Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why "pay for play" PR does not work

Recently, an Asian tech company approached me to help them publicize their iPhone app to drive downloads into more revenue. They had one little taste of PR since they put version 1.00 in the store last fall -- MacRumors mentioned them in a few forum posts, sending the downloads number up tenfold for a few days and then back to earth.

Now that they tasted the gold, they wanted it on a regular basis, understandably. However, they only wanted a "pay for play" arrangement where they would only pay for articles that appear from a list of media we'd collaborate on. Not only that, they'd only pay for "positive" articles.

I don't know how PR is done in Asia, but I rejected the plan immediately. Forget about the "positive articles" part -- that's just ludicrous.

"Pay for play" seems like a back-up plan for a company that is just plain insecure about public relations. They know what it is and what it can do. They just don't want to invest in it if they don't have to. Not just monetarily, but relationship-wise as well. It's hard to imagine establishing much of a partnership or strategic collaboration on this basis.

The other big downside for "pay for play" is that the publicist is under no obligation to do the job. If you only get paid when you make a placement, I'd rather be spending my time with the clients who have invested in my work and I have an ongoing productive relationship with.

I explained to the tech company: "Two weeks can go by and you won't hear from me. You'll call me up and say, hey, what's going on with our app campaign? My reply would be 'I'm working with my committed clients and if I get around to your app, I will.' You've lost two weeks and frankly, I may not end up doing it for another two weeks, if at all."

Of course, there's that nice fee that they are dangling for each of those placements. However, there are more important things than that, such as commitment, engagement and ongoing interaction.

Instead of transacting PR like buying a hamburger at McDonald's, I'd rather be in the kitchen creating the menu.

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