The call was going swimmingly until the client asked me to include in our proposal a guaranteed number of impressions and amount of media coverage.

*cue schreeching brakes*

I explained that guarantees can only be provided for paid channels. With reporters/bloggers, the decision of what to coverage is determined by editors and breaking news. This means that no matter how effective your nose for news or compelling your pitching skills, there are no guarantees.

He remained undeterred. And I understand why. He wants to know what "success" is. And I don't blame him. But back when I was doing corporate PR, I wouldn't ask for this kind of promise. Success is a slippery slope in PR.

I know we can generate coverage -- that's not the issue. We can tell you how many people we'll pitch (and even why we chose them). We can rank them in order of who we think is most likely to provide coverage. We can use our instincts and experience as journalists to craft news-worthy material. We can work with reporters and editors/news directors to make is as easy as possible for them to provide coverage. But that's all we can do. But I can't guarantee x number of placements or y number of listeners/viewers. And a PR firm that offers this kind of guarantee is leading its clients on.

I'm not about to "guarantee" something that depends on decisions made by people outside my company. So we wrote a proposal to provide all the research and content creation, but not the actual media relations function. I don't know if we'll get the gig. The model we proposed is based on services we offer other clients (like this one) with in-house PR pros who know how to develop/maintain relationships with the media and know how to pitch.

I don't know if we'll get the gig. But I do know that I'm not about to promise something that I can't personally deliver. That sets up the client for disappointment, and that's not what we're about. Our role is to help our clients convey information, establish/protect image and support business operations. It's a longer process than measuring hits and impressions, which makes it tougher to measure, certainly. But no less valuable.

In an upcoming post, I'll discuss how we measure PR success. In the mean time, how do you?