Who sould pay whom and for what? Questions about a recent commercial pitch on IPRA yahoo conversation group..

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IPRA, the International Public Relations Association, amongst the services it offers to its 1000 plus members, has an ongoing Yahoo discussion group. Normally, this is used by members to inquire if peers may suggest names of consultants or agencies on a specific topic or in a specific country…Sometimes a member has a query on methods, approaches or applications he wishes to bounce off the minds of peers. More often it is a tool to inform members that one has left this world.The other day I received this from a new member:

Hello, I’m a new IPRA member; nice to meet you all. For the past 6+ years I’ve been matching companies with PR firms worldwide. Most of the PR firms are in the US, Europe and Asia with a sprinkling in Eastern Europe, Russia and So. America.After an extensive search, I provide you/your client with a hot list. I walk you through the process of choosing a firm from first how-do-you-do call to proposals, negotiations, etc. After the signing, I continue to monitor the progress of the account and am as involved as both sides require.

My matches are gratis to you and your client. Transparency: I am eventually paid a commission by the PR firm of your choice.

Academic/business media PR searches are interesting because of their dual-prong nature. I take it your client will want to get into BusinessWeek’s B-School ranking at some stage or at the very least, move up in the rankings. I have just completed a match for a company that will enter the US university market, but aimed at students, rather than the business media. Their PR firm got them into one of the journals on their “wish list” in less than 24 hours after signing a contract.

The majority of the PR firms are boutique-to-midsize. My experience is that smaller, niche PR firms provide better service and have fewer layers with which a client must deal.

On the client side, I’ve made matches for high tech start-ups to a major Indian firm with 30,000+ employees worldwide, and everything ranging from one-off trade shows to retainer relationships that have carried on for several years.

I’ll explain more if you’d like to have a call about this. And feel free to call at any time: I am available during every time zone!

By the way, do we have anyone on the list from my alma maters McGill University, the University of Southern California and UCLA?

Best,

Joan

Joan Weinberg, The Weinberg Group/, Free World-wide PR Firm Search Services, Representing 125+ Tech & Life Sci PR Firms , EMEA US Asia-Pacific Tel: +972-3-575-5448 Fax: +972-3-575-5449 Mobile: +972-522-202-484 e: jow@zahav.net.il Skype: JoanW1

I was somewhat surprised (but pleased..) that the channel was also being used, and with such candor, for an outright commercial pitch, although I am sure many will have frown and now fear that if such a habit catches on, the discussion group is bound to be pestered by spam. In any case, what intrigued me was the nature of the service being offered. If I understand correctly, Joan’s shop recruits public relations firms and consultancies at no reciprocal charge and offers their services to clients at no reciprocal charge. All, as she says, is gratis. Like a dating service. Only when the client decides to use a proposed pr firm, then the latter receives ‘eventually’ a commission from the agency.

I know very well that for many years some of us have made a comfortable living in brokering public relations counsel to organizations and continue to do so. As the head hunters do. Only, the economic model is normally different. The organization recruits the broker as it would a consultant and pays whatever fee is agreed for the basic service, plus a success fee when the agency is ‘eventually’ selected and taken on board, often based on the fee volume of the first or two years of actual service rendered.

In this case, instead, the broker is paid by none except by the agency if and when the organization agrees to sign a contract. If this is so, then a number of questions arise. For example: how does the broker compile its ‘list of 125+ pr firms’ as it boasts? Do the firms pay a subscription fee? And if not, one would suppose that the selection process is done on the basis, as the letter proudly boasts, of a thorough analysis of professional quality. But who pays for this work?

Another question relates to the formation of the price which the pr firm ‘eventually’ pays to the broker. Is it a flat fee? Is it a percentage on fee income? Is it a mix? For how long does it last?

I fully acknowledge that our market, in every country, is certainly everything but transparent and our processes are more than ever under social criticism, but I ask myself, and you of course, if we really need more confusion. Or have I misinterpreted?

3 COMMENTS

  1. Toni-

    I’m currently an undergrad senior in pr and absorbing every pr blog like a sponge. By no means comprehending it all, but lapping it up nonetheless.
    Your last paragraph seems to mirror a feel I get from most experienced practitioners. We had an opportunity to have an interview with PRSA’s newly appointed William Murray and he made references to the negative opinions the public has about public relations. What did you mean by “more than ever under social criticism?” What happened? When, if ever, was the golden era pr practitioners?

  2. Emily, I do not think there was ever a ‘golden era’, but certainly there was much less organized, aware and active social criticism. Our profession was much less relevant within organizations, and was not so visible. The negative opinions Bill Murray referred to alwasy existed but were restrained.

  3. just received this response from Joan Weinberg:

    Hi Toni:

    Wow. What a fun — and informative — blog. And what a background. You must be at least 89 years old to have packed in all of this experience. (Just teasing.)

    Yes, your read right. Free.

    I decided not to charge the client for whom I’m performing the search. It felt greedy and unnecessary. Also, if I call myself a PR matchmaker (actually, a newspaper came up with this term), then I should only be paid by the groom, right?

    Re: “eventually” after a search is performed, I walk the client through the entire process and they make the final choice of PR firm. I never ask for the commission immediately. I always wait at least a couple of months to be sure everything is rolling along smoothly. Also, I just don’t like to push and I know I’ll be paid somewhere along the line.

    Yes, it’s in the contract that they pay me as soon as they receive payment, but this never happens, which is OK by me. The funny thing is that the PR firms get back to me after 2-3 months and ask, “When can we pay you?” That’s when I send my wire info 🙂

    It’s a percentage, and it’s ongoing. Why? Because after the match, I continue to provide services. For one thing, I monitor the account on an ongoing basis. That said, some PR firms/clients use me on an almost daily basis, and some hardly at all. But for sure, I check in fairly frequently, receive monthly updates, sometimes participate in their weekly calls and so on.

    I’d like to answer your final question but I’m not certain what you mean: And how does your corporate client (potential…) know that you are suggesting the best, if the best does not preliminary agree to pay you a fee (or a minor one vis-à-vis another vendor) in case the deal goes through?

    Do you mean what if a PR firm seems like a great match but they don’t want to pay a commission? Yes, this has happened, but it is rare. What I then do is double my efforts and dig deeper for another PR firm that matches the initial one(s).

    Much of my work has to do with finding not only the right match services-wise, market-wise, sector-wise, etc., but the most important part — chemistry. I am absolutely terrible at matching people socially — but I seem to have a perfect “nose” for matching clients with PR firms.I should also note that occasionally a match falls through, e.g., the client’s brother-in-law’s neighbor suddenly appears and knows a “great PR firm” and they sign with that firm.
    As you can see, I love my job.

    Ciao — and mille grazie Toni,

    Joan

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