The world of public relations is changing. Its fast evolution has led to the implementation of new and exciting offerings, Performance PR being one of the fastest growing. But is it worth it?
Picture this: It’s 1981, and your options for getting the word out about your business are far more limited than they are today.
There’s no X (formerly Twitter) to go viral on, no blogs to feature your latest innovations.
Instead, you’re sitting across a heavy wooden desk from a PR agency executive. He’s explaining the cost of a three-month retainer, sifting through a portfolio of newspaper clippings as evidence of their effectiveness.
You’re hopeful, yet anxious. The price is steep and there are no guarantees. The whole campaign could be a flop.
Fast forward to today, and the world has shifted. Performance PR has become a recent iteration of the traditional PR model, and it’s transformed the way businesses think about garnering attention.
In this article, we’ll break down the exact differences between performance PR and the traditional model, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of both.
How does the traditional PR model work?
In the traditional PR model, agencies typically charge a monthly retainer fee. This is a set cost you pay upfront, often for a bundle of services like press release writing and media pitching. The focus here is on earned media — getting your story picked up by journalists and featured in publications — rather than owned media like your company blog or social channels.
These agencies pride themselves on long-term relationships. They usually have well-established networks and know how to navigate the intricate world of media relations.
It takes time to cultivate these relationships, and this is often reflected in the length and cost of your contract.
So how do you know if it’s working?
Traditional PR relies on somewhat vague metrics: mentions in articles, overall press hits, and sometimes estimated audience reach. There’s no strict guarantee these will translate to more sales or customers.
And speaking of guarantees, there usually aren’t any (besides the service package you pay for).
You’re paying for the agency’s time and effort, not the end result. So if the campaign doesn’t yield the coverage you were hoping for or expecting, you’re largely out of luck — still billed for the full scope of work agreed upon.
This model has its merits, but it’s not without risks or limitations. You pay, you wait, and you hope for the best.
How does performance PR work?
In the performance PR model, agencies are paid based on specific, measurable results, often tied to key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, The PR Genius’ Scale Authority Package promises features in Yahoo Finance, Business Insider, Marketwatch, and either Forbes or Entrepreneur — all with 900k impressions guaranteed.
If it doesn’t happen in 90 days with three press releases and one editorial, you get a full refund.
This approach puts the focus on the agency to deliver, fueling a strong sense of accountability and transparency.
These contracts are often short-term and offer more flexibility and freedom. Unlike traditional PR retainers that lock you in for months, performance-based contracts are usually project specific — allowing for quick pivoting and strategy adaptation based on real-time performance.
The focus in performance PR is on targeted KPIs — hard numbers that demonstrate success. Whether it’s impressions, features in specific publications, or qualifications for social media verification, these metrics are clear-cut from the start.
You know exactly what you’re paying for, which is very different from vague measurements like “mentions” or “press hits.”
And if your product or service solves a really painful problem, you’re guaranteed to see tangible results like lead-captures and sales.
Because agencies are paid for results, it requires constant strategic adaptation. If something stops working (like a certain publication), the agency is incentivized to change course and find new connections.
All in all, performance PR is a win-win situation.
Advantages and disadvantages of traditional PR
Traditional PR has been the bedrock of public relations for decades, and for good reason. It offers several advantages, such as the value of long-term relationships and best practices. When you work with a traditional PR agency, you’re often tapping into their extensive network and prestige, assets built up over years or even decades.
This can provide a level of credibility and reach that newer performance-based agencies might struggle to match. However, The PR Genius’ Executive Roundtable service circumvents this by connecting executives to executives for interviews.
Another strength is the focus on earned media, which means getting your message out through third-party endorsements, like articles or interviews. Earned media tends to carry more weight with audiences, leading to a potentially bigger impact.
However, there are downsides to traditional PR. The financial commitment can be substantial, often requiring hefty retainer fees upwards of five figures or more (with no guaranteed results).
It’s like taking a shot in the dark — you might hit the target, but you risk missing entirely. Plus, the metrics for success — mentions, press hits, etc. — are often softer and more difficult to tie directly to business outcomes.
Advantages and disadvantages of performance PR
Performance PR brings a fresh perspective to the table, focusing only on results. One of its biggest strengths is the pay-for-performance structure, where you only pay if the agency delivers for you, based on agreed-upon outcomes.
With targeted KPIs like guaranteed placements in high-profile publications, you have a clear roadmap for success. Plus this model also enables short-term engagements, giving clients the flexibility to adapt and pivot their strategies based on real-time feedback. If one approach isn’t working, you’re not locked into a long-term contract.
However, the focus on quick, tangible results can sometimes sacrifice the depth and nuance that a longer-term campaign can offer. And while you’re guaranteed impressions, not all views are created equal.
The impact on your brand can depend greatly on extraneous factors, including the publications and audience quality.
How to choose which model is best for you
Selecting between traditional and performance PR models comes down to your business needs, goals, and risk tolerance. If you’re looking for long-term relationships, the prestige of renowned publications, and are willing to invest without guaranteed outcomes, traditional PR might be your preferred choice.
On the other hand, if you prefer a results-driven approach that offers more flexibility and transparency, performance PR could be the better fit.
And if you want the best of both worlds, including world-class connections to Forbes and Entrepreneur with guaranteed results, contact The PR Genius today, the best crypto PR firm serving tech and SaaS companies.
We combine the prestige of a traditional PR agency with a favorable, accountable, performance-based contract that can growth hack your brand into industry stardom.