Why Can’t My PR Agency Guarantee Coverage?

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

No guarantees meme

That’s an axiom that holds true in almost all walks of life, and it should apply to those who see ads or websites that guarantee a PR agency can get coverage. Face it, we all love guarantees. Money-back guarantees are a staple in consumer marketing.

But here are 4 reasons why you should think long and hard before going with a PR firm that guarantees coverage.

1. The press is supposed to be impartial.

I’m not going to get into debates about reporter bias, because absolutely that exists.

But what it means is that you cannot pay a reporter to write a story for you.

Most American companies understand this, but I find the biggest misunderstanding is from foreign brands looking for US media coverage.

Asian companies are the biggest offenders here, and it’s not really their fault. PR in Asia is vastly different. Besides having fewer outlets and being less competitive, usually you can pay the public relations agency in an Asian country and they can get the article.

In the US, you are paying the agency to pitch a story to the press. Whether or not the reporter decides to write the story is not fully in the agency’s control.

The analogy I like to use is playing poker.

In poker, you can study your opponent’s tendencies. You can learn to calculate pot odds on the fly. You can play position perfectly. You can manage your bankroll. You can adapt to suit the evolving playing style of the table. But in the end, you are not guaranteed to win.

Similarly, you can do everything correctly in PR: build relations with reporters, write a brilliant pitch, etc. But in the end, you are not guaranteed any press coverage.

2. Guaranteed placements tend to be paid placements.

The entire media industry is in big trouble.

They are facing enormous pressures from all sides. From declining viewers or readers, to declining revenue, many media outlets are just struggling to keep the lights up.

In early 2024, the revered Los Angeles Times announced a massive layoff of 20% of their newsroom. Vice Media, once a darling of the new emerging press, is also downsizing. Many more examples abound.

What this means is that, in the scramble to stay afloat, the wall between editorial and sales is starting to come down.

There are media outlets, some well-known, which will run an article if you pay them.

There are some big caveats though. These tend to say “Sponsored”, “Promoted” or “In Partnership With”.

It’s highly likely that any company guaranteeing you coverage is just buying these types of placements.

Are paid placements all useless? No, they have their use.

But you are far better off putting in the actual effort of getting coverage in respected media outlets whose reputations aren’t those of paid placements, similar to certain consulting firms that will issue positive official-looking analyst coverage for fees of over $10,000.

3. The PR agency is using “fluffy” stats to fulfill their guarantee.

Let’s face it, the media relations industry has historically suffered from an inability to demonstrate ROI.

That’s mostly because of the nature of PR, versus say paid advertising that uses a Cost Per Click model with full blown analytics that can measure direct action and ROI.

Thus, some metrics in PR are valuable, some are not.

Everyone knows what a press release is, and those who write press releases will put them on a wire service.

These wire services range from high end ones like GlobeNewswire to smaller ones like PR.com.

Once the release crosses the wire, you typically receive a report of which websites syndicated the press release.

Any agency with integrity will not count this as true “coverage”.

After all, any monkey can literally submit a release by pressing some buttons.

But many of these guarantees will count these bot pickups as “coverage”.

That’s garbage, and you should run fast from anyone who uses wire pickups as proof of their ability.

4. Focusing too much on coverage can miss out on other key areas.

Yes, coverage is important, and is the bread and butter of PR.

But there is so much more value that agencies bring to the table in the form of strategic guidance, advice, crisis management, thought leadership creation, event support, analyst relations and more.

Having such a myopic focus on coverage alone can mean you are not optimizing your entire marketing communications stack.

The best agency is one that is a trusted partner who intimately knows your business, your goals and your clients.

Treat them as a partner, and not as a turnkey vendor.

To summarize, I’ll close the way I opened: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Guaranteed coverage, while sounding good, can either be useless or in some cases be detrimental to your marketing efforts.

What you want to do is to maximize your chances for success. There’s no substitute for knowledge and hard work. Avoid shady guarantees of the easy path.

Contact us today and learn how our proven 5-step “Ignites” process has helped brands for 20 years get truly valuable coverage.