pin down applies to retainer-based models as well. While with the Pay for Performance model, you know exactly what you are paying for and when. Matrix’s model draws from a predetermined pricing list based on placement, media source, and length.

The fee per placement is direct, and there are no hidden fees or tricks. Again, we are not here to fool you. We want to work together to offer PR solutions for small to mid-sized businesses. The goal of PR has always been generating awareness; our model exists to do just that for our clients.

4. Pay for Performance has a limited focus.

The argument within this misconception is that the PR agency is focused only on how many mentions they can gain from a media source. Additionally, they sacrifice other typical services that a traditional agency offers.

This myth can be disrupted easily because our model is pitching only. If you want other services, we offer them, but Pay for Performance is targeted to media pitching. Additional services, like editorial writing, PR consulting, analyst relations, and content marketing are all services we offer. However, they are priced separately from this model.

Furthermore, if what you are looking for is someone to talk to the public or handle crisis management this model is not what you need. Matrix offers many of those additional services, but not grouped with our PR pitching model. You are not sacrificing these extra services by hiring a Pay for Performance based agency. However, if what you are looking for is solely crisis management Matrix will not be a good fit.

5. Ultimately it’s expensive.

“In the end, a successful Pay for Performance PR program might end up costing more than hiring a company on a traditional monthly or yearly retainer. If the agency is successful, your business is placed in a number of higher-priced media outlets and success breeds even more success, you might find yourself quickly over budget.”

Cheap PR

This misconception raises an interesting question. Are you looking for successful and continuous PR placements which grow awareness of your brand? Alternatively, would you prefer to stick with an expensive monthly retainer that is billing you regardless of their success in placing you, or get a quick highlight on the local nightly news? I would hope that you want success and growth not a handful of bills with less than desirable results.

This myth about the pay for performance models is just that, another inaccurate statement. It does not have a factual basis to back up its claim, but we do. In our program clients agree to a preset fee, throughout the month the account is withdrawn from based on successful placements. Once the account reaches a certain balance, the client receives an invoice with a detailed accounting of the results and is subsequent cost. What sets our model apart from a retainer-based one is our focus on providing a report so you can attribute our results directly to what you are paying. It’s called a direct marketing attribution model. Matrix Marketing Group is a small business too. I get it. If you planned on spending $15,000 per month on pitching your stories, we will make sure that we work within your budget. In addition, we typically cap the monthly payments so the cost does not get out of control.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are some fantastic PR agencies out there. But the bell-curve shows us that 50% are below average for a reason

Paying an expensive retainer, or any retainer for that matter, does not guarantee you a single result, yet every month you will still have to write a check from $10,000-$25,000. Does that hurt a bit every month? I bet you can think of at least five things you could be doing with that money. We are in no way claiming to guarantee endless results and placements, the difference of our model lies in the pricing. If we are not successful in getting a media source to pick up the story you can rest assured no money will be attributed to a failed round of pitching services. You cannot say the same for the retainer-based model which will have a withdrawal ready to hit your bank account on the first of every month no matter the results.

6. Pay for Performance is not good for your company’s long-term PR plan.

The misconception that Pay for Performance models are only a short-term gain is one of the biggest fallacies out on the internet. Of course, it is not a short-term gain; PR pitching relies on an organization’s ability to drive consistent and newsworthy stories. It does not have peaks and valleys if you want success it needs to have a steady flow of placements and mentions. Furthermore having successful placements leads to greater awareness, positioning the organization, and builds up their brand. That is not a short-term focus, and it does not hinder a client’s ability to tell their story later.

Additionally, this misconception includes the idea that Pay for Performance agencies treat the press like search engine marketing. Which is false, we absolutely do not do that. That kind of spamming approach never works. Editors and reporters do not give credence to unsolicited releases delivered as spam. We rely on targeted, professional presentations to our media contacts. Therefore, the idea that you are risking your company’s reputation for a short-term gain instead of building out a long-term PR plan is also false.

7. The PRSA Believes Pay for Performance is unethical.

My first question is how? The only difference between models is how the PR agency collects their payments. Performance is upon successful completion while the retainer is monthly based, no matter what results you’ve received.


Clients agree to sign a contract for a minimum of six months and pay a fee starting at $5,000. This goes into an account to be drawn from successful placements in the media list selected by the client. Through that month depending on the type of placements Matrix’s get for you, we withdraw from that account. If we are not successful in placing you, then you do not pay us. I am not sure what is unethical about that. If you are paying a traditional retainer and get no results, you still have to pay regardless.

There are countless scandals in the news about traditional billing models that have led to fraudulent actions. The future of PR is moving to a model that is founded on accountability with attribution models. If you cannot attribute what you are spending on a retainer to business outcomes and results, then you should be jumping ship.

Our program is not very different from Google’s PPC model, is theirs unethical? Google doesn’t receive payment until a certain amount of impressions are reached, or a viewer clicks through on one of your advertisements. In the same vein, a Pay for Performance PR service doesn’t attribute payment until a media placement has been secured.

Client Testimonial

When CenterStone Technologies, a Denver based software firm, wanted to promote their new sales order management application, they knew exactly what they wanted from a public relations agency. The chance to receive national trade media exposure. Though PR firms only quoted monthly retainer fees up to $10,000 for a broad package of services and none would budge on moving toward a results-based model. That is when Peter O’Neil, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing found Matrix Marketing Group.

Peter O’Neil, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing stated,

Matrix Marketing Group’s Pay-for-Performance program is a great tool for us right now. Their unbundled services offer us more flexibility and provide us the highly qualified expertise we are looking for. Plus, we are a results-oriented company, and with this program, we only pay when Matrix Marketing Group delivers results.”

To wrap up this bubble bursting of Pay for Performance myths, I would like to draw your attention to what we know for sure about this model. The number one fact about our Pay for Performance model is that it is centered on accountability. Our clients know what they are paying for, when they pay for it and what results they receive.

  • No overbilling, no surprises
  • You pay for results, not activity
  • Unbundled services (pitching only), get the PR you need

When it comes to PR you have several options, do it yourself, pay a retainer, or chose a Pay for Performance model. This post is written to dispel the numerous misconceptions about Pay for Performance PR models that exist and rebut them with facts. Taking this knowledge into account you can now make an informed choice.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Performance Based PR

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