TechCrunch declares war on ‘pay for placement’ PR firm

The popular tech site will no longer accept pitches from PR firms that charge clients a specific fee for getting coverage on TechCrunch. The author wonders why.


TechCrunch fired another salvo at the PR industry, telling readers on Thursday that it will no longer accept pitches from firms with à la carte pricing.

The popular tech site even called out one firm, and its director, by name.

Apparently, TechCrunch staff heard one PR agency was charging clients $750 for landing a story on the site (and about $400 for placement on “lesser blogs”).

From TechCrunch:

“While we’re not in the business of advising PR people on their pricing, we think that making press coverage this transactional crosses an ethical/editorial line and diminishes the integrity of our brand and our writers. Startups and investors, you shouldn’t be paying for [TechCrunch] articles, or any press coverage for that matter, you should be paying for the help with your message and communications, which, if you have a good and/or compelling product, might result in more coverage. And while a (legit) PR team can be useful in many cases, a direct and fair relationship with our writers is always the best way to get on TechCrunch.”

If TechCrunch staffers hear of any firms following this practice, it will ensure they’re stories don’t appear on the site. (One wonders, if that PR firm were representing, say, Facebook, would the site have a change of heart?)

This position from such a popular website is a curious one—even if it’s had a history of dustups with public relations professionals.

Pricing PR is not easy. It is usually done on some kind of retainer type setup, sometimes based on hours, sometimes on outputs. Then, there’s this idea of pay for placement PR, which has gained prominence of late.

My belief is that pay for placement schemes exist because—despite the fact that PR is about much more the media relations—many companies that contract PR firms do so to generate positive media coverage about their products and services.

While many PR firms are much more than pitch factories where 20-somethings in cubicles call reporters and recite scripts all day long, the perception of PR as simply media relations exists for a reason—like it or not.

Pay for placement pricing—the kind TechCrunch decries, and is now going to banish from its kingdom—does limited justice to the craft of PR. It incentivizes very specific sets of behaviors in a PR pro, behaviors that are not always congruent with the interests of a client.

However, despite TechCrunch‘s outrage, designing an “à la carte pricing system” for PR placements is a decision between an agent and client.

TechCrunch is certainly entitled to its opinions, but beyond the site’s sense that there’s something “smarmy” about this type of scheme, I’m not sure why the blog has taken such a strong stance on the issue.

If PR firms were trying to bribe its writers, I’d get it. But this is about private agreements between private parties. That these center on outcomes relating to TechCrunch (or any other media) should not concern anyone.

The owner of the firm in question echoed this notion in a note on the company’s website, in which he said: “It is important to note that PR firms are not charities. We do need to charge for our services and expertise in order to keep our business running.”

Jackson Wightman is a PR Daily contributing editor in Montreal.

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