Should PR Pros Work on Commission?

Alex Greenwood
4 min readAug 26, 2020

The pandemic decimated much of my client work. In fact, by the end of April, more than 85% of my clients told me they had to pull back on utilizing my counsel and services. Naturally, I was alarmed and realized that it was time to shake the trees more than usual. That proved to be a grind, as people were scared to hire — and legitimately so.

Budgets were frozen, and virtually nobody I contacted needed crisis communication planning or general PR services. I started offering content creation to make ends meet, but it was still not enough. So, you can imagine my elation to receive a call from a local company seeking public relations services.

After a brief discussion, I learned they had a charitable angle on the pandemic that they wanted to leverage to gain media coverage. I paraphrase here, but not too much: “We want to get news stories about us donating some stuff, so we can increase our sales because we are good guys.”

My distaste for his nakedly mercenary strategy aside, I explained that I could pitch the donation angle (with some tweaking) to the media, but could not guarantee that news outlets will cover it. I further explained my fee structure and how it would work if they hired me.

There was a pause on the line, then a sigh. He said, “Well, so you’re saying you’re going to charge me to hire you, even if nobody covers our story? Why should I pay you to get us on the news if you can’t guarantee it will happen?”

“Because I don’t own the TV stations or newspapers,” I said, my temples starting to throb. “And any PR pro who guarantees they will get you coverage is usually fooling you or themselves.”

After fifteen minutes of further discussion, I realized he just could not wrap his mind around the concept of me not working for commission. In fact, he seemed outraged, as if I were scamming him. My headache got worse.

I also explained that while some firms can afford to do work on commission or “pay for play,” my modest agency could not. Opportunity costs for what is now a one-man shop are exorbitant; I simply cannot bet large chunks of my time per week on something I have so little control of.

He just repeated his astonishment, with a tone of suspicion. So, I cut him off and gave him the number of a firm that reputedly sometimes works on a commission fee structure and wished him Godspeed.

Alex Greenwood

PR Consultant, Speaker, Podcast Producer/Host, Editor, and Award-Winning Writer of the John Pilate Mystery Series. Accomplished belly laugher.