Whatever your reasons for wondering “how much does PR cost?”, you’re probably not going to find an easy answer. And that’s only partly because many people who write posts on the subject deliberately avoid straight answers! But while there isn’t one easy answer, there are definitely answers. And in this post, I will cover what goes into costing up a PR campaign, how PR agencies charge, and offer some guidelines for what you can get for different budgets.
Things to think about when it comes to PR budgets
When trying to work out how much PR costs, there are a number of things you need to think about:
Retainer or project?
Are you looking for ongoing PR services to continually build your brand, generate leads, protect your reputation and grow your business? If yes, you should hire an agency on retainer (usually a fixed monthly fee) to deliver against your PR objectives.
However, if you have a specific product, service, event or campaign you want to focus on, then a project might be more appropriate. Note that you’ll likely pay more for a one-off project than a few months’ worth of retainer activity. That’s because the agency will have to invest the same amount of time in learning about your business and they have to recoup the cost of that investment over a shorter time period.
What are your objectives?
Why are you investing in PR in the first place? And can PR realistically deliver what you are expecting? Are you looking for leads? Brand profile? Investment? Job applications? All of these can be delivered by PR, but PR is not always the best way to reach these objectives.
If on the other hand you are looking to build or manage your business’ reputation, to create brand awareness and to make your company synonymous with a particular issue or cause, PR is a great route to take.
Who is your target audience?
Are you targeting one specific audience or many? The more audiences you target, the more PR resources you will need.
What’s the scope of your PR brief?
Or is it broader to cover SEO, social media, content, crisis communications and media training? Whatever it is, make sure you brief your agency the right way.
Where is your target audience?
Are you focusing on one geographical area or is your requirement global? Each country has its own body of media, and may require local PR people on the ground to deliver your PR strategy. So the more markets you operate in, the more you will need to spend on PR.
How do PR agencies charge?
There are typically three ways an agency might charge for their services: time, deliverables and outcomes.
Most agencies charge based on time. That means you pay for the hours or days that the team spends working on your account. This is usually estimated and agreed in advance with you, the client. How much time is required will depend on what you are trying to achieve, and how quickly.
Some agencies charge based on deliverables. That means they have set costs for producing and pitching in a media release, drafting an opinion article or selling in a story.
And a few agencies charge based on outcomes. For example, you pay a small retainer and then you pay them a percentage of the business that they generate. This is lovely in principle, but it’s quite hard to implement in practice. That’s because there are many factors that will affect outcomes that are not within your PR agency’s control (such as how well your CEO handles media interviews). Also, remember that with more risk comes the possibility of higher rewards: so when outcomes are really good, your PR agency suddenly becomes very expensive!
What you can get for different PR budgets
I’m guessing this is the part of the post that you were most interested in: what do you need to budget for PR? Below I have outlined some budget ranges and what they will buy you in terms of PR services.
Less than £1,000 per month
You won’t get much in the way of quality PR results for less than £1,000 per month. Instead, I recommend you take our best-selling PR course, and try to do it yourself.
£1,000 – £3,000 per month
It’s unlikely you will find an agency willing to work at this level, with a few exceptions. If your brief is very straightforward and easy then you might find an agency willing to work at this level. But beware – it will take a lot longer to see results. It might be worth looking for a freelancer to support you in this instance. We like the PR Cavalry.
£3,000 – £5,000 a month
Now you’re starting to get into a budget zone. For this fee level you can expect to see some media relations activity in a single market. The agency might also include some content work, but you will still need to pay extra for campaigns and additional services such as crisis comms.
£5,000 – £10,000 a month
If you’re focusing on a single geographical market, this is a very effective budget range. You’re going to find a great agency and they will deliver great results, that will cover both digital PR and SEO. You’ll also be able to invest in some interesting campaigns that will give your results even more of a boost.
£10,000 – £20,000 a month
At this level you should be getting a more comprehensive service that includes full content and social media support, press office management, media relations, crisis communications, onsite and offsite search marketing and really effective and creative quarterly campaigns. You might also be able to cover two or three geographical markets at this level.
£20,000 – £50,000 a month
You’re now looking at high levels of PR service, across multiple markets or multiple target audiences. This budget level is ideal for international campaigns supporting multiple business objectives.
£50,000+ a month
This would be the starting point for a complex business with significant international PR and issues management requirements.
If you are not ready to commit to a retainer, then you might be interested in a PR project instead. From an agency’s perspective, projects can be a great way to build good relationships with clients and to show off what the agency is capable of.
However, projects are notoriously unprofitable because the client usually expects the same level of understanding of their business and their market that they might expect from a retained agency – yet the agency has fewer hours in which to build this in-depth knowledge. Some agencies will see a project as an investment in winning the retainer. Others will be happy to lose money on a project in exchange for a great PR case study. And others will simply decline the work.
This is very much down to the agency, although you’re more likely to get an agency interest in your project if it excites them – do you have famous investors? Is your product so obviously disruptive that it’s going to be an easy sell to the media? Does your comms team (and your management team) have a huge appetite for risk? Is your company a force for good? Is there an ethical alignment? These will all be factors that might tempt an agency to take on a project.
If you need help figuring out how to get the most out of your PR budget, then feel free to contact us.